Many of us have experienced a dog that is â€śleash reactive.â€ť These are the dogs that, when on leash, will bark, pull or lunge at other dogs they encounter.
Leash reactivity is different from true dog aggression. Reactive dogs behave appropriately when they meet dogs and both are off leash. Dogs become leash reactive because they are overly excited about dogs and feel frustrated by the restriction of the leash, or they are afraid of other dogs and go on the defensive. Either way, it looks the same. Itâ€™s a common and frustrating problem.
Guardians of leash-reactive dogs often feel isolated. Itâ€™s embarrassing to have your dog screaming its head off at another dog for no apparent reason (although we now know there is a reason.) It takes a toll on all involved.
Depending on how long- standing the problem is, the experiences of your dog and other factors, you may need the help of a dog behavior consultant but there are three basic things you can do to help:
â€˘ Keep your dog calm and focused on you throughout the walk. Using treats and giving one to your dog every time it looks at you while on a walk will create increasingly more check-ins. This does mean that you actually have to pay attention to your dog while walking. No texting, talking on the phone or even chatting with another human. Itâ€™s critical to stay connected and engaged so your dog will, too.
â€˘ Teach a â€śYay! Here comes another dog!â€ť reaction. Rather than responding with an â€śoh noâ€ť when you encounter a dog, create positive associations with your dogâ€™s triggers. When you see a dog (or notice your dog seeing one) immediately begin with cheerful talk and feeding, continuously, delicious treats. Over time, if the appearance of another dog consistently means that your dog gets to eat something special, a strange dog will start to become a welcome sight indeed. On the flip side, punishing your dog by yelling, yanking the leash or holding its mouth when it acts out will likely make the problem worse.
â€˘ Set your dog up for success. Try to avoid situations thatâ€™ll put your dog over its comfort level. Most behavior problems are addressed by managing the environment so your dog doesnâ€™t have the opportunity to practice the behavior youâ€™re trying to eliminate. So, while you canâ€™t control other dogs and their guardians, you can choose to walk your dog at times and in locations that minimize the chances of your dog having a reactive outburst. Practice makes perfect with our dogs. If, on a daily basis, your dog is having outbursts at other dogs on leash it will become an ingrained pattern.
Finally, to those guardians whose dogs are not leash reactive, you have a role to play, too. Help the dogs that are reactive by having your dog on leash in leash-required areas so that people working through this problem have places to go where they can be assured that any dog they encounter will be well under control. While your dog may love to meet new dogs while out on walks, not all dogs do. Your fellow dog lovers and their canine companions thank you!
Need help? Contact the Marin Humane behavior and training department at 415-506-6281 for an appointment with a behavior consultant.
Holly McArthur, CPDT-KA is the supervisor of the Dog Obedience Program at Marin Humane which contributes Tails of Marin articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit marinhumane.org or email email@example.com.