A few years before I became a certified dog trainer, I was trying to deal with my pitbull’s leash reactivity on my own. If your otherwise sweet, friendly, dog barks, lunges, and snarls at other dogs, people, or objects while on leash, there’s a good chance that she has leash reactivity. This is different than aggression in that reactivity is your dog’s way of telling you that she’s uncomfortable on the leash while encountering all the triggers of people, or dogs, or strollers, etc.
Imagine your normally calm, social, and friendly pooch suddenly becoming a monster once on leash. For a dog owner, it’s upsetting and embarrassing. Since I live in an urban environment with no fenced-in yard, I have to walk my dogs for their potty breaks and exercise sessions. Every time I went out with my pitty, I wanted to just run and hide. And since she’s a pitbull, I knew that when people saw her barking and lunging, there was a good chance they were judging her unfavorably.
Before I learned how to handle my dog’s reactivity, the messages I was sending her were making the matter worse … But I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong until it was pointed out to me. Whenever I took my dog for a walk and we came upon another dog, I usually took a deep, audible breath and started pulling on the leash to turn my dog around. My anxiety about the situation was being transmitted right down the leash. My dog would tense up as soon as she heard my loud inhale and would start pulling against me while I was trying to turn her around and away from the trigger. The professional I hired to help me with my dog’s reactivity noticed this right away and told me that I had to chill out. I was making the situation so much worse and was helping to get my dog into an agitated state. Once I stopped doing this and employed the trainer’s techniques to deal with reactivity, the issue got better and better. I stopped tugging on the leash, stopped taking a deep breath upon seeing a trigger, and started keeping the situation much calmer and under control. This is one of the big components of dealing with reactivity.
So the next time your hanging with your pooch, pay attention to how much your reactions and emotions impact your dog. When you talk in a happy, energetic voice, your dog will probably get excited and happy right back. But also pay attention to the more subtle signals that you may be sending to your dog. Like me, you may not even realize that you’re doing it.