Calming The Leash-Reactive Dog

Now that the weather is warming up in New York, pet owners are hitting the streets with their canine friends.   Studies indicate that a walk is not only good for your physical health; it also boosts your mood.  Therefore, you grab your ear pods and off you go on a relaxing walk with your dog. Then, you cross paths with another dog, a squirrel, rabbit, bird or even people and your dog transforms into an aggressive, scary beast.  At this point, your relaxing walk turns into a battle.  The dog lunges, growls and  barks. He may even leash bite or redirect his aggression onto you. You tighten your grip on the leash, using all of your strength to hold your dog back.  There is yelling, threats, tears, stress and apologies.  Your dog is leash-reactive.  So much for a mood-boosting walk.

Wouldn’t it be nice to change this scenario in time for summer?  We have good news. Sublime K9 Dog Trainers can bring peace to your walk.  In order to accomplish this goal with a leash-reactive dog, both the dog and the human need to make adjustments to their walking style.

Before we discuss adjustments, let’s find out what causes leash reactivity.  If you guessed fear, impulsiveness and lack of structure, you’re correct.  You should know that not all dogs lunge and bark because they want to cause harm to another animal or person.  Some are excited when they see people and dogs on the street and are eager to meet them.  Dogs must learn that they don’t get what they want. Approaching strange people and dogs is not always safe.  Regardless of the reason your dog reacts, dog owners must take control of the walk.

The belief that a walk is free time for the dog is inaccurate.  Your dog encounters automobiles, other animals, children and strangers while on a walk.  Should she get away from you, she is free and the danger to your dog increases.   Walking your dog is not free time.  It is the perfect opportunity to train her.  Commands your dog should master on walks are:

  • Leave it
  • Look
  • Heel
  • Recall
  • Sit-stay


Counter-conditioning is also beneficial in helping a leash-reactive dog.  This exercise changes your dog’s thought pattern when confronted by something scary (ex.  another dog, squirrel, rabbit, person, car).

Earlier in this article we mentioned the human’s role in walking.  Here are exercises you can practice in order to keep your dog calm during a walk.

  • Loose leash walking (tightening the leash when you see something scary leads to reactivity)
  • Shorten the leash (your dog should not walk ahead of you)
  • Get rid of the retractable leash. You have no control when using this tool.
  • Recognize signals your dog provides when he sees something scary, so you can stop negative behavior before it escalates.
  • Don’t force him to walk near something if it scares him. We have to consider the dog’s fear and keep him a safe distance from the scary thing.  When a dog knows his owner will protect him, he turns to the owner for direction instead of making poor decisions on his own.
  • Alternatively, do not pick your dog up if he shows fear. Help him overcome the fear by bravely walking him through it (at a safe distance).
  • Place yourself between your dog and the scary thing.  Acting as a barrier calms the dog.  It increases his trust that you will protect him.
  • Remember, you are the pack leader, thereby you lead the walk.


The Certified Dog Trainers at Sublime K-9 Dog Trainers are here to help you and your dog with leash reactivity. Contact us at 631-241-6482 to set up a free evaluation.