A Comprehensive Guide on Dog Leash Reactivity Training

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If your dog is getting aggressive whenever they are on a leash, they need to undergo dog leash reactivity training.

Lots of pet parents are having this problem, and sometimes, it ends up in bad situations such as being aggressive with other dogs or forcefully pulling to get out of the leash. 

Dog walking in hot weather in Dubai

Dogs that are leash reactive are usually triggered by things and events from their environment, such as other dogs, hot weather, tiredness, and even their pet parent.

However, there are still techniques to calm your dogs and bring back peace into your daily walks.

What is Leash Reactivity? 

Leash reactivity is a kind of behavior of dogs that can vary from fear to frustration and aggression.

A dog that jumps, barks, pulls, and growls while attached to a dog leash might seem like he is aggressive, but that is not always true. Most of the time, they are getting into this behavior to avoid the triggering stimulus that they are experiencing. 

Dog on a leash pulling their owner

Leash reactivity may seem like aggression, but a lot of leash-reactive dogs are just dealing with anxiety and fear. Their actions are a form of defense mechanism to “scare away” the triggering stimulus. 

Signs That Your Dog is Leash Reactive

1.  Dogs that are out of their leash greet other dogs from the side, forming an arc, then sniff each other’s genital area. If they approach other dogs in a head-on manner, they are feeling fearful and anxious. Keep in mind that greetings should also last for only a few seconds.

2.  Meanwhile, when dogs on a leash meet, they approach each other in a head-on manner and are unable to greet them sideways. Most dogs do not want to be in a fight, so they just display several visual and audio cues to prevent another dog from going near them. These cues are barking, lunging, and growling.

Two dogs showing aggression at each other

3.  If another dog owner decides to visit or let their furbaby greet your dog, the audio cues may worsen. On leash, both dogs feel invaded and trapped. Most dog owners tighten the leash, thinking that this will help in eliminating the visual cues. However, a tight leash signals your dog that you are stressed as well, and in return, makes them more stressed. 

Causes of Leash Reactivity

Leash reactivity in dogs may come from various reasons and together let’s find out what could be causing leash reactivity in your furbaby.

1. Lack of Early Socialization

As early as they are puppies, we should allow them to explore their surroundings, meet new people and animals, and be adventurous at their own pace. When dogs are deprived of this opportunity, they become unsure of how to react to new situations. 

A shy dog

2. Having a Bad Experience During a Walk

Dogs who have experienced a lousy scenario during a walk, such as being barked at by another dog or being surprised by speeding cars, might think that it will always happen every walk they do. 

Two dogs showing aggression at each other

3. Being Punished for Reacting

When dogs are given negative reinforcement when reacting to a trigger during walks, they might make a correlation between pain and the presence of the said trigger, causing them to become leash reactive. 

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A dog being scolded

4. Barrier Frustration

As social animals, dogs want to interact with other dogs during walks, but since they are on a leash, they are unable to, and this causes them to bark and jump. With these jerky motions, the leash tightens, resulting in pain and discouraging them from staying on a leash. 

Now that we have learned everything about leash reactivity let’s figure out why we need to walk our dogs even though it might cause this behavior. 

Why Is It Necessary to Take Our Dog For a Walk?

Walking our dogs is so much more than taking them out to potty. It provides physical exercise, mental stimulation, development of social skills, and building a foundation of good behavior.

As a bonus, you will have an active lifestyle and also improve the bonding between you and your dog.

1. Walking Provides Exercise and Mental Stimulation

Walking is a vigorous activity that aids in developing the foundation for physical and mental health. It is a dog’s chance to explore outside of their usual surroundings, your home. If your dog is confined in your home for too long, they become bored, and boredom can result in destructive behavior. 

A dog on a leash to maintain safe distance

Dogs are mostly dependent on their pet parents to explore areas that will help to improve their sight, smell, and sounds of the world. Taking them out to different places every now and then will sharpen their senses and help them in stimulating their mental foundation. 

2. A Regularly Walked Dog is a Healthy Dog

Even if your furbaby is an active furball at home, they still need to get out to exhaust their energy fully. A well-exercised dog tends to behave better than a lazy dog. Also, dogs who do not walk frequently may become overweight which can lead to potential health problems. 

dog walking in Dubai

3. Improves Your Furbaby’s Social Skills

It is most likely that your furbaby will meet other dogs while walking. This is an opportunity for them to learn social interaction skills with animals.

Additionally, it will help their confidence in making friends, and a friendly dog is a happy dog. Well-socialized dogs tend to be more comfortable, and it helps in eliminating stress whenever they meet a new animal or an unfamiliar face. 

Multiple dogs on a leash

4. Walking Your Dog is a Training Opportunity

Always take into consideration that you don’t only take your dog just for walking. They are not born with the proper behavior of being on a leash, so you can train them to follow your lead.

You can also teach them commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “go” which are helpful whenever you take them for a walk.

I put together a list of the best dog harnesses in case you are looking for a good harness to complement your dog’s leash.

A dog on a leash

Now that we know the benefits of taking our dog for a walk let’s find out how to train our dogs to walk on a leash properly. If your dog is not leash trained, there are higher tendencies for them to become leash reactive. 

A Refresher Guide on How To Train Your Dog To Walk on a Leash

Regardless of our dog’s size, age, breed, and lifestyle, it is crucial for us to teach them how to walk on a leash. Like other behaviors, our fur babies need to be trained in dog leash activities, to develop good manners whenever they are being put on a leash. 

It is natural for dogs to be always curious and intuitive about their surroundings; thus them being out of the leash would be a total workout for us. Not only that, dogs being an inborn balls of energy love chasing other animals and people to play with. 

A pet wonder and his dog walking in the woords

Similar to any other kind of training, teaching a dog to be familiar with a leash and walking on them in a good manner requires time, effort, consistency, and patience.

But through this hard work and dedication, the payoff of having a furbaby that is pleasurable to walk is worth it. 

Step 1. Familiarize your furbaby with a leash and collar

Let your furbaby get used to their collar and leash before starting to train them. Attach the collar and leash to your dog while inside the house, and let them drag it. This will make them feel more comfortable while on a leash.

A happy dog on a harness

Step 2. Start at a slow pace in familiar places

Dogs have a short attention span, so do not expect them to keep their interest in training for a long time. You can start the practice by walking around the house or your backyard where they are already familiar. 

dog walking in Dubai

Step 3. Positive reinforcements equal positive results

Whenever a dog is walking just beside you with a loose leash, also known as heeling, praise your furbaby and give them occasional healthy treats. You may also give them positive reinforcements whenever they come back to you once you call them. You can check my recall training here.

A dog catching his treat

Do not pull your dog if they are too far away or going in the wrong direction. This can injure your dog.

Step 4. A short leash is best for training

Keeping your dog on a short leash is crucial for successful leash training. The less room your dog can stray away from your side, the more comfortable for him to learn how to walk next to you. Once you notice that they have learned to walk next to you, you can adjust the leash length to a longer one.

Step 5. Keep them at your side

Instead of allowing your dog to lead you while walking, it is better to walk them on your side. This way, you will be able to control your desired direction, not the other way around. Keeping them by your side also prevents the leash from tangling under their feet. 

A dog on a leash lunging

Step 6. Give your dog some time and privacy to do their business

Dogs take walking as a chance to relieve themselves. It is natural for dogs to mark their territories before doing business even outside your house, so they may sniff around the area to find the unclaimed, perfect spot. 

Once you notice that your dog starts relieving themselves through visual cues, immediately stop walking and give him more leash to sniff around and look where to relieve. Once they are done, don’t forget to provide them with praise and treats.

Step 7. Be patient

Dogs are inborn to be curious animals; that’s why they want to come rushing to different spots whenever you take them for a walk. It is essential to pick a pace that is comfortable both for you and your furbaby. 

Do not rush them by pulling the leash as this can cause severe injuries. Once you notice that your furbaby is having difficulties in keeping a certain speed when walking, stop, and wait for them to come back to you and continue with the comfortable pacing.

Step 8. Get professional help

If you feel overwhelmed and you think you need help, then I strongly recommend you consult a dog trainer or learn to housetrain your dog.

To summarize, you can watch this informative video on how to train your dog to walk on a leash properly:

How to Help Your Dog Overcome Leash Reactivity? 

1.  Distance is your best friend. Dogs are territorial creatures, and they always value their personal space. Avoid walking your dog through small areas such as alleyways and narrow pavement, so they don’t feel anxious. Passing through small, confined spaces will make your furbaby feel claustrophobic, which can lead to anxiety

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2.  Practice getting your dog’s attention before taking them for a walk. Call their name and give positive reinforcement when they look at you. Start the training in a quiet, low-distracting environment, like your yard. 

As the training goes by, move to busier and more crowded areas as you are still able to get your dog’s attention, whatever is going on around them. This will teach your furbaby to stay focused on you regardless of the situation and the distractions present.

3.  Once you notice that your dog has acknowledged the trigger, immediately give them a treat. Continue giving your furbaby treats when they are recognizing the trigger and stop once the trigger is out of sight. This part of the training is essential because this is done to associate the appearance of a trigger with being rewarded with treats.

Dog drinking water

With consistency, your dog will figure out that seeing the trigger is always followed by delicious treats, which means once they spot the trigger, they will look at you, expecting a treat, completely diverting attention from the trigger.

4.  Always keep in mind your dog’s environment for everyone’s safety. Keep them at a manageable distance from other dogs. Do not allow other dogs and people to greet them during this stage. They will feel that their personal space is being trespassed. 

A dog running in the yard

Negative experiences that your dog will have will set your progress back, so it’s best to avoid these as much as possible. In case you are living in a neighborhood with lots of dogs, you may want to consider bringing your fur friend somewhere fewer dogs are present. 

Now that we have tackled ways on how you can help your furbaby overcome leash reactiveness by undergoing dog leash reactivity training, get ready to take your dog for a peaceful walk again and comment below what you have experienced. 

Written By

Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.

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