Solving Leash-Based Reactivity | Obedience Dog Training

Leash reactivity is not uncommon.   In fact, it’s one of the most common issues we get calls about.  Owners find their walks miserable, embarrassing, and potentially dangerous.   The good news is — it’s something that can be resolved.

What causes leash-based reactivity?   It’s hard to say for sure what the root cause of the behavior really is.    Some dogs may have had bad experiences that put them on the defensive and fearful of approaching dogs or strangers.    Other dogs are so excited to meet everyone they just can’t contain themselves.   And others, just learn that this is the way walks should go.

As dog trainers, we generally  find  the walk is not the only place that there are problems with structure, trust and foundational skills.  It’s just the most predominant display of bad behavior.  Frye 1

Fear, Excitement, Learned Behavior — the resolution to leash-based reactivity is really all the same.

Obedience, Obedience, Obedience.

If the dog is in tune with the handler and holding a command – he can’t also be blowing up. with reactivity.

So key steps to resolution;

  • Follow our protocols on Youtube for obedience training  (at minimum heel, sit/stay, and watch me)
  • The more structure and leadership you put into place at home the more confidence and trust the dog will place in you when out in public.
  • Determine threshold of tolerance (distance the dog can keep it together with the distraction in sight) and work at that distance with a friend with a well-balanced dog who will follow instructions on your setup.
    • Distance is always your friend.   Give a wider berth as a distraction approaches, even if you have to go up in someone’s yard.   Turn around, detour, whatever it takes to prevent the blow-up.   Practiced behavior just gets better and better.
    • In the retreat your dog learns you are advocating for him and will take care of the issue.
  • Practice heel and a retreat away from the distraction, sit and watch me and be rewarded for focus on the handler.
  • As skills improve that distance to distraction is reduced (able to get closer) and movement is added.
    • with the distraction dog moving and your dog stationary
    • or your dog moving and the distraction dog stationary,
    • and eventually walk past the distraction in a tight heel.
  • It’s ok to leverage food (high value food) as a reward for not reacting and keeping attention on you.  Re member we like dogs to work for their food — so nothing wrong with getting him hungry before practicing these exercises.  He be more interested in food than distractions.
    • Rapidly dispense chicken for the watch me game
    • Rain down chicken or kibble on the ground for the dog to forage around for as the distraction adds movement or approaches closer
    • The goal is to keep your dog from focus on the distraction and create a really positive association with the thing that has previously created reactivity.

Once the foundation skills are in place you start correcting  (pet convincer, prong collar, ecollar, etc) the break of command.   In a good sit stay for example, you can also correct the state of mind (intensity, fixation, whining, barking, etc at the distraction).  There comes a point where they have to learn to just hold command and accept the distraction is present and not encroaching on personal space….

So bottom line – obedience, obedience, obedience.

Build structure and leadership in the home – rules, consistency, duration work, etc….  And implement the core rules for problem solving.

The tighter their relationship of trust and communication, and clear expectations in all aspects of daily life – the better the walks will go.


Other Considerations:

  • A pet convincer will help protect your dog if another dog is approaching you off leash or on a flexi
  • if you are concerned that your dog has aggression issues – please seek professional assistant.   Consider using a muzzle until the behavior is corrected.
  • Do not use plastic clip collars — they will break under stress of a pulling dog.
  • If you are using a prong collar — be sure to have a carbiner or other secondary collar in place (see video)
  • Get yourself a good leather leash — no flexi leads and no thin nylon that be difficult on your hands.
  • Never wrap the leash around your wrist.   Train the dog to walk properly and use the thumb-loop grip — it’s stronger than you think.   Wrapping your wrist is an accident waiting to happen to you.
  • If you are concerned that your dog will redirect his frustration/aggression on you or another dog during his reactivity — muzzle him up until training is well-under way, and walk only the reactive dog 1:1 for the time being.   When his issues are resolved you can bring him back into a pack walk.
  • Say No to greeting strangers or other dogs on leash — no matter how friendly the human seems or says their dog may be.   Advocate and demonstrate to your dog you will keep the pressure off him with distance.
  • Read our Blog on Structure and Leadership and start implementing simple changes to build confidence and trust
  • Don’t avoid the walk or go only at midnight to avoid others.   You have to face it head on — and now you have a plan to create success.

Call us for all your training needs.