How to Reduce Leash Reactivity in Your Dog

How would you like to know how to reduce leash reactivity in your dog? When your dog sees another dog, duck or bird, do they try and dart off, almost pulling your arm out of its socket?

Taking a reactive dog for a walk is hell for most people.

The second your dog sees another dog he’ll start barking, growling, lunging and pulling you into the road.

In fact, it has now gotten to the point where you may be considering not taking the dog for a walk at all. Or, maybe you’re well beyond that stage. And now, you and your dog just sit at home in the hope that another dog doesn’t walk past the window.

Worse still, your dog’s reactivity is so out of control, you can’t cope anymore, and you have considered parting ways with your otherwise-lovable four-legged friend.

If this nightmare is all too real for you, you are not alone.

Many thousands of dogs get abandoned to rescues every year or even put down due to aggressive behaviour. More often than not, the truth is your dog is not aggressive. He’s afraid.

The good news is, there is a cure for fearful dogs. Whether its fear of other dogs or fear of humans, this is a resolvable issue. With appropriate training and behaviour modification, you and your dog can enjoy the freedom of a pleasant walk, together. In this article I’m going to explain how to reduce leash reactivity in your dog.

Why is Your Dog Reactive?

Before we can begin to resolve the issue, it’s important to understand why your dog is reactive.

Firstly, let’s rule out illness and chronic pain. Some dogs — much like humans — can suffer from a disease, aching joints and arthritis, especially as they get older. If you have an older canine who has recently become reactive to other dogs, a trip to see the vet might in order.

Arthritis and joint pain in older dogs is usually manageable. With the right treatment, you might find that your dog’s behaviour returns to normal on its own.

Once you’ve ruled out any medical concerns, there are endless reasons why your dog is reactive. The typical case, however, is that your dog feels threatened. By snarling and barking at the thing he finds scary, he is trying to tell the thing (canine or human) to back off and not come any closer.

Supporting Your Reactive Dog

If your dog is displaying signs of fear by reacting to other dogs, or even other humans, the worst thing you can do is dole out the punishments. Aim to support your dog by preventing him from practising reactive behaviour.

For example, plan to exercise your dog in less crowded places or at less busy times of the day. If the sight of another dog is a stress trigger, then turn and walk away. Your dog will not be afraid if it can’t see what he’s scared of.

Dogs will sense if you’re stressed and anxious. Most people with a reactive dog will immediately tense the lead and pull the dog towards them at the mere sight of the trigger. By shortening your dog’s lead or pulling him towards you before he’s even had a chance to react, will reaffirm his fears. If you have concerns about not being able to control your dog on a regular lead, then it might be worth investing in a no-pull harness.

How to Reduce Leash Reactivity in Your Dog

  1. Relax and don’t panic. Gripping the lead like your life depends on it and raising your voice will make matters worse. Walking your dog should be enjoyable for you both.
  2. Engage your dog, so he has something else to think about besides the thing that scares him. Play mini training games of touch or watch, with regular treats and praise for good behaviour.
  3. Change your route. Keep things interesting for him (and for you!). If you’ve been walking the same path with your dog for weeks, months, or even years, he is probably bored. He needs new sights and smells to keep him interested.
  4. Be more fun! Change your pace; speed up and slow down. Walk in circles, weave around lamp posts and trees. Your dog won’t be so worried if his human is fun to be around.
  5. Walk the other way. Sometimes you have to know the limits. If you see a dog coming towards you that you know your dog will not cope with, then turn around and walk away. He would probably thank you for it if he could.

Still looking for help on how to reduce your dog’s leash reactivity?

Owning a reactive dog is frustrating and socially isolating. It can make you feel like a pariah in your own neighbourhood.

As an experienced and qualified dog behaviourist, I can help you to resolve common problems such as reactive behaviour in as little as two comprehensive training sessions. You can start to improve your relationship with your dog today.