Recently on The Timeless Dog Facebook page I opened it you the followers to tell us what you wanted to talk about or know more about in the dog world. The one big question or concern that was posted over and over again was “can you please talk about the difference between aggressive and reactive?”
So, lets dive right in by starting with the definitions of those words. Reactive is defined as showing a response to a stimulus or acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it. Aggressive is defined as ready or likely to attack or confront; resulting from aggression. Aggression is the hostile or violent behavior or attitudes towards another, readiness to attack or confront. (All definitions provided by dictionary.com.)
Yes, your dog does need to react to something first before he can become aggressive towards it but that is simply a chain of events. Your dog cannot be aggressive towards something he hasn’t seen or been exposed to. However just cause your dog reacts doesn’t mean he is going to be aggressive and attack.
CJ is reactive to the mailman, the doorbell, and cheese wrappers. CJ does not want to attack the door bell or confront the mailman he just reacts to the sound they make. When he hears the mail truck CJ starts to bark, when someone rings the doorbell he goes running to the front door, and when anyone within a mile opens a cheese wrapper CJ is there to help them eat it.
The word aggressive is used too frequently in the dog world to have any real meaning behind it anymore. Sure, there are some truly aggressive dogs but for the vast majority of dogs they are simply reactive dogs who have been mislabeled. Your dog probably reacts to the sight of another dog out on a walk by barking or maybe pulling on the leash to try and get closer, but this does not make your dog aggressive. Once upon a time dogs were allowed to bark and growl and just be dogs. Now if your dog so much as whines there must be something wrong with him. Think about it from your dogs’ point of view, you are allowed to talk to them all day nonstop but when they bark once we yell at them to stop. They have to now spend their whole lives being silent or else we label them aggressive dogs and throw a shock collar on them.
Both “types” of dogs can be trained to offer better behaviors. The reactive dog can be taught to not pull so much on the leash or to sit patiently at your side while the mail is being delivered. Reactive dogs can be taught to control their response to a situation. The aggressive dog can be taught these behaviors as well we just have to be a little more careful and give them more space.
All dogs are reactive dogs… in some way. Just look at how your dog acts when he sees his favorite toy or when you come from being gone all day. Not all dogs are aggressive dogs. Lets starts giving dogs a little more leash in life and let them be dogs again without calling them aggressive all the time.