If you are struggling with your dog’s reactivity towards dogs, prey, or people on your walk, understand you are not alone and help is right around the corner. This is something that we, Say It Once Dog Training, are known for solving. I want to break it down for you. Welcome to Part 1.
There is a huge difference between leash reactivity, and aggression, and the difference lies in the behavior your dog displays without a leash. We see countless clients who talk about how well their dog plays with other dogs at the park, or family and friend’s dogs, but as soon as they are on a leash they turn into Cujo. This, is the prime example of frustration related reactivity. If our dog is seeking to cause physical harm and attack a dog, on or off leash, this is considered, quite obviously, aggression. Now, you’re going to take a similar approach for both of these reactions, but for people who are struggling with frustrated reactivity, you need to understand why your dog is frustrated, how it started, and how to fix it moving forward.
What does a typical walk look like for the average dog? We stroll down the street, often they drag their human quite a while, and sometimes they meander from side to side, sniffing the grass and spacing out as we walk them. However, they rarely check in with their owner because the owner rarely asks much of their dog when they go out on a walk. Most of the time the owner will only try to ask their dog to stay close if they see another dog, which is a clear signal to your dog that they should focus on to them. That other dog is now providing me with tension (because you have physically put tension via the leash, and the only thing that has changed is the addition of the other dog) If the only time you try to get your dogs attention is when another dog is around while walking them, you are in for a world of hurt.
From the dogs perspective, as soon as they see another dog on a walk they become very interested. Ears perking up, head lifts high, tail starts to wag with a faster pace, their chest puffs out, and all of this body language happened in the blink of an eye. Within a few seconds, there is tension on the leash, and Fido begins to pull towards the other dog. The average owner takes one of two routes here.
Option 1. Because the dog owner knows the other dog and their human, they allow fido to pull towards the other dog until they get up to them for a greeting. “They are friends, so it’s not that big of a deal.” Here is the problem with this scenario. When you allow your dogs to meet as they’ve been pulling, you are reinforcing their pulling, but also the state of mind which is the big issue. The other issue with this option is when you come across you do not know, and you do not want to greet them. Your dog doesn’t understand why you won’t let them greet other dogs, which forces them to pull harder. You’ve probably noticed the trend, the harder they pull, the harder it is for you to physically hold back, and the more they try (opposition reflex) On-leash dog greetings are not something I recommend, but I’ll talk about that in another post.
Option 2. You see a dog, and you immediately tense up. You wrap the leash around your hand 4 extra times until your hand starts to turns purple. You start to pull your dog closer to you for “more control”, and cross the street to get as much distance between each other. In this scenario, this is where dog owners believe their dog can all of the sudden speak the English language, and we start pleading with our dog to not pay attention. “Fido, come on now, leave it, leave it, leave it, keep it moving, he doesn’t want to be friends, he could eat you, why do you do this to me?” A full on conversation, until we physically drag our dog 30 feet past and can regain the small amount of control we had to begin with.
Now, where did you go wrong in this scenario? The answer is not on the walk, it always starts well before you even saw the dog. When you opened up your front door to go for a walk, I can all but guarantee your dog ran out the door first, excited, without permission. It’s not about being “the alpha”, it’s about not rewarding your dogs frantic and overexcited state of mind. Pay attention to that line, “state of mind”. If you allow your dog to walk out the door while they are overexcited, you are teaching them that their crazy behavior is going to get them what they want. (As it does when they react when they see another dog) Just like a child who is kicking and screaming in the grocery store because they want chocolate bars, and gets rewarded for it, your dog will do the same. I don’t want you to only focus on the obedience commands you are asking your dogs to do, I want you to focus on the state of mind of your dog. Our goal, is to have a dog be as calm as possible while we walk.
Some other steps to take before taking your first steps on your walk is the way you put your leash on. Do not put the leash on your dog if they are jumping up, bouncing around, barking and whining. Once again rewarding a behavior that we hate. Ask them to sit, wait until they are sitting CALMLY, and put the lead on. Try not to make a huge fuss over the fact that we are doing this, because truly it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to your dog.
Before you grab the leash, if you catch yourself hyping up your dog by asking them, “Do you want to go for a WaLk?” Stop it. Remember, do everything in your power to keep your dog calm while getting them ready to go for a calm walk.
Once you’ve made the appropriate changes, does this mean your dog is now going to calmly pass other dogs on the walk? Heck no, but it’s the start of you asking more from your dog. It’s the start of the relationship change that is required to lead your dog. Sometimes, leadership is uncomfortable, and most always leadership takes patience and calmness. Now, lets go over how to teach our dogs to heel on lead.
Part 2 next.
6/2/2021 08:16:52 pm
Great article and just what we needed to read right now. Our dog Ellie is just starting to exhibit these frustrated/reactive behaviors when she can't get to someone. Can't wait for part two!
6/2/2021 08:36:44 pm
I enjoyed reading this and I am going to use this information with my dog. Thank you for sharing.
6/2/2021 08:53:40 pm
So helpful thank you! Also curious what to do with a young dog who stops/lies down when they don’t get their way or is scared on a walk. Also, what to do with a young dig who is non aggressive & loves other dogs but shy with strangers who want to say hi on walks.
6/2/2021 08:56:32 pm
I literally have been doing it wrong for 33 years from the time we adopted a street dog from Animal Friends in the Strip!!!!! "Get a dog, it'll be good for the kids." LOLOLOL, all the way to my shrink!!! Labs are puppies until the day they die. On our third lab now, and reading part 1 has me angry, embarrassed, but mostly HOPEFUL! I think we can teach this old dog new tricks. (I'm taking about myself!)
Our little boy is a total angel before the walk. He sits calmly while we put his leash on. We always go out the door first. He goes into a sit right outside the door with only the slightest tug on the leash. He walks calmly at our left heel. (We use a prong collar.) Then a big dog walks by and all that goes out the door!
6/4/2021 06:37:59 am
I'm having the exact same problem!
6/2/2021 10:16:54 pm
Nice reading. I love how you explain things and approach problems. Now that I see your Tuesday lives I can relate to this article a lot.. studying here a bunch because of a insecure terrier mix I adopted in June 2020. She went from totally shutdown and submissive to everyone and everything to a barking, lunging little dog that loves to play ball fetching, loves me the most and now she needs a bunch of structures.. lots of studying and changes in the way I and my family I deal with her... and yes training with professional too.. my studying is not enough
6/3/2021 01:55:55 am
This is something I needed to hear and read. I have a 7 month old Aussie and he is very patient and smart. He can be timid at times but when we are on a walk and he sees someone walking by or another dog, he is sometimes terribly reactive. I’ve tried different techniques and I’m at a loss. I love my pup and I won’t give up. Reading this article gave me the hope I needed.
6/3/2021 06:48:33 am
Love this!!! So helpful and explained very simply!
6/3/2021 10:05:46 am
Cannot wait for part 2 !
6/3/2021 11:24:41 am
Wow I love this article! I'm struggling with a reactive 2yr old Giant Schnoodle to other dogs and until now some people? 🙁We are in training too here in South Texas buut man it's hard! Your advice and suggestions are always very helpful!👍🙂🐩🐕🐶😻Thanks for all you do for us struggling dog /cat owners!
6/3/2021 06:43:32 pm
Love this. Desperately waiting for Part 2 :)
6/3/2021 07:33:03 pm
Great article! I can't wait for part 2!
6/3/2021 09:30:39 pm
*gasp* I am option 2. I am the “do you want to go for a walk?!!” AH! our dog is pretty good over all, working on recall lately in the backyard and she has made progress. Supper behaved and listens in the house. If there is a dog on a walk, or a dog in sight... we are doomed. We pull her close and just try and get by it while she FREAKS out, growling and barking, trying oh so hard to get off her leash to get to the dog. We have given up. I’ve watched videos and looked up tips and I don’t know what else to do. I look forward to reading the next part for help in hopes of trying something else.
6/3/2021 10:43:01 pm
Ahhhh thank you, thank you! This is what we needed! Can’t wait for part 2 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼
6/3/2021 11:20:30 pm
Thank you for sharing. I have a 2 1/2 yr. old American Bully, rescued 8 months ago. She is super chill when I put her leash on and when we walk out the door. In fact, she must sit calmly and wait until I open the door and release her. But when she sees another dog on or off leash walking in our neighborhood, she will start pulling aggressively and has also now started barking. It’s difficult to get her attention back in me. Excited for Part 2.
6/4/2021 01:22:25 am
Hi, thanks for the article. Very helpful! When is part 2 coming out? :)
6/4/2021 08:31:07 am
Cannot wait for Part 2!! This is exactly what happened to my overly excitable lab. Now she is very friendly and well behaved, but only until she sees another dog. I've been working on general obedience, manners, heel walking and she is doing well with all that, but once we are close enough to a dog (under 30-40 ft), she turns into a maniac. I hope with time we will make more progress with reduced distance, right now she only does well when encounter is short and far enough.
6/4/2021 10:31:57 am
We struggle with this everyday! Looking forward to part 2 . . .
6/25/2021 12:45:07 am
Great article, I was wondering how do I train my dog to like walking? When we go on walks he walks for a little bit and then sits down and this process goes on for a long time so I want to get him to a point where he consistently walks but I don't know how to do that. If you have any tips it would be great.
6/27/2021 10:36:44 am
Love this and can’t wait for Part 2. I have a 12 yo yorkie that’s like this when we walk and when someone comes to the door. He’s never like this if he’s not on his territory!!!
6/29/2021 10:34:30 pm
Very informative. I like this style more than how you are on IG. On IG, you act overly cocky and kinda rude sometimes
7/24/2021 05:03:19 pm
Is part two coming soon? Can’t wait!
Steve and Lori Hocker
9/12/2021 10:33:10 am
I’m so glad I discovered you. How to learn more about walking your dogs with other dogs. Do you have a book for sale?
10/19/2021 04:00:13 am
Great post! Some dogs do not respond aggressively when leashed. This, however, is not true for every dog. Most dogs grow restless when walked on a leash, and it is difficult to quiet them down, whether in parks or on pedestrian walkways. I believe dogs dislike leashes because of a negative association. The mere sight of a collar may elicit negative emotions, causing them to become allergic and difficult to walk with.
1/20/2022 04:22:41 am
Thank you for Good Information. This is Good to read, I was searching for information about Dog leash & product and came across your article and found it useful. It was so helpful. Keep on doing good work.
4/12/2022 05:01:02 am
Thanks for sharing these tips! I believe that with patience and perseverance, we can train dogs to obey our directions most of the time. However, things frequently get out of hand when another dog aggressively approaches, and my dog reacts violently as well. It becomes exceedingly difficult. I'm still struggling for a solution.
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