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Best Diet for Reactive Dogs: Manage Behavior with Nutrition

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

Reactive dogs can be challenging to handle, and their behavior can often lead to difficult situations for the dog and its owner. While training and behavior modification techniques can effectively manage reactivity, nutrition can also play a vital role in promoting a calmer demeanor in these dogs.

A balanced and nutritious diet containing high-quality proteins and low in carbohydrates and supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids can help manage the behavior of reactive dogs by reducing anxiety and stress levels.

Certain nutrients and dietary changes can significantly impact a dog’s behavior, including reducing anxiety and stress. With the right combination of ingredients, dog owners can provide their pets with a balanced and healthy diet that can help to support their mental and emotional well-being.

From low-carb diets to supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, many options are available to help reactive dogs lead happier and more comfortable lives.

In this article, we’ll explore the best diet for reactive dogs and how it can help to manage their behavior.

A Dog Being Reactive and Barking. Best Diet For Reactive Dogs

What Are Reactive Dogs?

Reactive dogs strongly react to certain triggers, such as other dogs, people, or loud noises. 

This reaction can manifest in various ways, such as barking, lunging, or growling. Reactive behavior is often a result of fear or anxiety, and it can be challenging for the dog and its owner.

It’s essential to note that reactive behavior is not the same as aggression. 

Reactive dogs are not necessarily aggressive dogs; their behavior does not indicate they are mean or ill-tempered. Instead, it’s a natural response to situations that they find overwhelming or frightening. 

What Causes A Dog To Be Reactive?

The causes of reactive behavior in dogs can vary, but it is often a result of fear or anxiety. 

Dogs not adequately socialized or those that have had negative experiences may be more prone to reactive behavior. 

Similarly, dogs that have experienced trauma or have been mistreated may also exhibit reactive behavior. 

Also, dogs in pain or discomfort may exhibit reactive behavior due to feeling vulnerable or defensive. 

Some breeds, such as those traditionally bred for guarding or protection, may also be more likely to show reactive behavior.

If you’re a regular reader of my website, you’ll know that I have a German Shepherd. Even though my dog is well-trained and socialized, she will sometimes react to certain triggers – it’s just the German Shepherd in her!

Does Dog Reactivity Ever Go Away?

As a dog owner, I understand that some puppy behaviors can be frustrating, but we often assume they will grow out of it as they mature. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case for reactivity in dogs. Reactivity often increases over time if a dog continually has negative experiences. 

This is why it’s crucial to start training early and never punish a reactive dog, as it can imprint highly negative emotions and make it even harder to address the behavior in the future.

If your dog suddenly shows reactive behaviors, don’t wait. It’s essential to start addressing them in training as soon as possible. 

Reactive Dog Barking. Nutrition for Reactive Dogs.

How Do You Calm A Reactive Dog?

I know firsthand how challenging it can be to calm a reactive dog. The first step is identifying what triggers their reactive behavior and avoiding or managing those situations as much as possible. 

In addition to training and management techniques, a balanced and nutritious diet, low in carbohydrates and supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids, can also help manage the behavior of reactive dogs by reducing anxiety and stress levels.

When my dog becomes reactive, I try to remain calm and avoid reacting with fear or anxiety, which can escalate her behavior. 

Instead, I redirect her attention to positive behavior, such as a sit or down command, and reward her for her calm behavior. I also ensure she has a safe and comfortable space when overwhelmed.

In addition to these techniques, working with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist is essential to develop a personalized training plan tailored to your dog’s needs. 

Many reactive dogs can learn to manage their behavior and lead happy, fulfilling lives with consistency, patience, and the right techniques. 

Providing your dog with a healthy and balanced diet, regular exercise, and positive reinforcement can help support their mental and emotional well-being and reduce their reactive behavior over time.

What Is The Best Food For A Reactive Dog?

High-Quality Proteins

I know how important it is to feed your furry friend a healthy and nutritious diet

Incorporating high-quality proteins, like chicken, turkey, beef, and fish can be incredibly beneficial for a reactive dog. 

These proteins are delicious and satisfying for your pup but can also help keep them full and calm, reducing their stress levels.

An anxious or stressed dog may exhibit reactive behaviors, such as barking, growling, or biting. 

By feeding them a diet rich in high-quality proteins, you can help keep them feeling more relaxed and content, ultimately leading to better behavior overall. 

When my dog feels full and satisfied after a protein-packed meal, I’ve noticed that she’s much less likely to react negatively to environmental triggers.

Of course, it’s important to remember that not all proteins are created equal. 

When choosing high-quality proteins for your dog’s diet, be sure to look for options free from fillers and additives and from reputable sources.


Low Carbohydrates

Feeding your reactive dog a diet that’s low in carbohydrates can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, which can contribute to anxiety and stress. 

Although dogs are omnivores, their bodies are designed to mainly digest high-quality animal protein, not large amounts of carbohydrates. 

When dogs don’t get enough protein, their bodies will turn to carbohydrates for energy, leading to unstable blood sugar levels and inconsistent moods.

“That’s why feeding your dog a diet rich in high-quality animal protein and low in carbohydrates is crucial.” 

World of Dogz

This type of diet helps your dog stay feeling full and satisfied, which in turn reduces their stress levels. It also helps your dog stay focused and alert throughout the day. 

When choosing dog food, look for products that list high-quality animal proteins like chicken, turkey, beef, or fish as the main ingredient, and avoid those that rely heavily on grains or other sources of carbohydrates. 

Remember that dogs’ ideal carbohydrate amount is no more than 35 percent of their diet.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids can be incredibly helpful in managing your dog’s reactivity. 

These fatty acids, found in foods like fish oil, have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve brain function, and even reduce anxiety and stress levels in dogs. 

By supplementing your dog’s diet with omega-3s, you may notice a significant improvement in their behavior and overall mood. I recommend Zesty Paws Omega-3 Alaskan Fish Oil Treats from Amazon. Your doggo will love these tasty chews. They are also great for their skin and coat and joint support.

Another essential factor to consider when feeding a reactive dog is fat intake. While it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes and not overfeed your dog, it’s also important to ensure they’re getting enough fat in their diet. 

Fat contains a chemical called DHA, which is crucial for maintaining stable moods in dogs. Low levels of DHA can contribute to aggression and irritability. 

To ensure my dog gets enough DHA, I like to include fish in her diet. I often soften her kibble by adding some tuna, salmon, or mackerel. Not only is fish a great source of healthy fats, but it’s also rich in DHA.

Feeding a reactive dog a balanced and nutritious diet can significantly affect its behavior and overall well-being. 

By including high-quality proteins, limiting carbohydrates, and supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, I’ve been able to help manage my dog’s reactivity and reduce her stress levels. 

It’s important to remember that every dog is different, so it may take some experimentation to find the right diet that works for your pet.

Two Small Dogs Barking


What Dog Breeds Are Reactive?

Several dog breeds are known to be more reactive than others, especially herding breeds, including the Border Collie, Australian Cattle Dog, and German Shepherd. These breeds were originally bred for work and had high energy levels, intelligence, and sensitivity, making them more prone to reactive behavior if not properly trained and managed.

However, it is essential to note that reactivity can occur in any breed, and every dog is an individual with a unique temperament and behavior.

Is A Grain-Free Diet Beneficial For Reactive Dogs?

Focusing on providing a balanced and nutritious diet for your reactive dog is important. While some dogs may benefit from a grain-free diet due to food sensitivities or allergies, no scientific evidence suggests that a grain-free diet is inherently beneficial for reactive dogs.

Some studies have linked grain-free diets to an increased risk of heart disease in dogs, but more research is required, and investigations remain ongoing.

Are There Any Specific Vitamins Or Minerals That Can Help With Dog Reactivity?

Several vitamins and minerals can help reduce dog reactivity. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, can reduce inflammation and improve brain function, lowering stress levels. Vitamin B6 and magnesium can also have a calming effect on dogs.

Can Overfeeding My Dog Lead To Reactive Behavior?

Overfeeding your dog can lead to reactive behavior. An overweight dog can become lazy and less active, resulting in anxiety and increased reactivity. Additionally, certain ingredients in dog food, such as high levels of carbohydrates or artificial preservatives, can also contribute to reactive behavior.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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