Leash Reactivity


Positive Dog Solutions 202-630-0249

This is a behavior common in dogs. How dogs react to other dogs on leash is often not indicative of how the dog will be with other dogs off leash. The leash limits the options for the dog. It does not mean you have an aggressive dog, but rather suggests several conflicting emotions that your dog may be experiencing such as fear, excitement, and frustration. For some dogs, they may not want to meet the other dog and so become defensive. For others, it may be an expression of frustration when they want to greet another dog but are not allowed to do so. The person holding the leash may be a bit nervous and put tension on the leash and give a variety of conflicting information to the dog. Before you know it, meeting another dog becomes a stress-filled situation for both dog and human that escalates over time. The dog has now learned to associate meeting other dogs while on leash with emotional upset.
This emotional upset drives the dog’s behavioral response to cope with a stressful situation. Especially when the underlying emotion is fear, the reactive behavior you witness is driven by the fight or flight response. Just like people do not choose to be afraid of flying, heights or spiders, dogs do not choose to be fearful of other dogs. Thus, we focus on changing the emotion. We do this by associating other dogs with good things. If we punish the reaction we can create a learned association for the dog that approaching other dogs is scary/unpleasant AND it means I (the dog) get punished. It causes more stress and escalates the unwanted behavior.

What to do?
Manage real life by avoiding any bad associations with other dogs off and on leash
Get the dog fitted with a head halter or a no-pull harness so your dog is comfortable but will still allow you to have full control on the walk.
● Never let dogs greet on leash and keep conservative distances. This way you create a standard where your dog understand he/she will never meet a dog on leash, which can diminish some of the fear or arousal attributed to seeing another dog. (A safety bubble).
● Walk in places where (1) You are not going to see a lot of dogs, (2) There are places to walk away so you don’t get trapped, (3) At times when there are less dogs on the street. Consider driving somewhere to walk in more quiet and open areas. Taking these steps are important to break the circle of triggering a reaction on every walk.
● Always bring high-value treats and reward your dog for looking at another dog before a reaction happens. Play the “find it” game by dropping multiple treats on the ground. It tells your dog that – “When we see dogs on the street treats fall from the sky!”
● Avoid letting your dog react in the backyard, through the window of the house or car, etc.
Train by setting up situations where the dog can learn a new experience meeting other dogs
● Enlist the help of a behavior consultant to help address these behaviors. They can help guide you in setting up controlled practice sessions.
● Work with a demo dog and find a distance you can build a new behavior around other dogs using counterconditioning and desensitization exercises.
● Teach your dog cues that can help you on the street: name-recognition, focus, touch, good leash manners, turn and game Catch!
● If the dog is failing, make it easier. It is important to be flexible with your criteria and set the dog up for success. Be PROACTIVE on your walks and stay positive!