what leash reactive really means
Good morning and happy Tuesday. It’s my first full week back to reality and I can’t say I’m loving it. I had a fantastic weekend up in Michigan and I’m wishing I were still there. But I digress. Today’s blog post was actually a request from a reader. She asked I write an article about leash reactivity and so here I am. I’ve encountered plenty of dogs who have issues on leash so allow me to investigate.
When we brought Rawlings home, we assumed (never assume) that she was “dog-friendly.” After all, she’s been raised around hundreds if not thousands of other Greyhounds. They love each other. On our first walk, a puppy came up to her, jumped on her, and Rawlings bared her teeth and growled. Worried, we pulled her away and kept walking, wondering if our new pup actually wasn’t all that into other dogs.
Since then, we’ve introduced her to my brother’s, parents’ and a few friends’ dogs and she does really well. Rawlings enjoys them after a slow introduction on both ends. Even more, we began taking her to agility classes where she takes class with about eight other Greyhounds. She loves it and loves the other dogs. So what gives with the walks? She still whines and barks and gets uncomfortable when approached by another dog.
Flash forward three months and we finally met with a trainer to discuss some of her habits that we’d like to correct. Namely, why she whines and gets anxious when she sees dogs on walks. After a bit of research, I contacted Yvonne Feeney, a Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine who I found through Anything is Pawzible. Yvonne had recently been on the Raise the Woof podcast with Sarah Lauch so I knew she came highly recommended. She said it was best to do a one on one session in our home to evaluate little miss Rawlings. Her insight into our dog was invaluable and we’ve been working on our new skills ever since. Before I get to the progress Rawlings has made, I asked Yvonne to explain leash reactivity.
What is leash reactivity?
Leash reactivity is typically any behavior on leash deemed inappropriate such as pulling, lunging, and barking at a certain trigger.
Why do dogs exhibit leash reactivity?
Leash reactivity is typically rooted in two main things: over-exuberant dogs that lack impulse control and love other dogs so “come in too hot”, or dogs that are anxious and fearful. Often times, the latter results in a dog being pushed to aggression if that safety zone around them becomes too small.
What are some steps an owner can take if their dog exhibits leash reactive behavior?
If it is a dog that LOVES other dogs, they are still too aroused to meet a dog and it will likely backfire. Your lunging maniacal-looking dog could send the wrong body language to other dogs and they might stare or bark back. Now your dog stares and barks in return and now you have a fearful leash reactive dog on your hands. If you have the social butterfly, ask for some calm, easy behaviors before meeting a dog. If they cannot listen to your ask for such behaviors, add distance and try again. Can they do a simple skill like target your hand? If yes, then it would be okay to say hello. If no, make more space and refocus your dog.
For fearful dogs, watch for subtle signs before lunging and barking takes place. Do they stiffen their spine or hold their breath? Do they lower their head or lick the bottom of their nose? What are they staring at? Figure out what is freaking your dog out and help them before they reach that point of them having to say “we are TOO CLOSE! I’m scared!” Give them space. If you notice a trigger far away, reward them if they look at it and say something like “yay, we love that!” Over time, if that scary thing from a distance is paired with a high-value treat, your dog will see that thing and look at you! When they do that, say yes and reward them with a treat. Then work on getting closer to those objects over time. Never scold them for freaking out. That brings more anxiety to an already anxious dog.
Any other tips/insight?
Start appropriate leash training from a young age. Often, when people have puppies, they pull toward a person or dog and get rewarded by the handler with forward motion and giving the puppy what they want, usually in the name of “socialization.” Some adult dogs and people tolerate a puppy jumping on them, perpetuating the likelihood of that behavior to reoccur in the future, when the puppy is bigger. Make sure the dogs you are letting your puppy meet are appropriate with puppies and learn to read dog body language. Keep interactions short and sweet, no more than 3 seconds, and jolly your puppy away. Better yet, DON’T meet every dog on the street! Many dogs don’t want to be bothered! The handler should be the most exciting thing on a dog’s walk. Be that person for your dog!
If people want to more help or get in touch with you, how can they find you?
I teach all class levels (puppy, basic, advanced) and specialty classes (intro to agility, tricks for kicks, Canine Good Citizen) at Anything is Pawzible. I also offer in-home behavioral consultations for $125 which allow me to assess and get to know your dog. You can email me at Yvonne(at)anythingispawzible.com!
Since meeting with Yvonne, Rawlings has made some wonderful improvements. She’s also loving it because now walks mean treat and games along the way. I’m much more aware of her comfort level and pick up on her cues more easily. When she’s stressed, we try our best to avoid the issue and walk around the obstacle. Slowly, Rawlings has started to trust us and learn that we are here to be her teammate. She knows that we will keep her safe and away from harm. She’s the absolute sweetest dog and we are learning more and more how to make her comfortable every day.
Have you ever experienced leash reactivity with any of your dogs? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Two cuties are waiting for their forever home through Peace for Pits!
Jilly – Jilly is a sweet, happy, loving girl who wants to be close to her humans. She currently is in foster care with another (large) dog but doesn’t seem to want to play with other dogs. Therefore, she’d do best in a home as the only dog. That way, she can give you all the kisses you could ever want. Plus, she didn’t mind playing dress up one bit. I mean… LOOK AT HER. For more information about Jilly, click here.
Popsicle – When Josh and I saw her from a distance, I saw a blue pit, and he saw a brindle one. Turns out, we were both right. This beautiful blue brindle girl is just the friendliest dog. She loves to play, and she knows some basic commands. She loves all dogs and all people she’s met. At just over a year old, she’d make a great companion for just about anyone! Click here for Popsicle’s bio!
Josh Feeney and I wanted to create something different and dramatic. The photos you see are a combination of his talent and willingness to come up with a new kind style. The clothes weren’t as central to these photos because we wanted to focus on the drama and emotion in them instead. The white dress, sandy beach, and happy dogs while in a storm really added up to be a stunning visual. You can purchase the dress here and the boots below.
All photos courtesy of Josh Feeney.