Leash Reactivity is a term that many humans who own dogs are unaware of, and when they hear it, they don’t know what it means or looks like. Leash reactivity is an on-leash dog barking, growling, lunging, etc., at a trigger. The “trigger” is something or someone that causes this fear response to engage at a certain distance, specific to each dog with reactivity.
Leash reactivity does not necessarily mean aggression. Dogs can be leash reactive out of frustration or fear, which does not always mean they intend to harm the other dog or trigger. For example, a dog’s leash reactivity may be based on the frustration of being unable to greet another dog. As a result, he barks and pulls on his leash when he sees the other dogs in an attempt to get to them. However, once given a proper introduction, he can play successfully or never shows this type of behavior when off-leash at the dog park. And remember, some fearful dogs may be asking for space from other dogs and do not want to be social with other dogs, and that’s okay too.
Training tips to start with leash reactivity
Tip #1: Bring the treats! Everyone likes a payday, winning the jackpot, or a tasty morsel after dinner. And dogs are no different. So not only will it be easier to work with your dog, but this method will help your dog form a positive association with their triggers.
Tip #2: Give yourself space. Which will likely mean more space than you think. If your dog is leash reactive walking down the street, try crossing the street. If they are walking down the same street, stop behind a parked car that acts as a visual barrier, allowing them to gain distance between you and your dog.
Tip #3: One training exercise we like to use here at HSU is Look At That (LAT.) This exercise changes the dog’s emotional response when they see their trigger. To practice LAT, start far from the trigger so the dog can remain calm. The moment the dog looks at the trigger, mark by saying “Yes!” or clicking with a clicker and immediately follow up with a reward (treat.) Continue to practice this exercise throughout the walk; over time, you can decrease the distance between the dog and their trigger. This reinforces the behavior of staying calm around the trigger and teaches them an alternate behavior to reacting.
If you are struggling with your leash reactive dog and looking for advice, please visit our website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org