Thoughts on Leash Reactive Dogs

IMG_0930It is important to remember, a leash reactive dog whether the reactivity is to people or other dogs, is most likely a fearful or insecure dog.   Since they can’t tell us they are afraid, they use the only tactic they know how to get the scary thing to go away — Aggression.     Fear and insecurity can still be dangerous.

Many dogs don’t have the social skills to deal with normal every day situations of greeting.   Owner’s get frustrated. Friends or neighbors become fearful and sometimes disrespectful. If not treated this behavior escalates. It does not get better on its own. And in some cases the dog is out on the street, dumped in a shelter, or put down.
It must be hard for the dog to be in this state of mind because people and other dogs are everywhere.   So the stress builds and then explodes.  We’re lucky if the dog warns us with a raise of the lip or a low growl.   If we’re adept at reading our dog, we can discover other signals prior to the showing of teeth and the growling.   If we miss all those signals, the dog is likely to lunge, snap or bite.

There are options to turn make improvements in behavior.  You may never solve it completely, but you can make it better or learn to manage it.  It’s important that you start training immediately upon identifying any warning signs or displays of aggression.   These issues do not resolve themselves.  In fact, they typically escalate.

Now about the leash reactivity.    It’s easy to want to avoid taking her out, but the truth is to address the issue you actually do have to take her out to work on this problem.  After you have spent about a week tuning up the leadership methods described above — head out in public.  This week at home with obedience and leadership work can also help your dog

Start in small intervals and build up.   You may find that you drive to PetSmart or the park but don’t actually go in the first few times.  You may just stand on the sidewalk watching people/dogs go by.

  • You will need to determine her distance threshold and stay below that to start.   You want to keep her calm, focused and prevent the reaction.   The more positive experiences you have the better.
  • You will also want to observe to see if you can find common themes in your dogs triggers?   Is it men only?   Men with hats/hoodies or sunglasses?  Children?  Children who are running & squealing?   Is it only when you’re sitting down?  Small Dogs?  Big Dogs?   Dogs at play?  Dogs straining on the end of the leash?    It may be everything  — but it may be much more specific.   Try to identify exactly what it is, then focus on those setups.
  • As people/dogs approach, start requiring her to be in Sit Command  and focused on you.   Give a very high value treat rewards (a treat that she ONLY gets when doing these exercises so it’s special) and calm verbal praise for her staying calm and focused on you.   The lesson here is less about obedience, and more about learning to stay calm around potential threats, though you need obedience foundation.
    • No food is to be given in response to a reaction.  It’s only for staying calm.
  •  If she does begin to give indication of reaction guide her away   promptly with a verbal NO!,  giving her distance from the threat.  Cross the street if you have too.  Then put her to work in Sit, Down, Heel, Watch-Me etc.  Always praise her obedience work when she does commands as expected.   When she’s calmer, praise her, and try to reduce the distance again.
  • If she has an aggressive reaction (lunging  & snapping) — you should give her a very effective leash-based correction.  She should know she’s made a mistake.  Do NOT Offer any praise or comfort following this correction.
    • You need to stay calm and disciplined in your response to your dog.   If you become fearful, head straight for your car and end the training.    Call a professional if you need help with trying again, but this training must be done.
    • If your dog is stronger than you are, you may wish to consider a prong collar.   The correction then is just a pop & release straight up on her prong collar with a verbal NO, and draw her way, and put her to work in obedience commands.   Remember no food reward for obedience work in this case.
  •  Don’t push to fast.  If the threshold is 20ft today, don’’t try to go to 10  feet tomorrow.  Work a day or two at the greater distance, and then move in 2-3 feet a few days later.  Take your time and go slow.  It’s better to practice a success than to create a reaction.
  • Once you’re able be closer to people  (or other dogs)
    • Ask them to just toss great treats in her general direction and pass by without stopping.    Be sure they are not talking to her or making eye contact.
    • Once that’s working well for a few days, consider asking them to give her a treat directly (only you can judge her comfort level).
      • You may  never get here.   Meaning, it just may be better for people not to get in close proximity, but you do want to reach the point where they can stand in a conversational space with you and ignoring her and she can remain calm
      • People should come in sideways, hold their hand out with the high value treat, and then walk away quietly  — again no touching or eye contact with her
      • She should be sitting
      • You should offer praise and control the leash and her head – if anyone is uncomfortable, don’’t do it.
  • If at anytime during any phase of the training exercise you feel safety is at risk, use a muzzle for your dog.   Do not put other people or dogs as risk.   It’s not worth it.
  • And if you are at all unsure about any techniques, behavior or results  — call a professional trainer to assist.

Practice as often as you can, but it is good experience to work around people in the who understand the challenge, who will follow instructions,  and can help with scenarios and where appropriate have dogs suitable to the practice sessions.

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This can feel overwhelming.   It’s not as complicated at is seems and the methods to teach these techniques can be done in just a few lessons with The K9 Coach.    Call us today.   We can help!

This is one of those issues that doesn’t get better on it’s own.  It gets worse — the more they practice the behavior.

Author: The K9 Coach

The K9 Coach Carolinas Dog Training owned and operated by Dana Brigman, certified dog trainer. We specialize in aggression, fear, anxiety and dog behavior training. We are experts in dog obedience training.