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Discussion Starter #1
So, let me start off by saying that I ultimately need to know the difference between them and how to tell the difference. I do not know.

Here's what I think they mean:
Aggression is, well, aggression, disdain for another dog, to lack of a better term.
Whereas Reactivity is the focus, the pulling, the whining, the want to get at another dog, but not necessarily hurt them.

How right am I?

For the longest time now I have thought my dog Diesel to be dog aggressive. But then I see all these terms about Leash and Dog Reactivity and I'm questioning myself. What is reactivity? How does it differ from aggression? How can you tell the difference?

Normally I can read dogs pretty well, but not Diesel, and I've honestly been too afraid to let him actually greet another dog while on a leash. That's a fight I don't think I could break up.
When we are on walks, or in public, if he sees another dog he will stop and stare for a moment, then start to stiffen a little and tug on the leash. There's no growling or barking or anything.
Once, we were at a festival and had to be very, I mean very, close to other dogs. It made me a nervous wreck, but there were no causalities. However, there was a Golden that someone decided would be cute to keep running past us. Diesel would jump up and try to take off after it.
Then, on a walk, we had two chihuahuas run out to us barking and growling, annnnd Diesel's leash broke. >-> Last thing I saw was these Chihuahuas screaming, and Diesel chasing them down the road at top speed and under a car, then once they were hidden he came back to me like nothing had ever happened.

Now, he frequently escapes and leaves to go swimming or something, or there are times when I will let him off leash to run and play frisbee and swim, etc. I live in a place fairly far from the road, with very slow moving traffic, no through traffic and Diesel always pretty much stays in his designated areas and comes when called. He runs around and gets chased by other dogs and is greeted by them and doesn't seem to have a problem at all. This is what confuses me.


So, to sum up, what is reactivity, how does it differ from aggression, how can you tell the differences, and should I just suck it up and let him greet another dog should we pass one?
 

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Okay, I could be wrong, but my understanding of the difference between dog reactive and dog aggressive (ignoring the issue of leash reactivity/barrier aggression) is that the reactive dog reacts in some way, not necessarily aggressively. They may bark, whine, howl, etc.

The dog aggressive dog, however, is being aggressive. My DA dog made absolutely no sound and did not react in any way other than a subtle stiffening- until he got close enough to bite, and then, without any warning at all, he would leap straight for the other dog's throat. (Muggsy was extremely DA. Like the absolute, utter most DA a dog could be. Most DA dogs aren't that bad.)

So, the reactive dog is certainly making a fuss, but may not be dangerous to the other dog, whereas the aggressive dog may not show the slightest reaction at all, but he is quite dangerous to the other dog.

Does that help at all?
 

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Both reactive and aggressive dogs can be dangerous. Both will bite. The difference is the motivation.

In a reactive dog, it's all about fear and over-stimulation. They can't handle the pressure of being so close or being approached. It's either about feeling over-stimulated or fearful.

In aggression, it's deep commitment to violence, most likely genetic or sexual. Most real aggression looks pretty stoic until it explodes. Most truly aggressive dogs are pretty confident. And these guys are fairly rare.

BOTH will bite. BOTH should be managed very carefully.

The most important difference is in how you "fix" them. In a reactive dog, you work on getting the dog past the fear and over-stimulation by gradually increasing threshold and increasing the dog's confidence and feeling of safety. These dogs can make amazing progress.

In an aggressive dog, I think that you train for impulse control, for dependable obedience, and you manage the dog for the rest of its life. I don't think you "fix" it as much as you manage it.
 

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In an aggressive dog, I think that you train for impulse control, for dependable obedience, and you manage the dog for the rest of its life. I don't think you "fix" it as much as you manage it.
You cannot "fix" aggression. I can confirm that. You can train the dog not to act on the impulse towards violence and you can manage the environment, i.e., not walking the dog through an area crowded with dogs he can get to, but you cannot train a DA dog to like other dogs.

It sounds like you're better off, in the end, with a reactive dog. Muggsy would have seemed better behaved than a dog barking and making a fuss at every dog that walked by, but DA is not fixable.
 

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Some reactivity is so severe that it is nearly impossible to manage. And with reactivity, you get all of the hard behaviors. Staying under threshold is an art, and none of us control the world, so things happen that you can't plan on and those things set you back and undermine your training. I think I would rather have a DA dog that a really reactive one.

Let's say you had been working for a month on slowly bringing dogs closer and closer and you were making great progress. Then, one day, you are on a walk in a secluded place when an off-leash dog charges you and scares the crap out of your reactive dog. Now, you are nearly back to square one with your reactivity training. Mild reactivily is fun to fix. Severe reactivity is tough.

I live with a selective DA dog. He is easy to manage. I also have a reactive dog. She looks good almost all of time, but when she goes over threshold, she is difficult to support. She is hard to compete with because of this. If she is wearing a leash, she can handle anything. When she is unleashed, she is much more worried. It's like the leash gives her confidence.

Both have their challenges. Neither is totally "fixable." Temperament is always in the dog. We can only influence training and experience. We can't change everything. Dogs will never be clean slates or clay. Not even puppies.
 

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I hear you there. Severe DA took a year to train to the point of safety, and I was working with an intelligent, eager to please dog that lived and died by my attention. He wanted, more than anything, to please me, but his aggression towards other dogs was so extreme, all he wanted was to kill.

He's why I get so upset at people equating DA to behavior with humans. The same dog that had the urge to kill every dog he saw loved all humans and was gentle and patient with children.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Then, one day, you are on a walk in a secluded place when an off-leash dog charges you and scares the crap out of your reactive dog. Now, you are nearly back to square one with your reactivity training. Mild reactivily is fun to fix. Severe reactivity is tough.
This happens to us on almost a daily basis. The other day we had a toy poodle come loudly charging at us as fast as it's stubby little legs would take it. There has NEVER in my time of walking down that road -almost 10 years- been a dog at that home, and I was totally unprepared for that. All the stomping and yelling I did did nothing to send the dog back and I barely had enough time to grab both mine by the collars and pull them in before the owner rounded the corner and had the gall to give me the dirty look. Yeah, just saved your dog from possibly being eaten, sorry 'bout that. But through that whole episode Diesel seems more excited than 'angry', there was a lot of whining and pulling, but it was a lot of chaos and I didn't have the chance to pay attention to how he was acting. Too busy focusing all my strength on them not losing their minds.
And then a neighbor was walking her chihuahuas (and Diesel seems to really hate these two. they run the road alone almost every day and he starts whining and panting whenever he sees them. This seems more like reactivity than aggression? In the yard he will whine and pant, look to me, turn circles, whine some more, but on a leash he stiffens and stares and 'leave it' will not distract him.

I have also noticed that he seems to have a problem with noisy, smaller dogs, and dogs of the same sex that are younger than him.
My chihuahua is older, in tact, and they are "besties". I once took care of a Sheltie that was surely younger than Diesel. HATED him, or it seemed. Whining and pulling and stiffening.
I also took care of a beagle mix that he got along GREAT with, actually seemed to respect him and the dog was at least 6 or 7, in tact.


Now, I know he has a pretty intense prey drive. When he's inside he has to constantly supervised because of my rats.

Still a little scary.

There are times when he is like this: "My DA dog made absolutely no sound and did not react in any way other than a subtle stiffening-"

Then there are times when he is like this: "They may bark, whine, howl, etc."

Aleu, upon seeing another dog, will pull and whine and cry and make her noises, but I am absolutely confident she would not hurt another dog on purpose. She met a lab last week that matched her insanity perfectly, and both of them reared up, spread their paws out and smacked into on another. best friends for life. Lol

Diesel may or may not react that same way, but I don't trust him enough to find out. :\ He's never bitten another dog though.
 

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Reactivity does not have to be fear based. It is simply a reaction. For example, throw something loud against a wall beside a dog, like a milk jug half full of rocks. Some may jump away in fear, some may jump to attack it, some may jump towards it to play, all of this is reaction. Some will stand and look at it.

For some uses you want a reactive dog, not a fearful dog. Most malinois are extremely reactive, yet some of the most fearless dogs there are. Some are nerve bags.
Reactive dogs can be some of the most highly trainable, responsive dogs, with tons of drive and work ethic.

Aggression is a type of reactivity, yet a whole other issue. A dog who shows aggressive tendencies to a dog that is ignoring it, is true aggression, where just reactivity can be much more easily managed.
 

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Let's say you had been working for a month on slowly bringing dogs closer and closer and you were making great progress. Then, one day, you are on a walk in a secluded place when an off-leash dog charges you and scares the crap out of your reactive dog. Now, you are nearly back to square one with your reactivity training.
Welcome to my life, heh.

My dogs are both reactive, and it's fear-based. They're afraid of large dogs they don't know. My papillon is worse; she can get over threshold when a strange dog is almost a block away. She barks, growls, and even snarls and air snaps if they get too close (she's never actually attempted to bite a dog, though). Once she meets the dog and realizes it's not going to eat her, she immediately calms down and completely ignores it. We had made a lot of progress a couple of years ago, but then a loose, aggressive black lab (possibly a mix; it was big) came tearing out of its yard intent on attacking my dogs and erased it all. To this day she freaks out even more at large, black dogs. I haven't managed to find anyone with a friendly big black dog she could meet and walk with.

Crystal seems to get better every summer, when we see a lot more dogs out walking and it becomes more normal for her, and worse every winter because we have very few strange dogs to practice with. And we've had pretty bad luck lately with loose dogs or dogs on flexis rushing her -- in the past six months there's been a rude chocolate lab that ran out of its yard and across a street to get to us, a screaming schnauzer straining on its flexi, a beagle with a clueless owner who let the flexi out to its full length, a pack of four loose medium-sized dogs, a lab mix who actually knocked his owner on his butt and pulled the leash out of his hands to get to mine, and a loose big black mix who found my dogs a lot more interesting than the game of fetch he and his owner were playing in a (NON-OFF-LEASH) park.
 

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I'm no expert, but I have what I would classify as a reactive dog, so I can tell you my experience.

Like your dog, Neeka does both stiffening silence and barking and lunging (or used to, we've almost fully trained it out). For her, the stiffening and staring down is part of telling another that she means business and they better keep away. She also freezes when if another dog surprises her and they're too close- she'll freeze as a defence mechanism.
The big tell-tale difference that tells me it isn't aggression is that when dogs did get within range, she would snap and bark or nip them, but she wouldn't do damage. She also doesn't care about dogs that ignore her. It's dogs that get too close or fixate on her that she has trouble with.
We made it better by doing focus exercises and trying to create a positive reaction to dogs by creating a new chain of behaviors. Instead of: see a dog -> bark/snap wildly -> get forcably removed, we're making it: see a dog -> focus on me -> get a treat. It's going well, and I think it also helped that as she got older she got mellower.

Maybe someone with dog aggression experience knows- but to my understanding dog aggressive dogs don't even get along with other dogs in the household. On the other hand, Neeka gets along fine with dogs she knows because she knows they aren't a threat to her. Her and SiSi are best friends.
 

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Dog aggression falls on a spectrum just like reactivity does. I have a selectively DA dog, and he lives in a pack of 3, sometimes 4, with a rotating foster. He has to be watched, but he is pretty good most of the time. Some can't be around any dogs. Mine can be around all LEASHED or controlled dogs. And he runs with a silly pack, but monitered.

I have met dogs that will kill any dog on sight. I think that training, socialization, and genetics ALL had to fail to result in a dog like that.
 

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I'm learning about all this as well.

I just found out about this blog by an owner of a reactive dog. It's called Reactive Champion.
http://reactivechampion.blogspot.com/

I've got a reactive 4mo puppy. When he sees the movement of individual people walking by or dogs he stiffens (becomes stuck) and hackles raise, then he barks. This happens when we walk off property and when he's in the car. I think that he is afraid and wants the thing to go away. I don't think he'd bite...unless the scary thing backed him into a corner...but most dogs would bite when afraid and backed into a corner.

When I walk him on the downtown pedestrian shopping mall with lots of people moving in all sorts of directions he's all happy waggy tail and love me love me. Meeting new people at our home (men, women, children) he's all wagging tail and lovey lovey. At puppy socialization class he's mildly reactive for the first few seconds when a new dog comes in. Then after 30 min of class we have a puppy play time and he's nice with the other pups. Moderates his play style for the younger smaller pups.

I've been doing Pavlov. As soon as he sees the trigger I put a meatball in front of his face, let him nibble off of it. If he gets more tense, bites hard on the meatball, or if he goes over threshold I put more space between him and the thing. Then when he calm I'll lethim go sniff around and romp. If he's playful and will chase butterflies or romp inthe grass then I know I've not fried him.

Anyway to the OP your dog could possibly meet certain dogs (friendly non reactive dogs) on leash. There is a way to come up and say hello, then leave. And it's done pretty fast. Walking up to the dog on a curve, with a loose leash, when your dogs body language is relaxed (obviously not when he's lunging and pulling and growling) say hi count to a beat of 3 and walk away.
 

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@NRB - I think you're doing the right thing to guide your pup through his fear cycle. Keep socializing with lots of different dogs, and I believe he'll be a happy pup in a few weeks.

Like trainingjunkie said, I think truly aggressive dogs are rare... I don't think I've ever seen an aggressive dog that didn't have some form of fear aggression. I believe that a fear aggressive dog will hesitate and react to other dogs, sometimes going overboard, even reacting to just seeing another dog. Years ago, we did a lot of rehabilitation with mildly fear aggressive dogs, letting them go into a fenced area with my dog. They'd threaten him, and he'd turn and walk away... eventually they'd get bored (and lonely?)... realize he wasn't a threat... and they'd learn social skills.

I was careful with which dogs we'd socialize... but I never saw what I believe was a confident, aggressive attack dog, whose goal was to kill, without hesitation, any dog. ... On the other hand, my dog does bark at people and dogs when he's onleash... trying to say Hello!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
So, after reading everything, I've come to conclusion that he is more reactive than aggressive. He's never growled or barked at another dog with his angry voice, he's never actually went for a dog that was out right ignoring him, but he does seem to get very irritated with tiny, yappy dogs. Then again, so do I. For the love of doG shut. up.

So yesterday, instead of a regular walk, we broke into pairs and worked on focus and impulse control, and I started with Diesel.
I sat him down and did a little bit of 'watch me' and that went fantastic. Then, while we were walking, there was a lot of 'wait's. If he started to pull, we stopped and waited.
Then I purposely got him close to the other dogs. ALL of the dogs in my neighborhood are hit-the-end-of-the-chain dogs. There's growling and barking and snapping, and I got as close as I felt comfortable. If he looked at them, or reacted in any other way, we stopped, I stood infront of him and gave him a 'watch me'. And when he turned his attention to me, I treated him, moved and kept going. It took only a few times and before long I was walking LOOSE LEASH -can I get a hallelujah chorus please?- past all these dogs and got no reaction at all.

I did the same with Aleu after that. She's not aggressive, but other dogs perceive her as rude, I believe. She's had a lot of socialization, but she still goes bonkers when she meets another dog. Getting her to watch me was a challenge, getting her to wait was a challenge. She's very bright, and picks up things in just a few repetitions, but she would rather do what she wants than what I want. But she too did well by her own standards.

Well, we went out for a short walk last night after it got dark, and while Aleu was back to being herself, Diesel seemed to remember EVERYTHING. I couldn't have been more proud of him. He's always been a little slower on picking things up than Aleu, but he so wants to please me that he will try anything. When we passed these dogs, he looked to me instead of them, he didn't pull, he didn't focus. It was magic.

So we're going to keep this up every day, and hopefully I can get to the point where I feel confident in letting him get close to other dogs.
We're also working on a 'wait ... go greet' thing. I hope to see some progress with that.
 

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I don't think there is any sort of sharp distinction between reactivity or aggression, and the dog is certainly not doing stuff thinking, "I'm being reactive" or "I'm being aggressive". They just do what they do. Aggression is just a label, but doesn't mean anything in particular. "Aggression" is not a useful term because it doesn't describe the dog very clearly. I refrain from using aggression when describing dogs simply because it's so broad and nebulous, it could mean anything.

Reactivity means the dog reacts to something in the environment, and is a much more useful term. Who knows what's going on deep in the dog's psyche, it's not terribly important. All we're concerned about is what's on the outside, and reactivity is something we can see on the outside.
 

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I don't think there is any sort of sharp distinction between reactivity or aggression,
I guess I tend to think of aggression as a confident dog willing to attack. And reactive as fear based. The reactive dog is essentially over reacting to a trigger that makes him afraid. Aggression seems more offensive to me and reactive is more defensive.
 

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There's too much grey area throwing around the term aggression. There's a false stigma associated with "aggressive" or "red-zone" dogs.

I knew someone who had some pit bulls that absolutely enjoyed human companionship. The male pit was great with everybody, would let kids tug on his tail and tackle him, and generally acted like a little puppy around adults. Then he would actually kill other dogs if they got too close. I never witnessed it, but story has it the murdering was swift. Is this dog labeled "aggressive"?

If a dog is at the end of the leash snarling at another animal, then that's reactivity. Doesn't matter if it's offensive or defensive, it's reactivity. Whether a dog is doing it based on fear or confidence is another source of grey area. When we talk about their internal state, we're doing a certain amount of projecting, putting ourselves in their situation, and not judging it from a scientific point of view. Everybody projecting themselves in that situation will come up with a different conclusion, and so it's more or less meaningless what we *think* the dog is thinking.
 

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My dog i think is reactive, i tell people who ask why aswell, when she see's another dog, she either gets down on her belly, or she freezes on the spot, if they get in her face she will nip them, if she is on a narrow path, or feels trapped she will bark like a manic, although she is getting better with some dogs, my dog doesn't actually want to attack another dog though, i can say this because she does not actually even fight, if dogs attack her she submits straight away without trying to fight back, people do not give her a chance though, and normally hurry on by, if only they would give her that chance, because she normally calms down, i could see a change in her, then a dog would come along and attack her and set her right back.
 

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I knew someone who had some pit bulls that absolutely enjoyed human companionship. The male pit was great with everybody, would let kids tug on his tail and tackle him, and generally acted like a little puppy around adults. Then he would actually kill other dogs if they got too close. I never witnessed it, but story has it the murdering was swift. Is this dog labeled "aggressive"?
I would refer to that dog as DA (dog aggressive), but not HA (human aggressive). They're very different things, and most "aggressive" dogs are one or the other. Reactive dogs, too -- my papillon is dog reactive, but she is polite with any person.
 

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I would refer to that dog as DA (dog aggressive), but not HA (human aggressive). They're very different things, and most "aggressive" dogs are one or the other. Reactive dogs, too -- my papillon is dog reactive, but she is polite with any person.
quingcong, crantastic beat me to it. In your example that was a DA dog and not a HA dog. Most DA dogs tend to be DA not HA. ok most that I've read and heard about. I'm no trainer, so I have no first hand experience with either.

And I get what you mean about us anthropomorphizing dogs. But sometimes using language that we humans understand is the only way to communicate with other humans. Doesn't make the language right or perfect for the application that we use it for. I am sure that there are much better scientific terms for what we mean. I just don't know them.

Its true that is the dog is reacting then the dog is reacting. But as a trainer wouldn't it make sense to know the reason behind the reactivity? So that you could train better? But then again maybe you would train the same for both the aggressive dog and the reactive dog... In other words you have the same answer to the question "How do I train my reactive dog not to be reactive?" and "How do I train my DA or HA dog to not be aggressive towards dogs or humans?"
 
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