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Leash Reactivity and Managing a Reactive Dog on Walks

May 03, 2023

Duncan Houston


Leash reactivity is a common problem faced by dog owners, trainers, and walkers alike. It occurs when a dog becomes overly excited or aggressive while on a leash, making it difficult for the owner to control the dog. Leash reactivity can manifest as barking, lunging, growling, or even snapping at other dogs or people. This article discusses the causes of leash reactivity, how to identify the signs of a reactive dog, and effective strategies for managing leash reactivity during walks.

Causes of Leash Reactivity

1. Lack of socialization: Dogs that have not been adequately socialized with other dogs or people may develop leash reactivity. Socialization is a crucial part of a dog's upbringing and helps them learn how to appropriately interact with others.

2. Fear or anxiety: Dogs may become reactive on the leash due to fear or anxiety stemming from negative experiences, such as an aggressive encounter with another dog or a frightening event that occurred while on a leash.

3. Frustration: Some dogs become frustrated when they are restricted by a leash, especially if they are accustomed to off-leash play. This can lead to reactivity as they struggle to express their natural instincts and energy.

Identifying a Reactive Dog

A reactive dog will display specific behaviors when encountering potential triggers, such as other dogs, people, or objects. These behaviors may include:

1. Stiffening of the body
2. Ears pinned back or standing up
3. Intense staring or fixation on the trigger
4. Raised hackles (the hair along the dog's spine)
5. Barking, growling, or whining

Managing a Reactive Dog on Walks

1. Create distance: When you see a potential trigger approaching, increase the distance between your dog and the trigger. This may mean crossing the street, stepping off the path, or simply moving to a quieter area.

2. Use high-value treats: Reward your dog with high-value treats for remaining calm when encountering triggers. This will help them associate the presence of the trigger with positive experiences.

3. Implement the "look at that" (LAT) technique: Teach your dog to look at triggers and then look back at you for a reward. This redirects their focus from the trigger to you, making it easier to manage their reactivity.

4. Practice "U-turns": Teach your dog to turn around and walk in the opposite direction on cue. This skill is helpful when you need to avoid an approaching trigger or change direction quickly.

5. Consider using a front-clip harness or head halter: These tools provide better control over your dog's movements and can help prevent lunging or pulling during walks.

6. Seek professional help: If your dog's leash reactivity is severe or doesn't improve with consistent training, consider seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist experienced in dealing with leash reactivity.


Leash reactivity can be challenging for both dog owners and their pets. Understanding the causes and recognizing the signs of a reactive dog are essential steps in managing this behavior. By employing the strategies outlined above, you can help your dog feel more comfortable and secure on walks, leading to a more enjoyable experience for both of you. Remember to be patient and consistent with your training, and don't hesitate to seek professional help if needed.