The bad rap of leash reactive dogs

I am off on a little R&R&R (rest, relaxation, and rescue) trip with my good friend Johanna. Visiting shelters and rescues across the US is so much fun, I’m lucky to be able to do so. You can follow along on my Instagram stories! If you’ve been checking those out lately, you’ll notice we added four little kittens to our crew. They’re our newest foster babies and I love them already. Saying goodbye to Lou, our last foster dog, was hard but he taught me so much and now he’s living his best life.

I’ve explained before that Rawlings doesn’t love other dogs while she’s walking on leash. She whines, her body gets stiff, and she gets visibly stressed when passing another dog. We’ll usually cross the street when we see other dogs to keep her comfortable. She gets along well for the most part with other dogs as long as they respect her space (and acknowledge her as Queen).  

When we brought Lou into our home, he was fine on leash, but the more he started to bond with me, the more reactive he got. When he saw another dog, no matter where the dog was in relation to us, he would start barking his little head off. It wasn’t hard to control all 7 lbs of him, but it was jarring at first and I was so surprised by the change in his demeanor while walking on leash. 

Inside our home, he was basically an angel. He had no issues with Rawlings and tried to play with her multiple times (she declined his invites). He never once growled at her or our cats. I never saw any signs of aggression from him when he was off his leash. It was mindblowing to see such a difference. 

When I spoke to my friend Jennifer from Second City Canine Rescue, she knew exactly what I was talking about. Her foster dog Mimi (my fabulous co-model) experienced similar behavior. Mimi and her dog Aggie get along great, but on-leash it’s a whole other story.

Because I’m not a dog trainer, Jennifer introduced me to Pam who is the owner of Enjoy Your Dog, Inc. in Downers Grove. Pam is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI), and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Evaluator. Plus, she works with Second City Canine and famous dogs in Hollywood. So, I asked her the 411 of reactive dogs. 

What is leash reactivity? 

In the simplest sense leash reactivity is when a dog overreacts to a trigger while on a leash.  A trigger could be another dog, a bike rider, skateboarder, or even a person walking toward you and your dog.  It is a change from a typically friendly dog reacting to a trigger by barking and lunging.  This becomes a behavior that is unintentionally rewarded.

How is leash reactivity different than dog aggression?

Leash reactivity is when a dog is typically friendly. The same dogs may play in the backyard together or in a daycare setting with no issues.  An aggressive dog is one that does not play well with others and will become aggressive when with another dog in a play setting like a backyard or daycare.

What causes leash reactivity?

Dogs communicate with body language. When they are on a leash they are not able to communicate the same way they would if they were not on leash.  We often unintentionally interfere by pulling the leash which can add frustration, making the situation tense and unnatural.  

What are the ways of fixing leash reactivity?

There are a few ways to teach a dog to be more comfortable, creating less reactivity, or no reactivity at all. The best way is to work with a certified professional dog trainer to assess the situation. They will help you work on techniques that will work best for you and your dog.  To oversimplify, we work on changing the emotional response that the dog has to the trigger.

What do you wish people knew about leash reactive dogs?

Leash reactivity does not mean you have a bad dog. One should not be embarrassed by it. It is more common than you may realize. The good news is that you can do something about it.  Training has a HUGE impact on addressing leash reactivity.

What do you recommend for people with reactive dogs?

It is best to work with a certified professional dog trainer to assess the situation. The Reactive Dog Program we offer is very effective in addressing these concerns. Dogs that participate in the program have the same characteristics we have discussed; barking and lunging when seeing another dog. Typically, by the 5th night of class, the dogs are seeing other dogs and having a positive reaction. By the 8th week, the dogs are walking past other dogs without barking or lunging. The owners have learned skills on how to go on a leisurely walk again. It is a win-win for everyone. Once the dog has worked through the program, they are able to join in on our other classes successfully like nose work and agility.   

Anything else you’d like people to know?

It is not necessary to meet another dog on a leash. In fact, I personally do not allow my dogs to meet other dogs on a leash…even when the other person says “my dog is friendly”.  It only takes a few seconds for that greeting to go bad.  (Watch the video attached.)  Once your dog has had an altercation with another dog it can take months to get back to the point you were with your dog prior to the altercation and that is with a lot of work to get back to that point.  The altercation can cause unwanted fear and/or reactivity in your dog.  It’s too high of a risk for me to consider having my dogs meet another dog on a leash.

If you are walking your dog and you see someone struggling with their dog.  Give them space.  Crossing to the other side of the street is always a good option.  They will appreciate your understanding.

How can people contact you?

Enjoy Your Dog, Inc., 630-203-7016,  We have locations in Downers Grove, LaGrange and Oak Brook Terrace.


Meet Mimi, the most adorable lug. She was saved from a Chicago South Side open access shelter. She gets along well with her foster dog sibling Aggie and kids. She’d prefer a home without cats because she thinks they’re far too interesting. She’s full of smiles and sweetness and would love a yard. She is reactive to other dogs on leash but she’s getting lots of training to help with that. She’ll be available soon from Second City Canine Rescue. 


Oh the weirdness of fall/summer transitional clothing. This outfit is fall on top but summer on bottom. Like a mullet but make it fashion. You can shop the shoes here and the rest of the outfit below.



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