Gentle handling seems to elicit positive states in sheep. The study investigated whether spatial distance alters sheep responses to brushing and whether spatial distance is influenced by reactivity. Twenty Romane ewes were assessed in three sessions: in Sessions 1 and 3, one grid separated the test animal from pen mates, with no distance between them, and in Session 2 two grids separated the test animal from pen mates by a distance of about 1.7 m. Ewes had been genetically selected for low (R−) or high (R+) behavioural reactivity to social isolation. Body postures, head orientation, ear postures, closed and half-closed eyes, tail wagging and feeding behaviour, in addition to heart rate (HR) and HR variability, as the root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD), standard deviation of all normal-to-normal (NN) intervals (SDNN), RMSSD/SDNN ratio and ratio between low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) powers (LF/HF) were assessed. Data were analysed using generalized linear models and linear mixed models. Session, genetic line and phase (pre-, brushing and post-brushing) were considered fixed effects. Increased distance in Session 2 might not have influenced ewes’ responses. Fewer changes in ear postures were noted in Session 3 than 1 (P<0.01), suggesting that ewes were more relaxed in Session 3. The RMSSD/SDNN ratio was higher mainly during brushing in Sessions 1 and 3 (P<0.05), indicating that ewes were more relaxed during brushing, and at no distance between pen mates. However, spatial distance influenced R− and R+ ewes’ responses; R+ ewes performed more asymmetric ear postures in Session 2 than 1 and 3 (P<0.01), and in Session 3 than 1 (P<0.01), indicating that spatial distance had a negative effect on R+ ewes. Low reactive ewes spent less time on horizontal ear postures in Session 2 than 1 and 3 (P<0.01), and R+ ewes spent more time on horizontal postures in Session 1 than 3 (P<0.01). Curiously, R− ewes spent more time eating and ruminating in Session 3 than 1 (P<0.01), and in Session 2 than 1 and 3 (P<0.01), whereas R+ ewes ate and ruminated more in Session 1 than 3 (P<0.05). Higher HR was found among R− ewes in Session 2 than 1 and 3, and in Session 3 than 1 (P<0.01). High reactive ewes showed higher HR in Session 1 than 3 (P<0.01). The findings suggest that the social context might influence sheep responses to gentle handling, and the effects depend on their reactivity traits.