Leash reactivity: this general term describes dogs barking, lunging, growling and seemingly “losing their mind” at the sight of a trigger. Triggers are generally other dogs, people, cars, bikes, skateboards etc.
The dog has an emotional response to what they are seeing which creates arousal. Arousal creates the crazy leash behavior. The INTENT of the dog could be aggression, excitement, fear, frustration, but the behavior we see is usually the same.
So how can you help your dog?
- Consider your relationship. If your dog spends time at dog daycare or several hours a week at the dog park and can’t cope with seeing a dog on a leash, then take a step back and focus on the relationship. Your dog doesn’t need social time with dogs – it needs dependable leadership and quality time with you. Learn how to play with your dog and incorporate play into your daily training. Be an advocate, not an activities director.
- Address the emotional component. Reactive dogs are unable to cope with what he/she is seeing or hearing. They don’t know HOW to and relax and “stay in his/her lane”. Desensitizing/counter conditioning exercises are the foundation of any good program. Work toward building a mentally resilient dog.
- Dependable structure. How does your dog live with you? If they are at the window screaming at everything walking by, the leash reactivity will never go away. Teach your dog that your home isn’t romper room. Use a crate on the regular which may mean taking away some freedom to give them a reboot and an opportunity to earn it back.
- Teach Foundation obedience skills. Coming when called to a structured heel and “place training” (the ability to stay in one place when instructed) are paramount. Most of the reactive dogs we work with don’t come when called, have no understanding of walking on a leash, and are acting bonkers in the house. Teach life skills to fall back on.
- Don’t be afraid of tools. Educate yourself. If you don’t understand how a training tool works (clicker, prong collar, e-collar, head collar, etc.) or how it can help you, find a trainer with proven experience that shows results in their work and ask them a lot of questions. Be inquisitive and get references. Find a trainer who is transparent, has a plan, and explains the process step by step.
Your dog is an emotional and imperfect creature, not a robot. Enjoy them, advocate for them and help them be the best version of themselves.