A Training Plan for Leash Reactivity

One of the most common challenges that dog owners face, especially new ones, is leash reactivity.

When out walking with your dog on a leash, Pooch may decide to bark, pull, lunge, as well as use an entire repertory of moves causing you to be nervous, frustrated, and occasionally overwhelmed.


Leash reactivity, sometimes defined as bad behavior, is often misdiagnosed. Once you understand your dog’s behavior it will be easier to manage.


The Underlying Reasons

There are several underlying reasons for leash reactivity. Among these, the most common are:

  • The insecurity that is characterized by fear
  • Frustration
  • Attitude and the desire for conflict


Insecurity is often the primary motivation behind aggression. Dogs that have not been socialized adequately, or that have experienced fear or trauma while interacting with another dog will exhibit leash reactivity. 


This stems from the dog’s sensation that he or she will not be able to escape from an unpleasant situation because tied to a leash. Your dog will not be able to flee. Leash reactivity in these cases is the language your dog will use to warn other dogs, especially those off-leash, or even people in the area not to attempt aggressive or dominating behavior.


Frustration during social interaction can stem from puppyhood. When puppies are small and cute, just about everything is allowed because everybody loves a puppy. Owners give puppies leeway behaviorally in greeting anyone in the vicinity. Jumping, licking, and yapping are all permitted. 


As the puppy grows into adolescence and adulthood these behaviors are less desirable, so owners intervene to prohibit and prevent them. Your dog’s expectations of attention are unmet, and he or she becomes reactive to get attention.

The Potential Bully

Then there’s the dog with the “attitude”. These are exceptionally confident alpha dogs who enjoy conflict and seek it out. When not able to do so with another dog, they can direct these inclinations toward the leash or even the owner. If you think your dog fits in this category, a qualified dog trainer might be your best option for nipping this behavior in the bud and getting it under control from the start.

Determining if Your Dog Is Leash Reactive

Reactive means responding to stimuli. It does not mean that your dog is necessarily aggressive. Stimuli can include any number of things such as unfamiliar people, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, children playing, as well as other dogs, cats, or squirrels to name a few.


This reactivity may not be ideal for who’s holding the other end of the leash. You should consider your dog leash reactive if:


  • He or she barks, whines, or growls at people, cars, dogs, etc, while on the leash.
  • Your dog bites or nips the leash, or for that matter you while on the leash if stimulated.
  • Your dog pulls or lunges excessively while on the leash and seeing a stimulus.


Any of these behaviors toward a stimulus from behind a fence, gate, or window are also indicative of eventual leash reactivity.

Intervening to Prevent Leash Reactivity

Preventive techniques with puppies and young dogs can help prevent leash reactivity before it becomes a set behavior. Try these simple steps.


  • Do not use corrective collars as they may become reactive when stimulated by the presence of other dogs and the collar will be identified as a negative imposition to fear when other dogs are present. Make sure you are putting the collar or harness on correctly
  • Do not use leashes that retract. You want your dog next to you and not in front of you.
  • When meeting people while your dog is on a leash, train your dog to sit by your side. Use treats as rewards for correct behavior. Your dog must receive commands and stimuli from you.
  • Do not introduce your dog to or allow your dog to meet other dogs while on leash.

Contrasting Existing Leash Reactivity

If your dog is already leash reactive, know that punishment will not necessarily resolve your problems long-term. The best solution is to work with a qualified dog trainer or enroll in a  professional dog training course to resolve pre-existing issues. A professional will work with your dog to look at you instead of reacting to a trigger stimulus.

Leash Reactivity Training

It’s important to provide your dog with new reference points.


  1. Indoors, place your dog on a leash. Select a positive simple word that your dog will recognize as a precursor to rewards. “Good”, “yes”, or similar will work. Have a friend or family member raise or move a toy, ball, or blanket of your dog. When the dog looks at the object, repeat the word and reward with a treat.
  2. Outdoors: If you see a trigger (car, person, dog, etc.) maintain distance from the trigger as much as possible.
  3. As soon as your pooch sees the trigger, say your chosen word. When your dog looks at you, reward him or her with a treat. Should your dog react to the trigger and ignore you, chances are you are too close for your dog’s comfort. Move farther away and repeat the action. Ideally, you should be stationary during this phase. Repat this patiently for weeks if not a month.
  4. When stationary behavior has been modified, try the same method while walking your dog.


A Final Thought

Be patient. Your dog loves you and will with time, dedication, and above all patience, respond to you first and foremost.


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