Leash reactivity is undoubtedly the MOST common behavior challenge that people seek my guidance with. Most dogs that are reactive on leash are pulling. A leash is necessary in society for the most part, but on leash walks don't have to "look" a certain way, and they shouldn't. What I mean by that is I want you to toss out the notion that dogs should "heel" beside you. I want you to know that dogs won't pay attention to you and only you and not have the desire to explore. They will investigate and walk ahead of you. Dogs need access to these things. Especially dogs suffering from reactivity.
What is Leash Reactivity?
Dogs that tend lunge towards things and bark, pull extremely hard, try to escape or run away. They may even bite the leash, your jacket or pant legs. It may be built up frustration, it could be defensive, it could be both! This is behavior that isn't healthy for your dog and it signals SOMETHING IS OFF. It means we need to investigate what's going on with your dog and NOT a short-sighted approach of we just need to STOP this behavior.
Equipment. A Different Approach.
Have a problem? There is ALWAYS a product being sold to try and "fix" that problem. The more problems in this world, the better off businesses do, it's a sad fact. That's why selling equipment for dogs that "stops pulling" is so dang appealing to consumers. Very rarely are there ANY type of warnings of potential physical and emotional implications but they are very real.
I want you to look at equipment for walks differently. How can we find the most comfortable and well fitting equipment that poses no risks to our dogs well-being so that it does not influence their outlook negatively? Consider this; animals and all living creatures make associations with their environment. The environment includes other dogs, so if your dog is feeling pain or discomfort because the equipment "stops" pulling towards other dogs they WILL make a connection that pain is associated with other dogs (or people, or whatever triggers your dog may have.) I love a well-fitting harness but if your dog absolutely HATES a harness it may feel restrictive and I want you to investigate and try a few different ones. Ideally a Y-fit harness like the illustration to the right. Some dogs prefer less material vs padded. Thank you SeattleTTouch for the illustration.
I used to be a big supporter of these "no pull" front clip harnesses. That was until I realized that long term use of these can't be good for a dog. I observed their gait and spine when they walked and no, I don't have any specific scientific studies to back this up but one can only deduct that impeding natural movement like this has to have physical consequences.
Now, if you've been using one religiously you can start weaning yourself off using one by alternating using the front and the back throughout your walk. See if you can depend less on it while you address some other points here that may reduce pulling on walks.
Longer Leashes & Long Lines (Safely)
I am aware that in some cities and areas you may be mandated to a certain leash length, but that's not always the case. Why would we want to use a longer leash? Well, consider this; your dog WANTS more freedom of movement and more choices to smell and explore, this is why the pulling on leashes is happening. We need to find a balance to give them this access while also working on engagement and reinforcement when we can't give them this freedom. Try using a longer leash or long line and work on small moments of engagement and connection with your dog. If you have a small dog and have mobility issues don't feel bad using a flexi-lead, but the same rules apply. The reality is that we cannot compete with the environment most of the time, even steak may not be appealing enough. So, have realistic expectations for your dog on leashed walks.
We have a responsibility to the general public and their dogs to not allow our dogs to make physical contact with them on walks. Reactive dogs can pose a safety risk to others so we must be diligent when and where we are walking them. This is why working on engagement and simple training exercises while being VERY aware of your surroundings is a must on dog walks with longer leashes. Give others ample space.
There are SO many great ways we can connect with our dogs on leashed walks, you just need the skills and guidance. Take a look at our program Canine Composure designed for better walks together.
© copyright 2023 by Bravo Dog Training Inc.
Dog behaviorist and dog behaviour consultant in vancouver, north vancouver, west vancouver, british columbia
© copyright 2023 by Bravo Dog Training Inc.
North Vancouver and Vancouver dog trainer and behaviour consultant