Managing Leash Reactivity with Your Dog

Leash reactivity is one of the most common challenges of dog ownership. We’ve all seen the owner being dragged along by their dog. Or the dog barking and lunging at any other dog that passes them on a walk. 

What is leash reactivity?

Leash reactivity occurs when your dog is on leash and has a bad reaction to a stimulus. That stimuli can be another dog, a person, a passing squirrel, or almost anything. These bad reactions are fueled by confusion, fear, anxiety, or anger. It can present as barking, lunging, growling, or even trying to run away/hide.

If you’ve ever seen two dogs meet for the first time, then you may have noticed they rarely go face-to-face at first. When meeting, dogs like to give each other some space, sniff butts, and investigate each other. When both dogs are leashed, it can force them into a head-on meeting. Their movement is restricted and largely out of their control.    

Possible reasons this upsets your dog

  1. They want to protect you.
    Your dog values you. You’re their leader, source of affection, and source of food. Some dogs will get upset when someone unknown (human or dog) approaches their owner. They want to defend you.
  2. They want to meet a new friend.
    Some dogs just want to make a new friend. They want to get over there and introduce themselves. But, the leash is stopping them and this can be frustrating. 
  3. They want to get away.
    If your dog is scared of something and want to get away, the leash can often get in the way. It can impede their natural flight response. Imagine trying to get away from something and someone is holding you in place. 

There are plenty of reasons why your dog may pull on your leash or react poorly while on leash. Let’s talk about ways to help prevent this. 

Helping prevent leash reactivity

Your dog isn’t a machine, so we can’t guarantee they’ll never yank or tug on the leash. However, here are a few tips to help prevent leash reactivity in your dog. 

  • Try not to let your dog meet other dogs while on leash. Introduce them when they’re both free to interact freely. 
  • If your dog struggles with leash reactivity, make sure you’re close by when they meet new people while on leash. 
  • Encourage appropriate behavior and be careful how you discourage inappropriate behavior. Scolding or punishing your dog for being scared or excited can have a negative behavior. 
  • Avoid retractable leashes. They may feel convenient at times but there’s no reason your dog needs to be several feet from you while on leash.  

One of the most important things to remember is that you are your dog’s leader. They will look to you for how they should react to stimuli. Set the tone for them and lead with confidence. Your dog and anyone they meet will thank you for setting appropriate boundaries.

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Home 2 Home is a non-profit canine orphanage revolutionizing the way dogs find their perfect homes. We consider ourselves an orphanage versus a traditional shelter because we provide needs-based care. We also have licensed trainers on staff, veterinary care, flowing water, and always-available beds. Their better life starts when we get them, but their best life is after they’re adopted to their forever home. Learn more about us and our story.

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