Reactive dogs bark, snap, lunge or growl when pushed beyond their threshold. By “threshold”, we mean what your dog can comfortably handle.
Most dogs when they react like this, they’re asking for space. A reactive dog is saying, in their own way, “please give me some space” or “I’m uncomfortable, please stay away”.
For some dogs, they will be pushed past their threshold when they’re on a lead and they see another dog as far away as a football field. For others, it’s another dog on the same side of the street, but just a few metres away.
In this blog article, we’re talking about reactive dogs – dogs that overreact to certain triggers or stimuli in their environment, for example being on a leash in public (called “leash reactivity”).
Walking leash reactive dogs
We know the challenges and struggles of walking a leash reactive dog. We really do.
You have a dog that’s leash reactive. It’s been drilled into you that you must walk your dog every day. You are racked with guilt when you don’t walk them.
You walk your dog as instructed. You’re anxious. Your dog goes through bouts of reactivity on EVERY walk. They lunge, bark, snap or growl at people, other dogs, noises, other animals (like cats), EVERYTHING. If you see another dog or person, you quickly cross the street and pray you can pass them quickly without setting your dog off.
Strangers shoot you looks, and you know what they’re thinking – “why can’t they control their dog?”. Your heart sinks. Maybe you flash them a smile and say something like, “I’m sorry, we’re working on it”.
You finally get home. You and your dog are feeling deflated, frustrated and angry.
How did that help anyone?
Now, listen carefully. We’re not saying that if you own a leash reactive dog you have a free pass to never exercise your dog again.
Whether you own a reactive dog or not, it is your responsibility to provide your dog with enough physical and mental stimulation.
But there are many activities that are far more productive for some leash reactive dogs than walking them. The key is to get creative and to discover what your dog loves to do.
Here are a few suggestions.
Smelling games are a great way to provide entertainment, mental stimulation and enrichment for your dog. Play a game of “hide and sniff” with your dog. Get their favourite toy or food treat and hide it around the house or yard. Challenge them to “find it!”. When they find their toy or food treat, give them a reward. Change it up by using different scents or toys.
If it’s possible to get into nature with your dog, then do it. Hiking trails provide a different experience for your dog. They need to concentrate on where to put their feet, they must deal with different textures under their feet (for example rocks, sand and dirt) and their noses will run wild. Let them stop and sniff every now-and-then, if they want to.
Always obey leash laws. Keep them leashed to keep them safe.
If your dog likes to swim, then swimming has many benefits.
Swimming gets your dog’s brain working. It safely relieves stress. It works different muscle groups. Throwing toys into the water for your dog to fetch can enhance the experience for your dog.
Make sure you take your dog to a place where the risk of running into other triggers is low. Please do not take your reactive dog to an off-leash beach or swimming area during peak times.
Be kind to yourself and your dog. Owning a reactive dog is challenging. It’s stressful. It’s hard work sometimes. But owning a reactive dog also changes your life. We promise it gets better with training and management. Don’t forget the awesome snuggles and good times.
Please don’t beat yourself up for not taking your leash reactive dog for walk. Walking a leash reactive dog can sometime cause more harm than good. Instead, get creative with your exercise options. Discover what your dog loves to do. You know your dog best.
If your dog suffers from any kind of reactivity, then seek help from a positive dog behaviourist. They are on your side and they aren’t going to pass judgement. A decent dog behaviourist is committed to seeing you and your dog succeed.
At Fur Get Me Not, our Reactive Dog Course is specifically designed to teach you the skills you need to improve your dog’s behaviour. This course provides a safe and controlled learning environment to practice your new skills. It’s fully supervised by our qualified trainers who specialise in dogs with reactive behaviour. To book into the course, click here.
We also offer one-on-one or private training and consultations. Contact us today to discuss your dog and your dog’s needs. We would love to help you out.