No one wants to hear their dog referred to as “crazy.” Unfortunately, several years ago, that happened to me. I was walking my hound mix Emmett in the neighborhood when I heard a woman calling my dog crazy. To an untrained eye, Emmett was acting, well, crazy. He was lunging and barking at the sight of other dogs being walked. The best description I could offer is he was having a temper tantrum. This took place many years ago before I became a dog a dog behavior and training professional and therefore, knew nothing about dog behavior. I didn’t know what to even call Emmett’s behavior, let alone how to manage it or make it stop. Maybe, my dog WAS crazy.
I received plenty of unsolicited advice from people who meant well, but also knew nothing about dog behavior, other than they also had dogs. Advice ranged from, “don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it” to “put a prong collar on this dog.” Emmett was definitely not outgrowing this behavior, and I refused to use a prong collar on him because I didn’t want to cause Emmett pain. That much I knew.
I engaged positive reinforcement trainers who defined Emmett’s behavior for me as LEASH REACTIVITY. They also showed me the behaviors I should teach him, and recommended that I see a veterinary behaviorist. And thus, began my journey of training and managing my own dog’s leash reactivity. And oh, by the way, my dog was NOT crazy.
Leash reactivity happens when a dog has a strong reaction to a particular stimulus while the dog is on leash. The stimuli that can trigger a dog, are other dogs, people, vehicles, or perhaps other moving objects such as bicycles or cars. Here is the thing to know: Just because a dog is reactive, it doesn’t mean it’s aggressive. Aggression and reactivity are not always mutually inclusive. Since I’ve become a dog trainer, I have helped many leash-reactive dogs who off-leash played appropriately with other dogs, could go on pack walks with their doggie friends, and many shared their homes with another canine companion.
Leash reactivity can vary in intensity and also the number of stimuli the dog reacts to. Leash reactivity with less intensity and a singular stimulus is much easier to address than very intense reactivity, or reactivity to multiple stimuli.
Living with a leash-reactive dog can be emotionally draining for a pet parent and the dog. It took time, patience and hard work to address Emmett’s reactivity. If you are a pet parent dealing with a reactive dog, I see you. Just know that your dog is not crazy, you are NOT a bad dog owner and there is help for you and your dog.
Because there is a lot to unpack about leash reactivity, I will be examining different elements of leash reactivity over the next few weeks. So, stay tuned.
About the Author
Tatiana Yastremski, M.A. CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, IAABC CSB-D, is Knowledge Assessed, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed Certified Canine Behavior Consultant, and IAABC Certified in Shelter Behavior, specializing in dogs. Her dog behavior and training experience is very diversified through her work with shelter dogs and private training. In her dog training business, Totally Trainable, LLC, Tatiana's objective is to help humans and their dogs build a bond of trust through positive reinforcement training, clear and succinct communication, patience and love. Tatiana specializes in aggression, reactivity and fear-based behaviors.