Leash reactivity is one of the most common issues that owners often have to contend with. With that said, it’s also not a phrase that a lot of people know. So, what exactly is leash reactivity and why is it a problem?
More importantly, what is the cause of it?
In simple terms, it’s all about the tendency of dogs to suddenly pull at the leash due to aggression or hyperactivity. This can come in the form of lunging at other dogs, trying to escape, or simply dragging the holder of the leash.
This can be a major source of frustration for dog owners who are new to owning dogs, own large breeds of dogs, or don’t have the necessary force of personality to control dogs. As such, learning as much as possible about leash reactivity is necessary in order to address it. This would then lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling dog and owner relationship.
What Is Leash Reactivity?
If you have ever seen dogs out on walks that suddenly tried to take a bite out of another, you would have seen an example of leash reactivity. Frantic barking and snapping are good indicators of this too.
On many occasions, this reaction is a result of aggression in the dog, which can be addressed in a number of ways. Before that can happen, though, it’s important to recognize the signs of leash reactivity.
These can often be overt or subtle depending on the dog or the situation. Not all dogs respond the same way or display the same reactions related to leash reactivity.
Professional dog trainers will be able to see these by spending enough time with the dog. Owners can do that too by paying careful attention to how their dogs behave in any given scenario.
Suffice it to say, leash reactivity cannot be tolerated if the dog is out in public. It can be embarrassing at best or dangerous, at worst.
What Causes Leash Reactivity?
There can be several causes for leash reactivity and each of them deserves to be given consideration. Depending on the circumstances, one cause can play a bigger role in your dog’s behavior than the others. Understanding which is which will help in addressing the problem more effectively.
As to what these causes are, they can be the following:
- The leash – some dogs simply don’t like being leashed and can even react violently, as a result.
- Too much enthusiasm – too much energy or excitement can lead to vigorous movement and reactions from your dog.
- Sense of danger – if a dog feels threatened and tries to move away but can’t, it might lash out.
- Improper handling – inexperienced dog owners might hold the leash too tight, drag unwilling dogs, or project their anxiety through the leash and cause the reaction.
- Owner/handler expectations – owners expect – mistakenly – that their dogs will be happy and sociable all the time wherever they may go.
- Lack of training – untrained dogs with no control or behavioral management will follow their instincts instead of minding their owners or handlers.
There are some cases of leash reactivity where the cause may not fall under any of those listed above. However, they are rare and would more than likely require the intervention of a professional to fix.
In any case, keeping those listed causes in mind can help owners identify what is making their dogs act the way they do. For some cases, addressing the root of the problem would be enough to get the dog to calm down. If not, enrolling the dog in a professional training program might be the only way to solve the issue.
How To Fix Leash Reactivity
For owners who want to fix the leash reactivity problem on their own, there are a few simple steps that they could take. It’s worth stressing that there are no quick fixes to this matter and it may take time and patience.
As long as you are willing to put in the time and effort to help your dog’s leash reactivity issue, there’s a good chance that you can solve the problem on your own. You can start by doing the following:
- Figure out what is causing the leash reactivity
- Rudimentary training at home with a few simple commands and a reward system (treats, toys, etc.) to bring your dog’s attention to you
- When outdoors, anticipate possible triggers of leash reactivity and use commands to catch your dog’s attention and give a reward with each success
- If the leash reactivity still occurs, move away and try again
Training your dog to ignore triggers of leash reactivity will take time. In some cases, it’s going to require constant repetitions and experimentation.
Then again, you could just leave it to the professionals and get it over with.
Professional Training or Not?
Leash reactivity is a serious problem and should be treated with all due consideration. The question of whether or not you should rely on professional help must, therefore, be thought through carefully.
Do you really need a professional dog trainer’s help?
It depends on a few things, namely the severity of the problem and your ability to address it. If you’re too busy with work, family, and other obligations, then it might be a good idea. If your dog has shown no improvement despite your efforts and has actually gotten worse, then turning to an expert would definitely be advised.
There is no shame in turning to a professional if the problem has gotten out of hand. In fact, it’s the single most sensible thing you could do in that situation.
It should also be noted that using the services of a professional trainer doesn’t mean you are no longer involved in the process. Training programs often include participation by owners so that they will be able to easily implement the lessons that were learned during the course.
So, in a way, you would still be helping in addressing your dog’s leash reactivity issue.