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  • Writer's pictureSara Scott

Living in a Reactive Building: Navigating Communal Dog Reactivity

Moving into an apartment or condo building comes with the promise of convenience and community. You'll be close to neighbors, share facilities, and see familiar faces about. But beware - some buildings have uninviting quirks like poor sound proofing, drafty windows, or a pest problem. For dog owners, a more troublesome building-wide affliction is entrenched dog-to-dog reactivity.

What is a Reactive Building?

A reactive building is one where the majority of resident dogs display frequent barking and lunging when encountering other dogs. Reactive behaviors spread through negative associations. Dogs begin to feel uncomfortable when in the presence of other dogs in the building.

In a reactive building, merely walking down the hall or entering the elevator create a stressful ordeal of navigating around other dogs' triggers. New residents arrive hopeful their dog will enjoy the community, only to find a minefield of reactive canines straining at their leashes. Some buildings even have reputations among local dog owners for reactivity issues.

How Buildings Become Reactive

Dogs may move into a building feeling happy and relaxed in the presence of other dogs. But over time, they can develop a negative association to the presence of other dogs due to a history of reactive encounters in crowded hallways, elevators and lobbies. If the majority of the dogs in the building are already reactive, new dogs moving into the building are likely to become reactive in time as well due to negative associations that are created through classical conditioning. The building is essentially “infected" with dog reactivity and soon your dog will likely be “infected” too.

Navigating a Reactive Environment

When touring potential buildings, go during typical activity times to see dogs coming and going. Watch for signs like barking from inside units or resident dogs straining towards each other on leashes. Ask to enter hallways and common areas. Are dogs reactive to your presence or to other dogs passing by? Are owners struggling to control their dogs? Ask management about pet policies and complaints. Request to speak with pet-owning residents about their experiences. Observing dog interactions in shared spaces gives crucial insights that listings and leases don’t provide. Making an informed decision when renting can help prevent ending up in a reactive environment.

Living in a reactive building requires planning, management skills, and diligence to prevent outbursts. Start by taking the less traveled route out to the street, if you have an option to avoid the elevator and main lobby do so. Use alternative stairways when possible. Ask neighbors about schedules to time outdoor trips accordingly. Teach your dog to wait while you check hallways first. Use food as a “magnet” on your dog's nose to move them away from or in the opposite direction of another dog. Teach your dog to orient to you after they go through a door way. For stairwells, briefly exit to avoid encounters. Don’t linger in the parking garage. Seek trainers experienced in dense, reactive environments to build your handling skills. With preparation and prevention, coexisting in a reactive building is possible.

Signs to Watch Out For

If you find yourself living in a dog reactive building, stay alert for signs that the environment is negatively impacting your own dog. One red flag is if your dog starts reacting to noises of other dogs in the hallway while inside your unit. Barking, growling, or becoming agitated simply from hearing another dog walk by or make noise indicates they are forming negative associations.

Additionally, monitor your dog’s reactions once outside the building. If they display increased reactivity towards passing dogs on the street compared to previous behavior, it’s a warning sign. Even though they are no longer in the stressful indoor environment, their reactivity has generalized to the outdoor setting as well.

Both of these scenarios - reacting to building noises from inside your unit and increased street reactivity - are evidence that experiences in the common areas are amplifying your dog’s reactivity not just in the moment but outside the building too. This generalization of the behavior is a clue that the repetitive stressful encounters are negatively impacting your dog beyond the walls of your building. Get help from a dog behavior specialist and make a plan to help your dog better cope.

With careful management, one can prevent reactivity from worsening. With a community effort and smart management, buildings can shift from reactive to welcoming.


Is your dog struggling with reactivity in an apartment building environment? As an experienced dog behavior specialist, I can provide customized training programs to help your dog stay calm and focused around other dogs, even in tight spaces.

I offer customized training tailored to your unique situation, whether you’re considering a move or already dealing with reactivity issues. Don’t wait, reactive responses tend to worsen over time. Contact me today to schedule a consultation and start your dog down the path to relaxing walks and peaceful rides in multi-dog buildings again.


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