How to Stop Leash Reactivity and Start Enjoying Walks Again

_MG_2355In my previous blog, I discussed just how damaging a leash can be in training and managing your dog, why this is and how problems can develop from inappropriate use of this vital training tool. We explained these through the “3Rs”. BUT how can we negate the 3 Rs, turn a dog training challenge into a strength and create awesome relationship with our dogs?

Through these five steps!

  • Understand signals!
    • Acknowledging and understanding the signals your dog is giving you is probably the most important step in avoiding the perils of the leash. By doing this, you can ensure your dog’s coping strategies are effective by getting them out of the situation and away from the trigger at the first yawn, lip-lick or pant! Making these coping strategies successful to your dog will solidify them as effective and make them used in the future, avoiding response escalation and worsening of the association. You can then work on the trigger separately! This brings us onto the next step!
  • Create positive and calming associations generalised to on leash!
    • It’s really important that you create positive, calm associations and that these are generalised to being on lead too - this needs to form part of your generalisation plan in creating these associations!
  • Build value in distance from things!
    • This avoids frustration developing. It teaches your dog that “sure that thing in the distance is positive but the reinforcement is over here.” You can pair distant things with reinforcement away from the thing to work on building positive, calming and distant associations all at the same time!! You can use focus games to build value in you, the trainer, in different environments too, so that reinforcement goes wherever you are. Here’s a video of a focus game we like to use in our dog training to build value in the trainer and reduce value in sniffing: (In this video, we also discuss a common dog training mistake you won’t want to miss!)
  • Train loose-leash walking!11713273_10153431714547370_473835948_o
    • Training loose-leash walking and then coupling it with reinforcement away from environmental stimuli will negate all 3 Rs at once. Your dog no longer has reduced coping mechanisms as you build value in a very appropriate loose leash walking coping mechanism. Your dog no longer is restricted as value shifts from exciting things in the distance to around you and your dog can no longer “restrain” itself as effectively as the value is in a loose leash rather than a tight leash! You also gain an extra signal when your dog stops loose leash walking due to trigger presence!
  • Finally - Train the safety net default turn!
    • The safety net default turn is for those times when your dog finds itself in a situation whereby it breaks from loose leash walking and the leash goes tight because of presence of a trigger. By training a safety net default turn, a tight leash then cues your dog to orient straight back to you - it becomes almost reflexive! It’s a life saver! It stops opportunities for eyeing, escalation of response, lunging and other coping strategies and replaces it with immediate reorientation back to you.

Incorporating these into your training plans as training aims will not only become a preventative approach to behaviour problems but also develop relationship and allow you to work more effectively with your already reactive dog.

We have made a free video seminar including teaching and practical reward-based game demos as really want this quality learning to get out there to help reactive, distracted, overaroused, etc., dogs. Check it out at:

Dr. Tom Mitchell BSc BVSc MRCVS  

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Positively Expert: absoluteDogs

Tom is a veterinarian, clinical behaviourist and companion and sports dog trainer, providing a unique perspective on all things dog.


One thought on “How to Stop Leash Reactivity and Start Enjoying Walks Again

  1. Karen McLeod Stubbs

    interesting, although I do not have a reactive dog on end of a lead I do have a dog that loves to approach and literally try to crawl under the other dog to make friends! Is this behavoir some sort of appeasement as she is certainly not frightened unless the other dogs gets boundy but still she won't move but tries to wriggle underneath more. Unfortunately, some people think this is hilarious, she will try and drag me to do this, we use the turn around and focus method. If she gets into that position (with dogs she already knows and are friendly) she literally goes limp and lifeless to avoid being "dragged" away. What are your thoughts on this type of behavoir, would be very interested to know as although she can be timid in some aspects but in others very brave! She has just turned 2yr old and has displayed this behavoir from being a pup.

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