Why is my dog a nightmare on lead?
Do you have a dog who is difficult on lead, lunging, barking and reacting to everyone and everything they meet?
Becoming reactive when on their lead stems from a dog feeling restricted, restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in an environment or situation. When off lead, dogs are in control of determining whether they move closer or further away, interact or ignore environmental stimuli, and are able to act on their curiosity or uncertainty respectively.
Reactivity can work in two ways.
1. If a dog is nervous around other dogs, they may become reactive out of fear in an attempt to ward off the perceived threat, knowing that they are not in control of moving to a distance where they feel comfortable or safe.
2. If a dog loves the company of other dogs, they may become reactive out of frustration at being denied access to a friend, and essentially throw a 'tantrum'.
How do you react to your dog's reactivity?
is a crucial question, the answer to which might be one of your solutions. In either of the above scenarios, if your dog's reactivity gets them what they want, they will continue to do it. If barking and lunging at something they don't want to be near causes their human to move them further away, their behaviour has succeeded. If lunging and jumping towards another dog they want to greet causes their human to move them closer, their behaviour has succeeded. Similarly, bending down to pet, comfort or pick up a reactive dog during the behaviour is rewarding them for their actions.
It can be difficult to know how to respond for the best when your dog is being reactive, as well as a stressful, upsetting and overwhelming experience for both dog and parent. Anticipation of reactivity before a walk, or anticipation as a stimulus approaches tends to cause parents to tense up, and amplify their dog's emotions. Human becomes nervous about reactivity, dog becomes nervous about human's tension, and the cycle escalates and reciprocates.
How should you react to your dog's reactivity?
Our first port of call is to determine the trigger for your dog's reactivity. Once identified, we need to work towards desensitisation and reprogramming the way they perceive the stimulus.
If your dog is reactive out of impatience, they need to learn that jumping, barking and lunging do not earn them their desired greeting or play time, only delay it. Turning and moving away from the stimulus until they are calm (& repeating consistently when reactive behaviour occurs) will teach your dog that it is only quiet and well mannered behaviour which earns them their new friend.
If your dog is reactive out of anxiety or fear, we want to remove the element of threat from the stimulus. When your dog gets to a distance where they begin to feel uncomfortable (this may be long before reactivity occurs) present them with a treat or toy they really love. This will break their focus in that moment and give them a positive association with whatever it was they were fearful of. "It" appears, but so does their favourite ball or snack - attaching a positive feeling with the arrival of their trigger. If your dog is non responsive to a treat or toy and too focussed on the stimulus, you will need to move to a distance where your dog can begin to be aware of it, but still able to interact with you.
If you are struggling with your dog's reactivity on walks, it may be time for professional advice and help. Contact Claire Corley on firstname.lastname@example.org today to begin their training journey and bring the enjoyment back to your dog walks for the both of you!