Leash reactivity in dogs can leave you nervous, unsure, and maybe even confused as to why your dog is reacting on a leash or even wondering what is leash reactivity?
In this article, we go over what is leash reactivity, some reasons your dog may be leash reactive, and what you can do to manage and stop leash reactivity with your pup.
What Is Leash Reactivity? The Simple Answer
Leash reactivity is any dog that reacts on a leash to another person, dog, or its environment, whether it’s your dog lunging, barking, whining, pulling, or hiding when on the leash.
Do You Have A Leash Reactive Dog?
Now that we understand what is leash reactivity here’s how to determine if you truly have a leash reactive pup.
Your dog is always on alert, ears perked up, easily fixated
Your dog lunges and pulls towards other dogs, people, or the environment.
Your dog begins to get overly excited and barks when walking towards another dog person or its environment.
Your dog tries to dart or hide when faced with other dogs, people, or the environment.
Your dog chases everything in sight.
The Underlining Reason For Leash Reactivity
Now that you know how to identify if you have a reactive dog or not and understand what is leash reactivity, the next phase is identifying the underlying reason for your dog’s leash reactivity.
Being that every dog is an individual the reasons why dogs react will vary depending on your specific dog because every dog is different. Below is a shortlist of the most common reasons why your dog may react on the leash.
Fear/ insecurity: Many dogs will react on leash when they feel fearful or insecure about something on a walk.
It’s not uncommon to see a fearful dog, bark, and lunge at people or dogs. This is often an attempt to make what’s making your dog comfortable go away.
On-leash greetings: Many dogs begin to react on leash when you make greeting other dogs on a leash a habit.
If every time you see a dog on a walk you allow your dog to say “hi” next time you just want to walk past another dog your pup will want to pull and react because up to that point all your dog has experienced is see a dog go say hi.
Frustration: A dog may react on the leash due to frustration. Frustration usually occurs when you allow your dog to practice seeing things your pup can’t get access to.
For instance, if you allow your dog to roam your fenced in yard all day to just “see” other dogs and people walking by. You may begin to notice that your dog will begin bark or whining at the sight of a person or dog. This occurs because your dog is actively seeing people and dogs he/she may want to interact with but instead is being restrained and just allowed to stare and watch as other people and dogs walk by. That restraint and continued staring then turns into frustration.
Now when you take your pup on a walk you’ll notice that your pup is a bit overly excited when encountering people or dogs. That is because now your dog associates the sight of people and dogs with the feeling of being frustrated.
Prey drive: If your dog is reacting on the leash a good reason is your dog’s prey drive. Prey drive is your dog’s desire to “chase catch and shake”. All dogs have prey drive that varies depending on breed, genetics, and upbringing of your specific dog.
Unknowingly reinforced: Your dog may e reacting on a leash because in one form or another you may have been unknowingly reinforcing your dog for the behavior you don’t want.
For instance, if your dog lunges or barks at another dog, and the first thing you do is bend down to pet your pup and try to “calm your dog down”, you have been reinforcing your dog’s leash reactivity instead of calming your dog down.
Handling Leash Reactivity
When understanding what is leash reactivity in your dog there are a couple of ways to handle the situation, here are some ways to manage your leash reactive dog.
When dealing with any behavior in dogs its important to understand that the more your dog rehearses a behavior the more likely your dog will continue to perform the same behavior and make it a habit.
Managing your dog from reacting is going to critical in being able to help your dog overcome the underlining reason. as to why your dog is reacting.
Two ways to manage your dog from reacting are:
Being preemptive: Being preemptive is important in managing your dogs’ reactivity.
For instance, if you know your dog lunges and reacts to people, don’t wait until your dog is at the end of the leash already barking and lunging, to try and gain control of the situation.
Instead, you want to be aware of your environment and instead of waiting for your dog to get to the end of the leash for you to respond, don’t allow your dog to even get to the point of getting to the end of the leash, because at that point you’re just reacting and responding to your dog’s behavior. We want to be proactive, not reactive when walking our reactive dogs.
Interrupting: Being able to interrupt our dog from the state of mind and routine your pup gets into when he/she feels the need to react will also be critical in helping your dog stop his leash reactivity.
Essentially we want to be proactive so that we are not reacting with our dogs and also be able to interrupt your dog from that reactive state of mind.
How To Stop Leash Reactivity
Now that you understand how to manage your dog’s reactivity here’s the gameplan so that you can effectively stop your dog’s leash reactivity and asking your self what is leash reactivity in your dog.
Paired with being preemptive, and interrupting any reactive behavior you want to begin the counter conditioning process. You want to begin providing your dog with positive experiences around what your dog normally would react to.
How do you begin providing your dog with positive experiences around what triggers his reactivity you ask?
The easiest way to provide your dog with positive experiences is through food and play. If your dog is extremely food motivated be sure to either bring your dog normal food outside or bring your dog’s favorite treats.
The idea is to be at a far enough distance from what’s causing your dog’s reactivity so that your dog can focus on you so that you can begin rewarding your dog at a safe distance. The more you practice the better your dog will get. As your pup progresses begin gradually closing the distance your dog is from his reactivity trigger.
For instance, if your dog reacts to people go out on a walk and ask your friend to stand on one end of the sidewalk or field. If you notice that your dog looks at the person but then doesn’t bark or lung get your dog’s attention and reward. then gradually ask your friend to get closer and closer while you reward your dog.
If at any point your dog loses focus off of you and gets fixated on your friend guide your dog away so that your dog is facing you and away from your friend. and begin the process again.
This works so well because your dog will begin learning to check in with you while beginning to associate what normally would trigger your dog with a positive association.
Please keep in mind that training a reactive dog takes time and is easier with the help of a professional, if you and your pup need guidance we’d love to help whether its in person or virtually.
After reading this article you should understand what is leash reactivity and how to begin talking the issue.
Remember just because your dog has leash reactivity doesn’t mean you should lose all hope! There are ways to begin teaching your dog to follow and listen to you instead of getting fixated and reacting on a leash.
Manage your dog’s reactivity so that your dog isn’t rehearsing the behavior of lunging and reacting.
Second, begin using what your dog enjoys around what normally would trigger your dog that way your dog begins associating his trigger as something positive instead of something your dog feels the need to react to.
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