Leash Reactivity

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					Leash Reactivity

Do you enjoy walking your dog on leash? Many owners do not due to their dogs‟ embarrassing behaviour
which is often labeled as “out of control” or “vicious”.
Unfortunately this behaviour often limits any future walks with the dog and the problem gets worse.

Straining, lunging, barking, growling, snarling and such while on leash in response to other dogs, people,
vehicles, other animals or any manner of different triggers is often known as leash reactivity.

Fear-Aggression or Frustration? Or both?

This reactivity usually first becomes most obvious during adolescence although there are often signs and
causative factors involved much earlier on in the puppy‟s life.

Leash frustration is the canine equivalent to road rage. The road-rager is often calm outside the car but
stick him in a small metal box in rush hour and at the very least there will be swearing and agitation.
Dogs exhibiting leash frustration are usually calm and friendly off leash or out from behind a barrier but
once their access to interesting things is limited they quickly become more Cujo-like!

Leash aggression is usually seen where the dog has learnt that acting like this causes scary things to
move away. It is most commonly associated with being on leash or in some other way confined because
this prevents the dog from escaping a scary situation or exhibiting appropriate communicative behaviours.
These dogs are usually under-socialised and are often reactive to triggers in other situations too.

Very often the two situations combine in a leash reactive dog; there is frustration as well as a socialisation
deficit and therefore a fear factor and an impulse control problem. Knowing which category the dog most
closely fits into will help to develop a training program to help resolve the behaviour.

Why are some dogs leash reactive?

Going for walks is very exciting to dogs - you will have noticed how excited your dog gets when it is time
for walkies.
For the most part we limit our dogs‟ contact with things they find interesting such as passing people,
playing children, other dogs, other animals and all the other interesting sights, sounds and smells.

This combination of excitement and frustration every time the dog is on the leash leads to a dog that is
reactive on leash.

Dogs that are fearful or shy of close contact with other people or dogs are likely to be more sensitive to
proximity when excited and revved up while out on a walk. Their owner at the other end of the leash
usually restricts the dogs‟ ability to escape something or someone the dog perceives as scary so their
normal warning behaviour becomes exaggerated plus it „works‟ for the dog - scary things move away from
or avoid a barking, snarling, lunging dog.

Very often the owner contributes to this issue too. After this has happened, even if just a small incident
such as the dog pulling towards another dog, owners may begin to anticipate (and dread) such situations
that are likely to excite the dog. The owner often stiffens and holds their breath creating tension on the
leash which of course encourages more frustration in the dog. Soon the owner‟s response to the sight of
another person or dog will elicit an anticipatory response in the dog who is likely to be anxious even
before he knows what is coming.

Dealing with leash reactivity:

      Training basic manners is the most important step. Training simple exercises helps to boost your
       dog‟s confidence, improves your relationship with him and allows you to control him even in

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    difficult situations. Along with a focus cue, sit, down and loose leash walking exercises reactive
    dogs should be taught self control exercises too.

   Socialisation exercises: socialisation wears off so all dogs of all ages should continue socialisation
    exercises throughout life. Remember the dog should never be put in a situation that he finds
    frightening but should be gradually introduced to different experiences in a positive way.

   Exercises for anxiety and self control are also important - reactive dogs often show signs of other
    anxiety related behaviours.

   Implement the use of calmatives into everyday life. These may include Rescue Remedy tincture,
    DAP, skullcap & valerian, T-touch and body wraps. The dog‟s diet should also be looked at closely.
    With many cases involving fearfulness or aggression a full veterinary check up may be necessary.

   Physical and mental exercise should be increased. This should include plenty of supervised, safe
    off leash exercise and lots of interactive games between dog and owner. If the dog is dog-friendly
    and frustrated toward other dogs only when on- leash, safe off leash meetings with confident,
    friendly adult dogs should be organised. Funs and games should be used as a way of teaching
    impulse control rather than just to get the dog wound up or to „tire‟ him out.

   Keep the leash loose. Train a really reliable „sit‟ so that you can ask for a sit and then keep the
    leash loose when around potential triggers. Remember to keep a good grip of the leash at all

   During training, manage the situation. Keep a note of any incidents and triggers involved so that
    you can minimise contact until you are at such a point in your training that it is safe to introduce
    your dog. The use of training tools such as head collars and front leading harnesses are invaluable
    for extra control just in case - a cage muzzle may also be required. The safety of triggers is

   Record reactive incidents on your Incident Analysis Form so as to understand which situations and
    proximities trigger a response in your dog. If your dog is reactive within, for example, 20 feet of a
    trigger begin training exercises further away, for example at 25 feet. Only progress once your dog
    is happy at his safe distance.

   Never tell your dog off for reactive behaviour or use any physical punishers such as leash jerks or
    any training equipment that may cause pain such as choke chains, prong collars or electric shock
    collars. Your dog already has negative feelings towards triggers without punishing them any time a
    trigger shows up.

   Open-Bar/Closed-Bar: This game is great for teaching a reactive dog that a trigger is actually
    something that they want nearby.
       o make sure the dog is secured on a harness, head collar or other control device with a
          leather or nylon leash (not an extendable leash)
       o sit with your dog at his safe distance from a trigger
       o let your dog see the trigger
       o as soon as you are sure that he has seen the trigger feed him some of his favourite treats
          (liver, chicken etc.)
       o at this stage it doesn‟t matter what the dog is doing but make sure he is not acting fearfully
          or overly aroused - if so move further away and work from that distance
       o withdraw the treats as soon as the trigger goes (treats are only on offer when trigger is
          within view with in safe distance)
       o this exercise should be carried out for 20-30 mins as many times a week as possible
       o soon the dog will see the trigger and look expectantly for a treat - you can now move a little
          closer and work from there
       o this eliminates the reactive response and teaches your dog to look at you so that you can
          ask for a sit or down
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   Redirect your dog‟s attention - if you are exposed to a trigger too close for your dog change the
    direction of movement or your dog‟s gaze; walk briskly in the opposite direction talking to your dog
    in a lively tone

   Train and ask for a relaxed body position to help your dog relax in difficult situations. Ask for a sit
    or a down and stroke your dog‟s neck and back.

   Learn your dogs early alert signals. Dogs are not responding in a reactive way all the time so get
    to know changes in body language that your dog shows. If you can re-direct your dog‟s attention
    earlier it will be more effective. Look for changes in your dog‟s ear, tail, head and neck carriage;
    eye shape and whisker position, expression, mouth shape and overall posture.

   Be aware of your own body posture, breathing and leash position. In anticipation of a reaction we
    often hold our breath causing our muscles to stiffen and our grip on the leash to tighten. Your
    reaction will soon be learnt by your dog and he will respond before he has even seen a trigger.
    The tighter the leash the more frustrating for your dog so he is more likely to respond to a trigger.
    Smile and laugh or sing a song from a musical - this will help to keep you relaxed.

   Learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate dog behaviour and then make sure you
    behave appropriately in response.
    Many dogs are labeled reactive or „vicious‟ for responding appropriately to rude behaviour, or their
    behaviour is misinterpreted or we don‟t understand that they are asking for space and their
    warning behaviour must be exaggerated so that the trigger responds appropriately.
    It is your responsibility to keep your dog safe from well meaning but misinformed people and rude
    dogs and your responsibility to prevent reactive behaviour in your dog.
    Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that people and dogs who meet your dog will do so calmly and
    mannerly so we must insure that our dogs can cope with greetings from all sorts of people and all
    sorts of dogs - this is only achieved through thorough socialisation and training.

   Our interpretation of dog aggression is usually mistaken. Most behaviour that we label „aggressive‟
    or „vicious‟ is used as a communication tool so that more serious violence is not necessary.
    Have you ever had an argument or been annoyed by another person? If so, did this lead you to
    beat the other person up?
    Well much of the barking, lunging, snarling, snapping, growling and even some physical contact
    (fighting) among dogs is ritualised and very rarely is any harm done - just as in the case of your
    argument with raised voices.

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