What Is Leash Reactivity?

January 25, 2018 | We Learn | Tips from Marie Aymard

Leash reactivity, sometimes also called leash aggression, is one of the most common problems prospective clients come in wanting to address with their dogs. It can make walk time extremely uncomfortable, even though it should be an enjoyable activity for both you and your dog. So what is leash reactivity? Where does it come from?

Often times, this heightened level of stimulation manifests in barking, lunging, or otherwise unruly behaviors at the end of the leash towards a triggering stimuli. It is often times deemed as aggressive or fear based, and while this is sometimes the case, it is almost always a symptom of over-excitement in some form.  

In an ideal world, the best way to stop this behavior is to never let it happen in the first place, but in all honesty, that is not always realistic. Not giving a dog, especially a young dog, the opportunity to engage with exciting things, like other dogs, on a leash helps to condition neutrality which helps curb these problem behaviors before they can start. Keeping your dog engaged with you on a walk is an important part of socialization. However, many people are conditioned to let their dogs ‘play’ with other dogs on a leash instead, thinking that a socialized dog is one that will play with every other dog. This is far from the truth – a social dog is one that remains constant across environment in terms of their behavior. Unfortunately, these types of measures are not always feasible, so it is important to learn how to deal with leash reactivity when it does arise. 

” Unfortunately, these types of measures are not always feasible, so it is important to learn how to deal with leash reactivity when it does arise.”

The ultimate goal when conquering this challenge is to keep your dog calm on walks regardless of what they may encounter. First and foremost, you need to identify what it is that triggers your dog. Is it other dogs? People? Cars? Bicyclists? Also, see if you can figure out their threshold – how close does the trigger need to be for your dog to begin their chain of reactions? Once we know what it is that causes the reactivity, we want to start building motivation for attention. Teaching your dog a cue that means to give eye contact is a great place to start. Begin teaching this behavior without distractions first. 

When you dog has a solid grip on how to give attention on command, begin working in proximity of your dog’s trigger. For example, if your dog begins to trigger at other dogs from about a city block away, have a friend with a dog sit at that distance with their dog and practice your focus command. Slowly decrease the working distance. If your dog goes back to reacting, you moved too fast, so take a step back and continue repetitions.  

As you go out on walks, be sure you have the proper equipment to control your dog (contact a trainer if you are unsure of what works best for your dog) and be cognizant of your environment. Every outing is a chance to work with your dog, so be prepared to be working with your dog every chance you get!

Marie Aymard Leash Reactivity

If you enjoyed this post, you should read 3 Reasons Your Dog May Bite: Be Informed Before It’s Too Late here.

What has your leash experience been with your pup? Share below!

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