When you have a leash reactive dog, walking can go from a fun adventure to an outright terror. Nothing makes a walk more difficult than trying to get your dog under control when they’re fearful or stressed. Luckily, there are ways to help your dog learn that a walk can be fun and that they don’t need to react to other dogs or people.
The first thing to keep in mind is that all dogs will feel more nervous on the leash at first. Dogs communicate through body language, and a leash prohibits them from communicating in a way they feel comfortable doing. If a dog has a fight or flight response and they can’t leave, they only have one option left.
Taking measures to prevent your dog from getting to this stage is going to be your main goal in this article.
Where To Start?
Before you try to take your dog on longer walks that may be more distracting and difficult, you should be practicing at home with your dog. Using your leash, harness, or any other tool you use, get your dog comfortable wearing them by walking a few laps around your home with them every day.
If your dog isn’t comfortable in its walking gear, you’re already at a disadvantage.
Preparing At Home
Your next step is to use something called Artificial Distractions. These can be anything that gets your dog’s attention, such as noises, visuals, or smells. You’ll want to adjust them for what your dog has issues with, so if you’ve got a dog that’s reactive to other dogs, start with the sound of barking.
Getting a video of a dog barking is easy, and to practice, you’ll want to play it for a few moments, just long enough for your dog to react.
When your dog reacts, it’s time to turn off the distraction and start to get your dog’s focus back. Using your Sit and Watch commands, which you can find in our content and training modules, have your dog calm down and look up at you. This is going to be your practice for preparing your dog for outside distractions.
Change the distractions that you use, switching to anything that really distracts your dog.
Getting Ready For Outside
Next, you need to get your dog ready for going outside, once you’ve gotten the dog good with then artificial distractions. Make the harness something fun! Set it on the ground and put a treat or two onto it, and let your dog sniff and investigate it.
Once your dog associates the harness with a positive, and it isn’t as scary, you’ll already be a step forward. Once you’ve done this, walk your dog in the house to get them in the right mindset. Now, you’re ready to trek outside.
When you move outside, make sure that you’ve pinpointed the things that distract your dog the most. In this case, it’s going to be other dogs. Have a plan not just to react or avoid other dogs, but to prepare for them.
Preparing your sit, stay, and leave it commands will be the best way to get ready for when you encounter something that upsets your dog. Check out our lessons for more information on those commands and cues, too, in case you’re struggling with those.
I’m Outside, Now What?
Once you’re outside, make sure that you’re keeping an eye out for anything that might set your dog off. By now, you should have a solid idea of what your dog likes and dislikes, and will be ready to catch those things before your dog spots them.
Remember, keeping your dog’s attention is much more effective than trying to reel them back in once they’ve started. Here’s what your steps should be when a distraction or trigger is approaching your dog.
First step: Get your dog’s focus right away. Your Touch and Watch commands are vital for this. Making sure your dog sees you and knows focusing on you is the best option for them is one of the most important steps in all of this. Once you have your dog’s focus, the next is to get them into a calming position.
Second step: Have your dog get into a Sit or a Down position, as these are resting positions for your dog. This will also prevent your dog from moving as easily as they would if they were on all four paws and ready to go.
Third step: It’s time to use a Stay command, in order to prevent your dog from moving at all. When you were practicing with the artificial distractions inside, the Stay command should’ve been one that you practiced thoroughly in your training.
This command will be vital for making sure your dog doesn’t get up to lunge or act at the other animal or distraction.
Fourth step: If your dog’s been able to focus on you, not show any overly aggressive behavior, and keep from reacting for the most part, then it’s time to reward your dog. Pet them, praise them, reward them for doing a good job around what used to set them off.
A Few Last Tips
If you follow these steps, you should be able to train your dog to be significantly less reactive towards people and other dogs. If, however, your dog has trouble on a walk, follow these steps to best respond. Your first goal should be to break the line of sight from whatever is making your dog uncomfortable.
Once you’ve done that, you can start to regain the focus that you’ve lost. Don’t get discouraged, either, as every dog’s final goal for walking is being able to focus and stay calm outdoors. It’s the most distracting and difficult place for a dog to listen, so if you have trouble, just take a step back and practice a bit more.
Hopefully, this article’s helped you out with your dog’s walking skills and given you some new ideas about how to practice. If you’re still having trouble, check out our courses and lessons that we have online, and don’t be afraid to ask in our forums for extra help!