Leash reactive dog training is a long and daunting process, especially if done with the wrong equipment. Discover which equipment you will need for success and safety with this issue!
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The Best Products for Leash Reactivity in Dogs
When I started out on this journey of leash reactive dog training with Jasper, I had no idea what I was doing. Jasper is a 2 year old rescue Staff I’ve had for 6 months. His background suggests poor socialization or bad experiences with other dogs but he’s great with people (sound familiar?). At the beginning of this journey I was just equipped with a flexileash and a collar and hoped for the best. Now at this point in time, I don’t leave the house with a few essentials now which I highly recommend!
What is Leash Reactivity in Dogs?
Leash reactivity in dogs can literally be simplified to your dog reacting to a trigger while they are on the leash. You may find that off leash your dog is perfectly normal however once they are limited to their options things start to become a problem.
Reactive dogs aren’t aggressive! A common misconception is that your dog is dangerous and out of control when they just have an underlying problem you need to work through. If you do however feel like your dog might be aggressive then getting professional help is the best way forward.
Your dog can react to these triggers/stimuli in various different way. The most common trigger is another dog so let’s use that as an example.
This is where you want all the training to happen, you have more chance of getting the attention back from your dog if they are under threshold. This means the trigger is at a safe distance for training.
This is where your dog notices the trigger and depending on the distance all depends on the reaction. The jump between sitting on the threshold and getting a reaction all depends on how far your dog can deal with a trigger.
From a distance you might notice that your dogs ears perk up and their tail becomes stiff. As the trigger gets closer your dog might change pace from yours and might even stop moving. This shows the loss in focus. At this point you need to either move away or provide the right motivation to get your dogs focus back on you!
If you don’t manage the situation quick enough then you are going to get a reaction. If you don’t get out of dodge or you can’t keep your dog focused then you hit the next section. This is why your dog makes a scene, barking and lunging, where they literally cannot control the internal state.
When your dog is over threshold (whether it be from fear or over excitement) they are less likely to listen to you no matter what high value treat you have. Understanding doesn’t happen here and your dog won’t be able to learn the lesson due to stress and frustration rushing through the body.
Click here to find out more about leash reactive warning signs and triggers!
Why does Leash Reactivity in Dogs happen?
You can split up reactivity into 3 categories; fear, frustration and those in need of space. Your dog may fall into one of these categories for many reasons…
When a dog encounters a trigger, the reaction is more of a way of wanting the trigger to go away, nothing aggressive!
A very common factor is an underlying emotional problem. Maybe your dog wasn’t socialized enough or they had bad experiences beforehand. Or you might find that your dog is just scared and wants the other dog to just go away
Bad Past Experiences
You might find that an experience has made your dog look differently at a trigger. Even a rescue whom went through bad experiences in the past can lead to the problem now.
Believe it or not, your dog might just want to go and say hi. They may believe when they see other dogs its time to play and they try too do just that. The leash restraining them from this builds up all the frustration which is all let out in barking and lunging.
Need Of Space
Sometimes a dog just wants space, we live in a society where many believe that all dogs can and should be friends which is a lovely thought but a damaging one at that. People force dog to dog interactions with some dogs that aren’t just aren’t bothered.
Unfortunately many of our dogs go through injury and this means that they might just need space. Imagine being a dog hobbling around and another comes charging at you even to say hi. Injured dogs need to have their space so they can heal in peace.
This goes back into injury in a way. Elderly dogs like their space, they may not want any interaction with other dogs at all. The reactivity is a lot lower on this scale until a dog is fully invading the personal space.
You can find out more in depth information on the causes of on leash reactivity and how to identify the triggers with the beginners guide to leash reactivity in dogs.
Best Products to Manage Leash Reactivity in Dogs
Dog Treat Bag
The best weapon in my arsenal at the moment is Jasper’s dog treat bag. Having a dog treat bag makes life easier for you by literally 20%!
The reason I’m a big believer in having a treat bag when you have a reactive dog is that you can deliver treats a lot quicker. With leash reactive dog training its all about giving the treat at the right moment to make positive associations etc. Having a treat bag allows you to quickly deliver treats to your dog and also keep a lot of equipment to hand e.g. I have a tennis ball inside and a muzzle clipped on the bag for extra safety if needed!
High Value Toy
You will need to find a toy that motivates your dog. You need to find one that they go absolutely crazy for. The goal is to take this with you on walks and when you encounter a situation using the toy as a motivator to either focus on you, turn around or sit and stay quietly while the trigger passes.
I find that toys such as squeaky toys work as they can instantly break the dogs attention with the high sound. Even a tennis ball works well which you can bounce when your dog is pushing threshold to bring them back. I personally go for a tug toy which I keep behind my back (fully equipped) and pull out to regain focus and attention. This is the only time Jasper can play with this tug toy and due to this he has a high drive to get it.
High Value Treats
The treats you use are so important to when it comes to creating a positive association with a trigger. You must have a specific treat that your dog gets when they behave appropriately in the presence of a trigger. If your dog gets kibble for breakfast and dinner and kibble for training, how valuable do you think kibble is going to be as a reward vs the default choice of barking and lunging?
Just because you are giving your dog the option of a treat doesn’t mean they’ll take it, a dog has the choice of choosing their reward. This reward can also be reverting back to their default barking and lunging behaviour…you must make yourself more rewarding than the trigger. Along with creating distance, other high value rewards that have been praised are
- Boiled chicken
- Cheese (experiment with different cheeses, I’ve heard some go nuts for manchego!)
- Dried beef
- Hot Dogs
Cut these into small pieces to keep your dog engaged by wanting more.
I know people look at muzzles and think they look dangerous or can’t be good for the dog etc. However, a muzzle is the magic wand you need to help your dog.
After a couple of weeks with Jasper I got a muzzle. Not for himself but for other dogs. Our biggest issue is people letting their dogs come straight for us, so to make it simpler I got Jasper a muzzle.
A muzzle will relax you so much more knowing your dog can’t do serious damage even if the situation is not his fault. Honestly in my opinion it is one of the best ways to dealing with irresponsible dog owners.
Make sure you give your dog proper muzzle training so they have no negative thoughts about it.
You can check out my review for the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle here!
I recommend getting a leash that is sturdy and comfy for you to hold. I highly DO NOT recommend getting a retractable leash if you have a reactive dog. If you have a retractable leash you will find its a lot harder to actually control your dog. Pulling them back in is just a nightmare! Plus if you have a larger dog and they charge at a trigger it’s not going to be pleasant for either of you!
I suggest one that you can hold in two hands, one around the loop and one for extra stability. For Jasper I have two leashes, one which I use when we are going for a normal walk. Slightly padded loop for me, strong material and reflective. The other is more of our training leash, where we go to dog parks and wander around trying to work on the reactivity.
Collar vs. Harness
This is honestly all down to you and what feels more comfortable and managable for you and your dog.
A collar has the downside of causing a lot of pressure on the neck for dogs who pull and are corrected on the leash. A harness distributes this pressure across the upper body of the dog which maybe gentler on the dog but this will generate more force to pull.
I started off with a harness for Jasper and I stuck to it for a little while, but once we had his leash walking skills on point, I honestly didn’t think he needed it and we haven’t looked back since.
I recommend a “tactical” collar or harness purely because (1) there is a handle of both which you can grab to pull your dog away if needed (2) if you get one with velcro you can get labels that you can use to tell people “nervous”, “in training”, “do not pet” etc.
The Last Thing You Need to Know about Leash Reactive Dog Training
Leash reactive dog training is a long and daunting process. You will get frustrated at times. To do this make sure you learn about keeping your cool with training.
Make sure that you have the best equipment to deal with this problem. Whether you are doing it yourself or with the help of a professional. The last thing you want is to make things more difficult for the both of you.
You Aren’t Alone
Don’t forget to leave a comment whether to ask a question, give your own tips, give feedback etc and check out the leash aggression training blog for more information and resources on dealing with leash reactivity in dogs. The worlds a better place when people help each other!