Leash Reactivity


What is Leash Reactivity in Dogs?

Is it sometimes hard to manage your dog's behavior on walks? Do they bark, growl, or lunge when they see other dogs or humans?  If you answered yes or maybe to these questions, then you might be dealing with Leash Reactivity in your dog.

‍As Karishma Warr, Calm Canine Academy (CCA), Head of Training & Behavior explains it leash reactivity is a term we use to describe an overreaction to everyday stimuli frequently experienced on walks. But once you know what it is, you also need to learn … how to manage it!

Recently the Petminded community was lucky to host a presentation about Leash Reactivity with Karishma. During this chat we learned what Leash Reactivity is and also common triggers, common mistakes, and how it can be treated.

Read along for a quick overview of her chat!

Here are some common triggers and behaviors dogs may experience on walks.

Karishma wants pet owners to understand that “dogs with leash reactivity are not ‘excited’, ‘stubborn’, or just being ‘naughty’ dogs. They are often experiencing genuine fear, stress and overwhelm, and are not in control of their behavior.”  In other words, our dog “isn’t giving us a hard time, they’re having a hard time.”

Their big feelings can be due to:

  • Their nature as protective, herding, or hunting dogs.
  • They are afraid.
  • Because it works! For example, they lunge towards a person they want to say hi to and are rewarded with exactly what they wanted. 

Some common mistakes dog owners make are trying to reduce the behavior with aversion therapy, punishment, or aversive equipment. These techniques often add more fear or just suppress the behavior instead of addressing the underlying issue. 

The four pillars of working on leash reactivity are: 

  1. Management 

Avoid exposure outside of training sessions. The idea is to stop pushing them into a reactive state on a regular basis. We first need to shield them from the stressful situations that cause big emotions. This means minimizing walks and avoiding triggers. 

Make sure to watch the training to learn how to teach your dog to Find-it or do a U-turn as defensive maneuvers!

  1. Enrichment

The goal is to meet our dog’s needs with minimal exposure to their triggers. Use indoor enrichment (play in a safe space) or decompression walks (walks in nature with distance from other dogs and humans). (LINK TO Petminded articles) 

  1. Medical Consult

Visit with a vet to check for underlying digestive issues, allergies, pain, or other conditions that may be impacting behavior and to discuss anxiety-reducing pharmaceuticals. 

  1. Therapy

It’s important to make sure that pillars 1, 2, and 3 need to be in place first! Sessions work on changing the dog’s emotional reaction, teach them a new behavior, and set up learning opportunities. These need to take place while dogs are under their emotional threshold. Dogs can’t think and learn when they are overly emotional!

It’s always okay to comfort a dog who is in emotional distress by letting them know they are okay! 

Want to learn more? 

Watch Petminded’s presentation on Leash Reactivity with Karishma Warr. 

This informative presentation will help you understand your pup's leash reactive behavior, the steps needed to support them, and games to help change their behavior. This event is led by Karishma Warr who specialized in urban rescue and complex behaviors concerning fear, separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and aggression.

Additional Resources include:

Control Unleashed: Reactive to Relaxed by Leslie McDevitt (affiliate link)

CCA's blog posts on:

Understanding Leash Reactivity

A Training Plan for Leash Reactivity

Should You Avoid Your Reactive Dog’s Triggers?

Calm Canine Academy provides training and coaching for leash reactivity through management, enrichment, and training. We highly recommend checking them out for your dog training needs. Mention Petminded if you would like a discount off your first session!

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