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Tips to reduce reactivity

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

When a dog barks, pulls or lunges at other dogs (or wildlife, skateboards, kids, bikers, etc.) this is referred to as 'reactivity'. Dogs are unable to communicate effectively on-leash, and may feel trapped and restricted by the leash. Unfortunately this can lead to reactive outbursts during leashed walks. That's not fun for anyone. Here are some handling tips to help reduce or prevent reactivity.

Why is my dog barking and lunging?

Fear and frustration are the two most common reasons for leash reactivity. Dogs react out of frustration because the leash is restricting them from approaching something they are desperate to see. Fearful dogs react to gain distance from their triggers. In this case barking and lunging is used as a warning for other dogs (or triggers) to stay away.

The right equipment can help

A front-attachment harness or head halter can help provide more control over a dog who is pulling or lunging. Either of these will make it easier for you to turn your dog away from triggers, instead of pulling ahead barking and lunging.

Most dogs tolerate front-attachment harnesses well. Head halters provide more control, but usually require additional training to ensure that the dog is comfortable wearing it.

Distance is your friend

Whether your dog is fearful or frustrated, it's important to maintain an appropriate distance from his triggers until your dog learns to feel and behave differently around them.

Don't set your dog up to practice barking and lunging - once it becomes a habit, it will take longer to change the behavior.
  • When you see another dog or trigger, proactively move further away and encourage your dog to focus on you. Set your dog up to succeed.

  • Walk in areas where you can see what's coming. Straight, wide power cuts or residential sidewalks work best.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Look ahead and behind you often so you can spot oncoming triggers and move away while your dog is still able to focus on you.

  • Make note of dogs who bark behind fences in your neighborhood (every neighborhood has a few). Encourage your dog to focus on you while you pass the fence at a distance that's comfortable for your dog.

  • Approach blind corners carefully. Encourage your dog to stay close as you approach a corner, and be prepared to make a quick U-turn if a trigger appears around the corner.

Getting past dogs or triggers (with grace)

You can create space from dogs and other triggers by crossing the street, ducking into a driveway, taking another route, or turning around and going the other way. Practice these maneuvers often while your dog's triggers are not present. Get your dog used to the idea that you randomly change directions and it's fun to follow! You can also scatter treats on the ground or ask for tricks (like hand touches) to keep your dog engaged with you around triggers. Using food, toys and play will also help your dog create a new, positive emotional response to his triggers.

Strange dogs = fun games and treats! Instead of: Strange dogs = fear or frustration.

Below, young Timber is learning management techniques to keep our walks fun, even when scary dogs and frustrating cats are around.

Are you struggling with frustrating and embarrassing leash reactivity? Get in touch, I'm here to help.

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