How to Prevent Leash Reactivity in Dogs

shutterstock_273398579One of the most common behavior issues seen with our companion canines is leash reactivity: lunging, barking, snapping and shenanigans that look like a circus act and can embarrass the heck out of us. It may limit where you can take your dog, who you can interact with, and in general cause you anxiety and stress.

First, one must determine whether the reactivity is caused by fear or if it’s frustration. Both can look identical. If it’s fear, (or if you don’t know) then please contact a force-free behaviour consultant that works with fearful dogs.  If it’s frustration, here are some tips to help.

Start Them Young

In my puppy classes and manners classes we work on how to meet and greet other dogs on leash or, if the dogs aren’t interested in meeting, how to calmly walk by other dogs and normalizing these interactions to prevent reactivity. If your instructor doesn’t offer coaching students the How-To’s on meet and greets, you can practice on your own time by using the below as a guide. An ounce of prevention can go a long way and continuing to practice for the duration of your dog's life is well worth it.

Breathe & Loosen Up

You may be tense and stressed so take a few deep breaths and try to loosen up the tension in your body first.

Try as much as possible to not put tension on the leash. Your dog may put tension on the leash but your instinct may be to jerk your arm back, so be aware of that and try and avoid using your leash like a lever. No need to send your dog any messages via the leash.  If your dog meets another dog on leash, keep that leash slack.

Talk to Your Dog

As you approach and through the meet and greet “happy talk” to your dog because this can lower their anxiety (if they have any) and yours! “Good Buddy, have we met a new friend? Well done, let’s move along!”.  Silence isn’t always golden, and your dog may take the silence as a sign something is amiss.

Short and Sweet: The 3 Second Rule

Meeting a new dog on leash can be hit or miss, as no one knows how the other dog will react and sometimes we may not be too sure if our own dog will like the new dog.  Counting to three in your head and then ‘good job, let’s go!", feed your dog a treat and move along. Nothing good usually comes of lingering.

If It Goes Wrong

Turn and go immediately. Don’t get upset no matter who’s “fault” it was. Dogs snark and argue just like humans, so realizing it’s normal and moving along is key. Feed your dog a snack in case they are left feeling put off.  Best to reward your dog for moving along with you to offset a possible bad situation.

Hopefully these tips will be helpful to prevent leash frustration, and gives you a blueprint on how to approach on-leash greetings.

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Positively Expert: Renée Erdman

Renée Erdman is a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer and behaviour consultant focusing on the emotional needs and welfare of dogs and their guardians. She resides in North Vancouver, BC Canada where she runs Bravo Dog (, her pride and joy.


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