Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. – What do I do?

< A version of this article was published in the April 2017 issue of Downeast Dog News>

< a short link to this article – >

< Updated 10MAR21 >

Step one – Know that you are not alone. I receive several calls per week from people that are concerned about how their dog is behaving towards them, other people, other dogs, other animals, or maybe some combination of things. Aggression, reactivity, fear, and anxiety are all on a continuum of behaviors and the primary reason I see dogs for behavior consultations. Fear is almost always a direct cause or a major factor in aggression and reactivity. Previously in this column, I have discussed the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines which reported that “Behavioral problems affect more dogs and cats than any other medical condition and are one of the most common causes of euthanasia, relinquishment, or abandonment of pets.” You are not alone.

Step two – Act Now!! Accept that behavioral issues will not go away on their own nor will your dog outgrow them. Commit to act NOW! Understand that these matters are every bit as traumatic to your dog as they are to you. You are both suffering. Delaying action is only likely to make the resolution of these issues harder and in all probability take longer.

Step three – Learn to recognize the signs of fear in your dog and act to remove them from fearful situations. Most dogs communicate when they become nervous and afraid through their body language long before they vocalize or act. If you know these signs, you can get your dog out of a situation that will cause them to become more anxious. < FMI – How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful? >

Step four – Stop the use of force, fear, and pain. Immediately stop the use of any and all aversives for the management and training of your dog. Common aversives include but are not limited to; prong, pinch, choke, or shock collars, alpha rolls, squirt bottles, and the entire dominance/alpha construct. Aversives impair our dog’s ability to learn, damage the human-dog bond and trust, and often result in an emotional outburst resulting in the very behavior problems you wish to resolve. The AAHA guidelines categorically oppose the use of aversive techniques. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) also oppose the use of aversives in training and behavior modification. < FMI – Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives >

Step five – Manage Your Dog and Their Environment to Prevent the Behavior – If you have a dog that could potentially injure any other living thing, you have a moral and legal responsibility to prevent that from happening. It is also essential to understand that a dog that continues to behave aggressively does so because they are being rewarded for that behavior. While you may not be intentionally rewarding reactivity and aggression, the environment or the dogs own internal reward mechanisms can act as a reinforcer. Every time this behavior is rewarded it becomes stronger and more likely.  < FMI – Management of An Aggressive, Fearful or Reactive Dog >

Step six – Talk to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. If you have not already done so, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a detailed discussion about your dog’s behavioral issues. Aggression can be caused by many medical problems. Pain, neurological disorders, tumors, thyroid disease, and other hormone-related problems, and even an adverse reaction to a vaccine can cause aggression. Any medical issues related to your dog’s behavior need to be identified and resolved if you wish the behavior to change.

A Veterinary Behaviorist is a veterinarian who has completed additional education and a residency specializing in animal behavior. These specialists have a comprehensive understanding of your animal. They are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat all aspects of your pets, physical and mental health. Dr. Christine Calder is the only Veterinary Behaviorist practicing in Maine. I have included her contact information below as well as a link to an interview with her on my radio show/podcast, The Woof Meow Show.

Contact Info for Dr. Calder

Business: Calder Veterinary Behavior Services
Phone: (207) 298-4375
Facebook Page:

More info on Dr. Calder from the January 2020 issue of Downeast Dog News

Podcast – Introducing Dr. Christine Calder, Maine’s 1st Veterinary Behaviorist

Step seven – Seek help from a behavior professional. If your veterinarian determines that your dog’s behavioral issues are not the result of a medical problem, seek the advice of a professional animal behavior specialist, someone who understands canine behavior, ethology and behavior modification. Do not try to resolve this issue on your own or based on what someone tells you on Facebook. It is unlikely that you will be successful and you may make the problem worse and more difficult to resolve.

Behavior modification is not the same as dog training. Dog training is about teaching your dog to offer a particular action when given a cue. Behavior modification is about changing your dog’s emotional response to a stimulus. Aggression and reactivity are emotional responses typically based on fear or anger. Making your dog sit when a stranger approaches you and your dog is unlikely to make your dog less afraid or angry, but in fact, may make your dog feel more threatened. Behavior modification is about helping your dog develop a positive emotional response instead of barking, growling, lunging, or cowering.

The term “behaviorist” is often misused today. The only individuals that should be identifying themselves as a behaviorist are veterinarians who have been credentialed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB) and applied animal behaviorists credentialed by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). Beware of rescue and shelter workers and dog trainers that claim to be a “behaviorist” as it is unlikely that they are credentialed by the DACVB or the ABS. Below I discuss the types of qualifications that I recommend you look for when seeking behavioral help for you and your dog, and the organizations that grant those credentials.

There are three levels of professionals that specialize in assisting pets with behavioral problems.   At the first level, you will find Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (ACDBC) credentialed by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Professional Canine Behavior Consultants (PCBC) accredited by Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB). These individuals are typically dog trainers who have completed additional education specific to behavioral disorders, have passed an exam, and maintain continuing education regularly. They are qualified to work with most behavior problems. These individuals are the ones that you will most likely find in your community.

At the next level are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) accredited by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS). These behaviorists can work with more difficult behavior problems than the behavior consultants identified above.

At the top level are Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). These behaviorists are veterinarians with advanced training in behavior. They are skilled in dealing with the most dangerous behavior problems using both behavior modification therapy and medications.

Another place you may find help is from a veterinarian that is a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). This organization is made up of veterinarians and persons holding a Ph.D. in animal behavior or a related field. However, unlike the DACVB, ABS, IAABC, and PAAB, the AVSAB does NOT “…confer upon its members any qualifications or presuppose a level of expertise in the field of animal behavior.” The four other organizations listed above due requiring credentialed members to pass an exam and to maintain continuing education in their field. You can find links to all four of these organizations below.

Step eight – Be patient. While an undesirable behavior such as reactivity towards strangers can be created in a single event, it will likely take a significant amount of time and effort to change your dog’s behavior. Our brains and our dog’s brains work much the same. If we are exposed to something we perceive as dangerous or frightening, we are genetically pre-programmed to remember that for life. It is all about our instinctual motivation to survive. To successfully reprogram the brain can take weeks and even months of carefully planned desensitization and counter conditioning. It is human nature, especially in today’s culture to be impatient and to want instant results. That is not how behavior modification works. Be patient.

It can be very frustrating when our dog behaves anxiously or aggressively, or anywhere between these two emotional responses. Dog trainer Nancy Tanner posted an article on her blog entitled the misunderstanding of time. I encourage you to read it, and then place it somewhere you can find it quickly so that you can reread it anytime you are feeling frustrated or become impatient with your dog. < FMI – Shared Blog Post – the misunderstanding of time by Nancy Tanner >

Step nine – Take care of yourself. Living with a reactive or aggressive dog is not easy and can be emotionally draining. The blog post The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden at Dogs Today offers some insight on taking care of yourself as you care for your dog. < FMI – Shared Article – The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden-Dogs Today >

I also recommend that you consider reading the book The Official Guide To Living With DINOS by Jessica Dolce. The acronym DINOS refers to Dogs In Need Of Space, which is precisely what you have when you share your life with an aggressive, reactive or fearful dog. The book is not a replacement for working with a canine behavior professional but offers constructive advice on how to live with a reactive dog. < FMI – Dogs In Need of Space >

How Can Green Acres Kennel Shop Help

I am not currently offering the seminar noted below due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Green Acres Kennel Shop offers a Help! My Dog is Aggressive, Reactive, Fearful, Anxious, etc. seminar every 4 to 8 weeks. You can learn more about the next scheduled seminar at Upcoming Events page on Blog

For more information on Don’s behavior counseling services,  945-684, x103 or go to –

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (

How Can I Tell When My Dog Is Anxious or Fearful?

Dog Training – Reward Based Training versus Aversives

Shared Blog Post – the misunderstanding of time by Nancy Tanner

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? –

Pet Behavior as an Essential Component to Holistic Wellness

Introduction to Canine Communication

Dominance: Reality or Myth

Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

Canine Behavior – Myths and Facts – Part 1, Where do we get our knowledge about dogs? –

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs –

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars –

The emotional toll of a reactive dog by Jay Gurden in Dog’s Today –

Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (

Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts –

Pet Behavior, Vets & The AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines with Dr. Dave Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic

Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3

Handouts to Download

Dr. Sophia Yin – Body Language of Fear in Dogs –

Dr. Sophia Yin – How To Greet A Dog and What to Avoid –

Dr. Sophia Yin – Canine Bite Levels

To Find A Qualified and Credential Animal Behavioral Specialist

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB)

Animal Behavior Society ( ABS ) Certified Applied Animal Behavior Consultants –

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants ( IAABC )

Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)

Other Online Resources

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

2015 American Animal Hospital Association Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines

The Guiding Principles of the Pet Professional Guild

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Pet Correction Devices

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Choke and Prong Collars

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Shock In Animal Training

The Pet Professional Guild Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Animal Training

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals –

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Positive Veterinary Care

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

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