Aggressive or Excited on Leash
Dog reactivity is one of the top challenges I get called about, so please know that you are not alone! Whether it is barking, lunging, whining, or pulling hard on a leash at the sight of a person, dog, car, stroller, bike, etc., we can usually work through this behavior with great success! We first must determine the triggers, and the fewer things that set your dog “off,” the easier it will be to work through. The more triggers there are, the longer it will take. The training part is not extremely hard, but it can take time and patience with some dogs. Look at it this way, even if it took six months or a year to correct, six months of working through this behavior are minuscule to the years of polite and loose leash walks. In most cases, this time is much shorter!
Your dog is anxious or fearful about seeing dogs, people, cars, bikes, skateboards, etc.
and barks and lunges to make the scary thing go away!
Most leash reactive dogs generally want the “trigger” to go away. And guess what? Up until now, that behavior has worked well for them!
They bark, and the dog/person/bike goes away. They do not understand that they were going to walk past you anyway. They learn through repeated behavior that barking at things makes them go away.
Many humans get into a very subtle vicious cycle with their dogs.
Unfortunately, this reinforces the behavior chain. You pull on the leash because the dog reacts, and the dog reacts because you pull on the leash.
We can stop the cycle!
We must teach two things:
Your dog is super excited when they see people or dogs and they bark or pull to get them to come closer... quickly!
You’re always reinforcing behaviors. Whether it’s the right behavior or the wrong behavior, you’re reinforcing behaviors with every interaction with your dog, so let us help you make sure it’s the behaviors you want!
Some people naturally understand this method, and they reinforce the right behaviors. For example, when you say sit, the dog sits. They get pet on the head. Or you walk in the door, and the dog doesn’t jump on you; you give them all the attention you know they want! Most notably on the leash, they walk politely with no tension in the leash; they get to keep walking. Or they see a person or a dog, you ask them to sit, and they wait patiently while that person or dog comes over to say hi. That person stops approaching when your dog gets up from sitting or starts barking. They begin to understand that the person moves forward only when a specific behavior happens. Sitting works! Quiet works!
Unknowingly or unintentionally, many pet owners reinforce unwanted or “wrong” behaviors. The dog sees something they like across the street, so they bark and carry on, and the exciting dog or person comes towards them to say hi, or the dog pulls their owner across the street, and the harder they pull, the faster they move! That barking and pulling worked! Really well, I might add! If you let the dog get what they want by displaying unwanted behaviors (like pulling or barking), the dog learns that it works well for them, and they will continue to repeat the same behavior next time.
Another option to reinforce the preferred behavior, as I mentioned above, is to control the situation and stop that person’s approach when your dog goes over their threshold (like getting up out of a seated position or barking/whining). When other people want to say hi, my favorite phrase for my clients in training, “We are working on training; would you like to help us?” This question usually makes people stop and buy you a few seconds to explain what you need from them. It’s okay if they can’t or don’t want to help. Just stopping their approach to you helps your dog learn that their barking, lunging, or pulling behavior made that person NOT approach. We must then get the dog to pay more attention to you on the walk and less attention to everything else!
**This is done most effectively with a Certified Professional Trainer to help you read the dog’s body language. It also works best in a controlled environment, and you can explain to the person helping you when to stop and start their approach.
This method only works when the dog WANTS the person or the dog to approach, and this is sometimes hard for a pet owner to determine. If they don’t want the dog or person to come closer, this behavior modification can actually “punish” their good behavior. I’m sitting nice and politely, and the scary thing is approaching. I don’t want to sit or behave anymore. I want it to go away!
Your dog gets frustrated because they can't get to the person or the dog that they so desperately want!
With some dogs, they become excited and then frustrated. It may look aggressive, but it is generally anxiety or frustration. They see a dog and think they should be playing with them or see people, and they should be coming over to pet them, but they don’t. It can happen a lot with dogs used to playing with other dogs when they see them, such as daycare dogs or those that frequent dog parks. These scenarios can leave them feeling extremely frustrated, so we must teach them that extraordinary things happen when they pay attention to you on the walk, not other people, dogs, squirrels, kids, or cars!
You must be the most exciting thing on the walk!
These are a few examples of Leash Reactivity or Leash Aggression, and we want to help you all work through it!
I bring my demo dogs or 2-legged child or props if needed to sessions so that we can work through your dog's specific challenge in a controlled setting, so you learn how to best respond when you encounter it in real life. Please call or email if you want to talk through your specific challenges and thoughts to decide what package or program might be best for you!
Full disclosure: there are some cases where a Veterinary Behaviorist may need to become involved. Some pets may take longer than others, especially those with many triggers. If they struggle with high anxiety or fear, it is difficult for the owner and the dog. All they want is for the scary THING to go away. Medications can help a massive relief for both of you. Some dogs need to have a Veterinary Behavior consult to begin discussing medicine. MOST cases are not at all to that degree, but I am happy to help you decide if that route is necessary when and if needed. Even with medications, you still must incorporate training. Medications help lower the dog’s “threshold,” so they are more open to learning that new behaviors work even better than their previous choices! They also reduce the dog’s guard just enough to allow training to teach the dog that the previously thought super scary thing means AMAZING stuff for them. Our behavior modification training sequence changes their emotional response to a stimulus, and that is how we get permanent behavior change for the better! It’s important to remember; your dog is not giving you a hard time; they are having a hard time.