“Lead reactive” what does mean?
Dogs who are lead reactive display a certain type of reactivity that’s present when the dog is on the lead. They tend to negatively react and quite strongly towards other dogs and in some cases towards people.
A lot of owners are normally puzzled by this behaviour because their dogs might be absolutely fine when they are off the lead, mixing and playing with other dogs, but when they are on the lead they present intense reactions. In actual fact, many dogs who are lead reactive surprisingly love going to the pet sitters or playing with other dogs at the park when off lead. Reactivity when on the lead is consequently a situation specific type of reactivity.
Lead reactivity what causes it?
Lead reactivity comes from the fact that dogs experience restrictions whilst being on the lead. They are unable to use their body language as they normally would to communicate with other dogs. And they are unable to run straight over to other dogs so they can play together. Frustration is then produced which can soon turn into reactivity. Here explains both causes in greater detail:
Body language is restricted.
Dogs use very complex and detailed body language to be able to communicate with each other. They use their body, face, ears and tail to send an array of messages to other dogs. Here’s an example, a dog that doesn’t want to say hello to another dog might slant the ears back, turn the head and look in a different direction and slowly walk away.
A lot of canine body language literally needs the dog to have sufficient space. Sitting down, bowing, pacing, panting, stretching etc. are all used when it comes to communicating.
Normally in dog language, a face to face meeting like us humans is not a common practice and can show hostility towards another dog. Dogs have the tenancy to greet each other in a sideways greeting and head to tail, like in picture 1:
Greetings on lead like this are not usually possible. Owners have the tendency to hold the dog back, forcing the dog to take on an an unnatural position for greeting that looks quite threatening to the other dog. It creates bad energy between the dogs:
Avoid letting your dog greet other dogs whilst they are pulling on the lead like in picture 2. This is extremely important when introducing reactive dogs!
However there are dogs that want to totally avoid greeting other dogs full stop. A dog who wants to move away and avoid any escalation, is stopped from doing this when they are on the lead. The only choice they are given is to move forward and then negatively react.
Dogs who aren’t really that confident and seem to be shy can quite easily become lead reactive being forced to greet on the lead. They don’t have the chance to get away far enough, and they aren’t able to use their body language to show the other dog that they have no interest what so ever in meeting and greeting.
For those dogs who really want to say hello and are stopped doing so by their owners, are the ones who often develop lead reactivity through frustration. These dogs can become quite extreme in their need to greet and play with other dogs.
To avoid lead reactivity that comes from frustration is to never allow your dog to actually greet any other dog whilst they are on the lead. You need to teach your dog that a lead walk is time for you and your dog. Take some treats and try practising some lead walking or focus and recall. Having your dog kept on a short lead may seem like the safest thing to do, but quite often it makes your dogs frustration worse because you’ve reduced your dog’s movement. A great idea is to use a long line and keep a distance from other dogs. Your dog is then able to move around, have a sniff, and explore their surroundings, whilst getting rid of some of that nervous energy without even getting that close to anther dog to be able to have a negative reaction.
lead reactive dog how to desensitise.
With lead reactivity it is really important that you you work on this with your dog. Dogs who are reactive do not growl out of reactivity and this behaviour will certainly only get worse until you actually deal with it through training. When working with a dog who is lead reactive is to avoid that dog from going over their threshold. And at times this will definitely be hard. But, you cant keep doing the exact same walking routes, past the same old triggers and then expect your dogs behaviour to suddenly change.
when it comes to helping your dog to feel calmer on the lead, then you will need to only put your dog into situations in which they are able to do well. This means for some dogs you will only walk during times when other people in your area are out at work.
For some serious lead reactive dogs it may even mean that your unable to walk your usual walking routes full stop and instead you look for quiet remote places that are quiet or even hire out a secure field on a daily basis.
With lead reactivity you want to be exposing your dog to their triggers at low intensity. Why not try planning a training session, you could maybe ask a friend who has a dog if they could help you. Working at distance, As soon as your dog catches sight of the other dog, drop a few treats for your dog to find. This will help your dog make the connection of dog = treat.
Don’t expect your dog to change their behaviour just after one training session. With reactivity it can involve a lengthy training plan that takes time.
Overall bottom line
Lead reactivity is a really common behaviour in dogs. The cause is because of the lead and how it restricts the dog. Lead reactivity is a behaviour that is situation specific. Some dogs are highly lead reactive, but when off the lead they are really friendly and playful with other dogs.
It is important that you don’t put your dog into situations where their reactivity is going to get further deep rooted. But rather, you plan your walks so that your not going to push your dog over their threshold. And whenever possible, try and use a long line instead of a very short lead. Having that freedom and the option to move around will really benefit your dog and will really help them to become calmer.
Try and set up planned training situations that are specifically to your dogs lead reactivity and work on your dog’s behaviour in a controlled settings. You can have your dog pair the trigger with treats. As with all behavioural issues, helping sort out reactivity not only takes time, but it takes commitment. Don’t expect your dog to be cured with in one session or even after a week of training.