“My dog is aggressive when we are on walks!”

Image of a dog reacting while on leash.
Leash reactivity can look a lot like aggression.

One of the most common misconceptions of dog owners is labeling their dogs as aggressive when showing leash reactivity.  Leash reactivity is the behavior associated with a dog pulling, lunging, snarling at passing dogs, humans, cars, etc.  This behavior is embarrassing for owners and frequently gets worse as a dog gets older and in response to punishment. If not aggression what is it?  An emotional response. The sight of certain things is stressing out your dog and the dog’s response is a display of seemingly aggressive behavior so you will remove him from the situation or the stimuli (the thing he is afraid of) will go away. Reactivity is not your dog “being bad” or misbehaving. It is simply a communication of his emotional state.

Why not just punish the dog to stop the behavior?  Let’s suppose you are afraid of spiders and scream every time you see one. You go to a professional to help conquer the fear.  The professional slaps you in the face every time you scream when you see the spider. To avoid the slap (punishment) you learn how to stop screaming but are still afraid of spiders. This actually makes this situation worse as you are adding the fear of spiders and the fear of punishment.

A positive approach would involve identifying the stimuli.  Once you know what that is, you can begin changing how your dog reacts by pairing something good (steak, chicken, hotdogs) with your dog looking at the stimuli from a safe distance (a distance where he is aware but not being reactive).  It does not take the dog long to associate the stimuli with the reward (treat). This changes the dogs emotional response and the reactivity is reduced then eliminated.

This concept sounds easy but the actual steps and timing are critical to the success of changing your dog’s response.  A dog training professional can help you create and execute a training plan to help change your dog’s emotional response from one of fear to one of calm.

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