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All About Reactivity Setups

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What is an reactivity setup?

A reactivity setup is a training session with a goal of improving how a dog feels about, and reacts toward, certain triggers in their environment, to reduce barking, lunging, growling or other undesirable behaviour.

What is an opportunistic reactivity setup?

An opportunistic reactivity setup occurs when you train in a location where you expect triggers to show up at a distance at which your dog can remain under threshold. Sometimes people also train opportunistically on walks with whatever triggers they encounter.

What is a structured reactivity setup?

An structured reactivity setup occurs when you train in a location which is controlled as best you can and utilizing trained helper dogs or people. 

Pros and Cons of Opportunistic Reactivity Training


It is easier to execute! No recruitment or wrangling of helpers, don‘t have to pay helpers, likely can do more frequently


Higher risk of something going wrong, cannot control the trigger‘s distance/intensity and you might show up and have no triggers appear

Pros and Cons of Structured Reactivity Training


Higher chance of success with trained helpers, can control all variables about trigger, lower risk of the session going sideways (but unless you‘re on private property, this is always possible!)


More difficult and expensive to execute, many people don’t know any suitable helpers, may be harder to practice frequently, may be difficult or impossible to find controlled environments in cities/busy areas

The Moral of the Story

As much as us trainers would always like to control reactivity setups as much as possible, this isn’t always possible for the reasons listed above.

Even in controlled setups, off-leash dogs show up, trigger stacking happens or locations are less quiet than anticipated.

Do what works for you and your dog, but understand the risks and benefits of both.

About the author

Tess Morgan is a certified dog trainer and dog behaviour consultant who specializes in reactivity, fear, anxiety and aggression. She offers in-home dog training in London, Ontario and internationally online.

Want to learn more? Book a free discovery call.

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