How to Prevent Leash Reactivity

How to Prevent Leash Reactivity

My clients are often surprised when I tell them, “I do not allow my dogs to meet other dogs while they are on the leash.” I tell all of my clients this, and most of them ask why not. 

The reasons are clear.  For the last few months, we have thought about the dog’s tendency to form associations. Dogs quickly learn that “Event A” leads to “Event B” once they realize the pattern. Once the dog creates this association, the dog will mentally and physically prepare for “Event B” to occur. 

What does this have to do with my dogs meeting other dogs while on the leash? Before I answer that question, I have to tell you how I want my dogs to behave when they are on the leash. Holding my dogs’ leashes is analogous to holding my nieces’ hands. I expect my dogs to be calm and comfortable when I have their leash. I hope they trust me and know I will not make poor decisions when holding their leash. When they are on the leash, I would like them to give me some attention or to be aware of me and my intentions while being willing to follow my lead. If a dog could think like a human, I would want them to think, “I am with Martin, I am safe, and he will take care of me.” I do not want my dog to get nervous or excited about other dogs or people while they are with me on the leash. 

Creating Desired Associations

When I clip a leash on a dog, I would like them to see that as “Event A.” That event should be connected to “Event B,” which is being calm, comfortable, attentive, and trusting. Allowing my dog to meet other dogs while on the leash disrupts their ability to act in line with my intentions because the other dog influences my dog’s mental state and behavior. My dogs like other dogs, so if I allowed them to have the association that “Event A,” the leash being on, leads to “Event B,” greeting other dogs, my dog would get excited when “Event A” happens, which would be the opposite of how I want my dogs to behave. 

If my dog was a dog that did not like dogs, and I allowed them to meet other dogs while on the leash, that would create the association of being defensive when I put them on the leash. Because they would know that there is a chance that I will put them in a position to meet other dogs when they do not like dogs, defensiveness is a behavior or mental state I do not want my dogs to associate with being on the leash with me. 

My goal is to teach my dogs to be, at best, neutral and, at worst, ignore other dogs while they are on the leash with me. The best way for me to do this is to make the association that while my dog is on the leash, they will not be allowed to interact physically with other dogs. By not allowing these interactions, my dog will make the association that while they are on a leash, no dog can harm or entertain them. My dogs learn that other dogs are non-factors and have no reason to get excited or defensive. 

This simple rule helped my dogs avoid getting excited and pulling toward other dogs while on a leash. It removes the reason for a nervous dog or a dog that does not like other dogs to become defensive. It allows me to help my dog develop calm, comfortable, attentive, and trusting behavior. It helps me to teach my dogs that there is a time for pro-social and /or antisocial behavior, but when they are on the leash, it is not that time. 

Contact Argos Dog Training

For more hands-on training to combat leash reactivity, schedule a consultation with Argos Dog Training. We will work with you to decide which course is best for your pup and your schedule. Argos Dog Training offers many resources to make dog training accessible to our clients, jumpstarting their journey to a well-behaved dog and a joyous relationship. Contact us today!