If you live in a city, you may have experienced leash reactivity. Leash reactivity can turn a sunny afternoon walk, into a tug-o-war nightmare. Reactions can be triggered by another dog, human, car, bike, etc. They can make you feel embarrassed or worried about if your dog were to ever get loose. Leash reactivity, fortunately, is a common bad behavior issue in dogs, so don’t fret. Here is how to help with leash reactivity:
Common Leash Reactivity Behavior Causes
Leash reactivity can be confused for aggression to a stimulus. If your dog isn’t triggered when off-leash, such as a dog who is friendly at the dog park, then their reaction isn’t due to aggression. Genetics, owner stressor, prior negative experience(s), fear, lack of proper socialization, and barrier frustration are causes of leash reactivity.
Leash Reactivity Causes: Fear
Dogs are flight or fight animals, but are instinctually more likely to run from a threat if possible. When a dog is leashed, it knows that flight is not an option. The inability to escape a threat incites the dog to become aggressive.
Leash Reactivity Causes: Barrier Frustration & Socialization
Barrier frustration occurs when your pooch really wants to meet another dog or human. In these cases, your dog has been allowed in the past to greet while walking, unfortunately, not all owners or people want a meet and greet. Due to your reinforcement of meeting, leash reactivity may occur. At this point, your canine companion has low impulse control which causes them to become aggressive due to high arousal and frustration. This can be exacerbated by a pronged or electric collar.
Barrier frustration can also go hand and hand with social interruption. When dogs are on a leash, they can’t perform their social dance. This can cause miscommunication between dogs, such as a dog being yanked away as the owner leaves.
Leash Reactivity Causes: Owner Stressor
Believe it or not, sometimes the way we react projects on to our dogs. This means that if an owner becomes anxious or reactive in anticipation of an object or event a dog will read that. This is because dogs are masters of reading body language. Your dog may be acting out because they feel your stress.
Other example of these stressors is a dog protecting its master from other humans or dogs. On the opposite of this coin, a dog may be more aggressive due to the fact their owner gives them more confidence.
Leash Reactivity Causes: Negative Experience
The obvious example of the effect of a negative experience for a dog is a previous dog attack while on a leash. There are other ways that prior experiences can create leash reactivity though. If you have ever punished your dog for inappropriate behavior towards something while walking, you may have reinforced leash reactivity. These punishments can be a jerk or tightening on the leash, verbal corrections, or a shock from a collar. These reactions reinforce the negative connotation of the trigger.
Curbing The Common Behavior of Leash Reactivity
The first course of action is identifying the trigger and cause of your dog’s behavior. Is it other dogs? Men? Children? What is causing your dog to react to this stimulus?
- Fear & Prior Negative Experiences: How simple and time-consuming it is to train your dog out of this depends on how negative your dog’s experience was and their fear level. Use positive reinforcement by slowly desensitizing and lowering the dog’s threshold. Have whatever the trigger is at a distance where your dog is not reacting aggressively, feed them a treat. Slowly shorten the distance every time your dog doesn’t react and feed them a treat. Eventually, they’ll recognize this trigger as a positive trigger as their brain will think “treat!” when they come upon it. To reduce issues caused by past verbal, physical, etc. cues teach your dog that the tightening or shortening of the leash means something wonderful is about to happen and/or train them to react to certain verbal cues. An example of this is teaching your pup to heel when passing someone as to allow for distance but reduce tugging and shortening of the leash.
- Barrier Frustration & Socialization: When walking your dog don’t allow them to meet and greet another dog. This will increase their tolerance and impulse control while lowering their expectation of social interaction. Teach your canine companion that they may greet another dog when they are off-leash or when given permission. Creating an expectation of attention of them giving you their full attention while walking will keep them from becoming overstimulated.
- Owner Stressor: Keeping yourself calm is the principle way to decrease you from projecting your feelings on to your dog. Take deep breaths and remain calm and let your dog pick up these cues.
Never punish a dog for their reactivity, as it only enforces the behavior. Negative reinforcement will only stop a behavior at that exact moment. Positive reinforcement is considerably more successful.
Another way to help with leash reactivity is to walk your dog with a familiar dog, this creates a positive reinforcement cue when other dogs are around. Some dogs even benefit from carrying around a “security blanket” such as a favorite toy. All in all, though, avoiding these situations that trigger your dog is also helpful.
It’s a Common Behavior so Don’t Fret About Leash Reactivity
Your dog will thank you for helping them understand their world and how to react to it in a positive manner. This way you not only fix the common behavior issue of leash reactivity but you also bond closer to your companion. Hopefully, these explanations of your dog’s behavior and their remedies will allow you and your best friend to have wonderful walks together in the future.