As much as this can be frustrating and embarrassing, don’t feel bad. This is one of the most common problems we deal with.
“Leash Reactivity” is a the dog that reacts to another dog, a person, or an object. Essentially, the dog to does things like bark, growl, and lunge — which can look like the dog is being aggressive on leash. But that’s not always the case.
The best analogy to look at this is thinking of it as a “bucket.” Small positive or negative triggers of arousal, e.g. seeing a rabbit or seeing a dog they are worried by, act as additions to the bucket, pouring a glass of water in. As water is added to the bucket, dogs get closer and closer to threshold. Beyond this threshold, we may see over arousal or fear responses to relatively mild triggers of fear and anxiety.
Reactivity is when a physiological change happens in the body that moves the dog from thinking to reacting state of mind. These physiological responses that happen to your dog when they react include
- Heart Rate increases and Metabolism increases
- Hormone production increases results in increased alertness and vigilance
- Hormones don’t return to Basel levels for 2-6 days post incident.
Where does reactivity come from?
Think of the bucket as how much stress your dog can handle. The bucket is empty. The body language cues your dog could have include Lack of motion. When their mouth closes, you typically have 3 seconds to a reaction.
What can fill your dog’s bucket?
- Noisy things
- Scary things
- Fun things- like going for a walk
- Moving things- like bikes, cars or rabbits
- Anticipation for awesome things
- Injuries and the health of your dog
- Tension on the leash- Tension creates frustration.
What are you doing to cause it? This could be tightening up on the leash when you see a dog thinking that they will react. When in fact that you are changing the picture for the dog you maybe causing the reaction.
Each trainer you talk to will have a different way to deal with leash reactivity. So, what we suggest you should do
- Teach impulse control in life and change daily habits. Like not rushing out doorways.
- Add more structure and follow through. When you ask your dog to sit, don’t allow them to lay down.
- Don’t go to dog parks or daycares where your dog learns to be excited. Many of the dogs we see have either had bad experiences with dogs at these locations or the dog is over socialized meaning every time they see another dog is they get to play with them. Now, a leash has been attached and the dog is frustrated and wants to play with the other dogs but isn’t allowed to anymore since they are on leash.
- Practice desensitization
- Start with what triggers your dog that are LOW threat and work up
- Let dog have free choice but maintain dog below threshold
- Teach “Leave it” behaviours to use when desensitization protocols are not possible.
- Reward for calm (laying down, sit on the dog, behavioural down)
- Teach your dog that leash means calm, they can also keep it on in the house and wander around with it.
- Loose leash walking and turning off leash pressure
- Allowing the dog to decompress by using nose work after they have a reaction
- Block access to triggers. This could be blocking windows if your dog likes to bark at dog barking past.
If your dog reacts and it will happen. Don’t fret. What you can do if it happens is to
- Block visual access to the trigger. Stand in front of your dog. Move between parked cars.
- Turn the dog away and recall you dog to you. Reward for them focusing on you.
- Make distance
- Allow the dog to decompress by doing some scent work