Leash Reactivity and Leash Aggression Training
“My neighbors don’t cross the street anymore when they see us coming!”
Walking a reactive dog can be embarrassing and sometime scary. You know what you feel when a strange dog or even person comes too close, but what is your dog experiencing?
A leashed dog knows their options are limited. Because they are tethered to you they cannot go forward and interact in an appropriate and natural way with other dogs or people. The leash also prevents them from running away if the approaching strangers seem to pose a threat.
As the strange dog or person approaches, a frustrated greeter feels the leash as a barrier that is holding them back from having a great time with a new person or dog. They leap and squeal and pull, trying to visit their new best friend. The people your dog wants to meet may be afraid of dogs, or very young or older and likely to be knocked down. Maybe the dog your dog is so desperate to meet is sick, older or afraid of strange dogs. Maybe your dog’s rushed and noisy greeting will trigger a dog fight. You can’t let your dog rush over to great everyone, that is inappropriate and just worsens their rude greeting style.
Your dog needs to realize they are with you and walk by without becoming obsessed with the other dogs or people.
The flip side of leash reactivity is leash aggression. In this case, the approach of others makes a dog anxious and fearful, possibly to the point of a bite. Your dog may be the star of the dog park or great at dog daycare, but when they are leashed they know they are shackled. Imagine you were handcuffed to a park bench and strangers tried to come over and touch you. Even the thought gives most people the willies. That is what leash aggressive dog experience when they are restrained and another dog approaches, especially if they are an under socialized dog or have been attacked by a dog in the past.
Yelling at your dog and jerking their leash just makes things worse. Your angry and frustrated behavior will make your dog more anxious and your yelling will make them think, ‘When you approach my person gets upset and they start barking too! Go away, we’re both barking!!”
LEASH REACTIVITY - What can we do?
The goal of leash reactivity training is to change your dog’s feelings about approaching strangers.
YOU are your dog’s best friend, and you two are a team. When you go for a walk with a human friend they are not running up and down the street interacting with total strangers, your dog should not do this either. Imagine how pleasant it would be to walk past a barking dog and having your dog look into your eyes.
If your dog is fearful or aggressive then you will be their leader and protector, assuring them that you have their back and will not put them into a situation where they won’t be comfortable. “Stick with me kid, I have this covered!”
The Reactivity Program at Train This Dog
Our goal is to give you the tools you need, as quickly as possible, to make you feel calm and in control when you take your dog out in public.
You and your dog will learn to walk together as a team. There may be a change of collar or harness. I do not use punishment collars. Imagine you were already nervous about meeting strangers, and then a collar that causes pain is added to the situation. With a change to a humane harness you will have better control and your dog will be less anxious.
We will learn what your dog’s triggers are. Large dogs? Small dogs? Joggers, skateboards, bicycles, large men, people carrying things? Does your dog spend all day barking at dogs from the upstairs window and then continue the behavior when they get outside?
We will use these triggers to teach your dog that the things that set them off are no longer a problem. For those with a psychology background, we will use first classical conditioning and then operant conditioning, being careful to stay under threshold until your dog is conditioned to a different emotional response, one where they look happily to you, when the things that used to trigger them approach.
I have a two-lesson package for reactivity. An in-home meeting is best since lots of leash reactivity begins when the dog is practicing its behavior in the home. We want to defuse places where your dog is aroused in your home environment.
If you want me to travel outside of Savannah I charge $0.50/mile round trip to help defray my travel time, and I am willing to drive 30 to 45 minutes. (price subject to change)
If it is not possible for me to come to you we can arrange to meet in Savannah, I just will not have the advantage of seeing the dog's home environment.
In this first session:
A fact finding discussion to determine what makes your dog react as they do.
An evaluation of your dog’s leash and harness, changes may be made at this point.
If your dog has a bite history or seems likely to be aggressive, we will discuss muzzle training. Since you are the owner and responsible for your dog’s behavior be honest in any conversation about bite potential. It is no shame to put a dog in a muzzle, it means you are a responsible dog owner who is taking measures to keep the people and dogs you may meet safe. Every dog is an individual. Most of the dogs I work with do not require muzzles.
A lesson on how to keep your dog’s focus and how to walk with a looser leash
“Focus” exercises and a plan to begin establishing a preferable emotional response to the approach of triggers.
An explanation of the importance of ‘threshold’ in reactive dog training.
A discussion of other methods, techniques and equipment to make your dog calmer inside and outside of your home.
Your Questions answered.
After lesson one I will email you material and information that will help you progress until our second meeting. I am also happy to answer questions on the phone or via text. You will take your dog out every day and practice what we have gone over. Yes, there is homework! I love questions, you will be encouraged to text or call after our meeting.
After the first session you understood what you need to do and laid the foundation for good leash handling and focus. Now you must go out in the real world and counter-condition and desensitize your dog. In lesson two we go out and HUNT DOGS! We take the skills you have learned and make them better in a real world environment where we intend to challenge you and your dog, allowing you perfect your dog's new approach to passing others without incident.
Thanks for reading about Train This Dog and our Reactive Dog Program. If you have any questions, please contact me. The fastest way to get my attention is to fill out the Reactive Dog Form and then text me.
I have helped many reactive dogs, including running three Feisty Fido classes per week. Feisty Fidos was developed at St. Hubert’s in Madison New Jersey where I was a staff trainer and behavior consultant. Feisty Fidos was one of the first group classes for reactive dogs in the nation. Hundreds of dogs have successfully moved through the program and I worked many reactive dogs while I was there. You will be in experienced hands.