Challenges of a Leash Reactive Dog

Pierson has made a lot of progress with being better on his leash when he sees another dog. Two things helped. First, we cross the street when we see another dog. I have Pierson sit and I use the “look” command to distract him. He gets rewarded with lots of treats every time he pays attention to me and not the other dog. Second, I was fortunate enough to find a group of people who were willing to get together once a week or so to help work with our dog’s leash reactive behaviors. We walked our dogs at a distance from each other and the distance depended on our dogs’ own individual thresholds. Pierson was always last in line and furthest away. But by the end of fall, he was able to get within a few feet of those other dogs without reacting.

Pierson Group Walk Group Photo

Everyone is proud of Pierson’s progress.

There have been four major challenges in trying to overcome Pierson’s leash reactive behavior:

Challenge – Walking Two Dogs
Pierson’s leash reactive behavior is due to his high prey drive. He could even be called aggressive, although it is difficult to imagine such a cute ball of fuzz with a girly bark as aggressive. But that is what it is. He whines, he barks, and he lunges. Maya’s leash reactive behavior, on the other hand, is due to excitement. She loves other dogs and really wants to go say hi. She barks and lunges too, but only because she is so happy.

Needless to say, I can’t walk Maya and Pierson together. Maya’s happy bark makes Pierson’s aggressive bark more intense, and vice versa. So in order to properly work on their behaviors separately, I need to walk them one at a time. By the way, the “look” command does not work on Maya when she is excited. I need to find a different training technique for her.

Pull No More dog harness

First I walk Pierson, then I walk Maya.

Challenge – Loose Dogs
One day when I was walking with this group down a nature trail, someone coming up from the other direction had two dogs not on a leash. When the dogs saw us, they ran towards us. Their mom called them but they didn’t listen. They ran straight for Pierson. In order to keep something terrible from happening, I quickly picked Pierson up out of the way. Luckily the two dogs were small. That would not have worked if the dogs had been bigger. The lady was apologetic but she didn’t really grasp what had almost happened. Luckily, the group of people I was with explained to her just how close her dogs had come to being injured. Having a good recall is extremely important, and this trail was not an off-leash trail. I think the reality of the situation sunk in and I hope she learned her lesson.

A similar situation happened in my own neighborhood. A Lhasa named Barkley is often allowed off leash in his front yard when his mom is out with him. I have met Barkley a number of times and know that he usually has a great recall. But one day, there was just something about Pierson that he had to investigate head on. I picked Pierson up out of the way. Barkley’s mom kept saying that Barkley was friendly. I told her I knew that, but my Pierson was not. She finally understood. And the next time I met her while we were both walking our dogs, she called Barkley back and put his leash on while I went across the street. She complemented me on being so responsible.

Challenge – Other Leash Reactive Dogs
Pierson is very good about paying attention to me when we cross the street and I use the “look” command. It works most of the time. The only time it doesn’t work is when the other dog is also leash reactive. If the other dog reacts, Pierson does to and no amount of bribing with treats will distract him.

Pierson on a Leash with Look Command

The “look” command helps me to distract Pierson whenever we see someone else walking their dog.

Challenge – Winter, Fewer Dogs
We are getting a little out of practice this winter. Even though I still try to walk Maya and Pierson every day, we seldom see other dogs. In fact, we have gone over an entire week without running into any other dogs. I fear Pierson will be greatly out of practice when spring arrives.

Do you have a leash reactive dog? If so, what are your challenges?

See what other people with leash reactive dogs are doing to manage the behavior in the WOOF blog hop below.

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14 Responses to “Challenges of a Leash Reactive Dog”

  1. Oz the Terrier Says:

    You and Pierson are making great progress! I am finding that the “Look!” command is working for Oz when approaching/passing smaller dogs but the bigger dogs are still an issue. And do not get me started about the black Standard Poodle, Harley, in our neighborhood – Oz cannot stand him. He goes absolutely ballistic because Harley is just as reactive. Ugh! Progress for us is slow going but Oz is defintely worth the effort.
    Thanks for joining the hop and sharing with us!
    Gina and Oz

  2. Kuruk Says:

    Woohoooo Pierson!

  3. Jan K Says:

    We have similar challenges to you…having to walk dogs individually, and running into off leash dogs (at least it sounds like the people you have dealt with mostly have learned from what happened). Our other challenge is like your winter….we live in a very rural area and I can often go for walks and not run into other people or dogs. It’s not going to give me a lot of chance to know how Cricket is doing really, or to work with her. I don’t even know if she’s OK with other leashed dogs, or if only off leash dogs are her issues, because we haven’t run into anyone in so long now. But I’m just going to continue to work with her anyway. Thank you so much for joining our hop!

  4. paws2smile Says:

    I love all the information you have on your blog so I have decided to nominate you for The Sunshine Award. Congrats!

    • Nature by Dawn Says:

      Wow! Thank you. 🙂 I’m sorry, I haven’t seen your blog before. So I just stopped by and checked it out. Just who is that cutie eating out of the jar of peanut butter? She’s beautiful! Do you have a way for me to sign up for email notifications for whenever you post something new? It’s the easiest way for me to be sure I stop by. Thanks again for the award!!! 🙂

  5. SlimDoggy (@MySlimDoggy) Says:

    Good work. Jack is sporadically leash reactive – never know what might set him off. I can usually distract him…but at 80lbs…could never pick him up 😉

  6. Kari Neumeyer Says:

    I’m seeing a theme on these posts today. Lots of people crossing the street to get away from triggers! We once crossed the street about five times during the last five minutes of a walk! I think it’s just terrific that you’ve found a group to work with. I used to have some “classmates” who worked with my same trainer. We could only work one dog at a time. Congratulations on Pierson getting closer and closer to those other dogs!

  7. kirbysdawgblog Says:

    That is so awesome about pierson. I wish I could find a group of people to do this with my family dog Poe, as my mom is forever clueless about how to deal with these things. I did used to walk him with a friend who had a Rottweiler and I introduced them while walking and they were great together.

  8. 2browndawgs Says:

    Excellent job with Pierson. I love that you found a group to work with!

    Do you have someone who could walk Maya while you walk Pierson? That is something hubby and I did with Thunder and Storm when they were young. Neither is leash reactive, (although Storm was a bit of a pain in younger days), but each wanted to be in the lead and if they saw another dog, they would loose it. It took a lot of walks to get them to the point where they walk really well together.

    • Nature by Dawn Says:

      It may be a while before I get to the point where they can walk together. I could have someone else help, but with my fibromyalgia staying active really helps me. Maya and Pierson do get their additional exercise when we play fetch. 🙂

  9. Dakota/Caren/Cody Says:

    love your idea of crossing the street…….might have to try that one!

  10. Diane Silver (@ToDogWithLove) Says:

    Sound like you’re making great progress. I cringed at the part about the off-leash pups who were “friendly.” That’s my biggest pet peeve. It’s great that your neighbor recognized that you’re just trying to be responsible!
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco @ To Dog With Love

  11. Catherine Says:

    I am having this same issue with my recently adopted 5yo dachshund. We are starting a group obedience class this week and the instructor is going to work with us in a group setting. I want this to work but i too need a few friends who would be willing to work with us.

  12. Lindsay Says:

    Thankfully ace is not leash reactive, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pull or get too excited. Sometimes his excitement causes other dogs to react, and I know part of it is my fault. I try to work with ace to get him to “watch” me like you do with Pierson. It works well as long as we are at least 10 feet away from the other dog.

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