Handling Leash Reactivity

One of the more common issues that clients call about is leash-related, usually leash pulling, leash reactivity, or leash aggression. Leash reactivity and aggression usually involves leash pulling, and more often, leash reactivity is more common than leash aggression. This is because leash reactivity can come in different forms. It can include some aggressive behavior, but it could also involve hyperactivity, fear, anxiety, and sometimes refusal to walk in the first place.

dog walking on leash in trainingLeash reactivity can make walking your dog or taking them out in public places difficult. I’ve met folks who will not walk their dog because of their dog’s unmanageable leash reactivity. I’ve also met owners where they will only walk their dog at certain times of the day, usually very early morning or late at night after the dark, so that the dog doesn’t get triggered by certain stimuli such as people, dogs, traffic, and more. I’ve had clients tell me at their initial in-home consultations how their dog’s leash reactivity has caused not only emotional stress for them, but sometimes even physical discomfort and stress. One client I signed on several months ago called me after she got my number from her massage therapist (a former client of mine). She was there at the massage studio because all the leash pulling and reactivity was causing some pain for her arm and shoulder area.

To help combat leash reactivity, the first thing to uncover is what is the cause of your dog’s reactivity. Does your dog pull, lunge, and bark like crazy because he sees squirrels or other dogs? Will your dog refuse to walk on the leash because he’s never been leash trained in the first place, or perhaps is he scared of something on the walk? Or is your dog constantly pulling on the leash, seemingly without any reason at all? If you can identify the triggers, that’s the first step and what would be ideal is to try to remove or avoid those triggers…for a little bit. We don’t want to totally isolate the dog from the problem-causing stimuli forever, otherwise they’ll never get desensitized or overcome it.

But for a little while if you can remove those triggers, you can in the meantime work on your dog’s foundational obedience while sharpening your leadership skills and leash handling. If your dog isn’t a good listener without any distractions, then they DEFINITELY won’t listen when something is present and setting them off. Work on this and also make sure that you are perfecting your leash handling and using tools that work best for you and your dog. If you wish to learn how to use a training tool, it is best to seek and consult with a professional so that you are not causing more problems for you and your dog. Once you have what you need, the key is to be able to walk calmly and allow your dog to be calm and responsive to you during the walk, but you are also in the position to snap them out of a frenzy and get their attention if they get mildly or severely distracted. And then make sure to reward your dog is they are committing the appropriate behavior!

Leash reactivity is common, but it can be a major problem for dogs and their people. If owners don’t walk or properly exercise their dogs because of leash reactivity, the dog’s behaviors could get worse due to boredom and anxiety. If you never allow your dog to face and succeed among their triggers, then they will always behave this way when presented with the stimuli. It doesn’t matter how bad your dog is on the leash — change is possible and we can help!

If your dog is leash reactive or leash aggressive, or has any leash-related issues, call us at 817.580.7293 or e-mail us using our contact form!