Many dogs lunge and bark at other dogs when on-leash, a behavior that trainers call “leash reactivity.” There are a number of reasons why dogs develop this problem. Some fear or dislike other dogs because of a bad experience with another dog in the past or because they weren’t well socialized to other dogs during puppyhood. For these dogs, barking and lunging on-leash serves a purpose—it keeps approaching dogs away. Other leash-reactive dogs like members of their own species a great deal. In fact, they enjoy playing and greeting so much that they become intensely frustrated when they’re restrained.

Living with a leash-reactive dog can be quite embarrassing, especially if you live in the city and can only exercise your dog by taking him on leashed walks. It can also be frustrating if your dog is consistently friendly in other situations. Some dogs only react poorly to other dogs when they’re on-leash—a phenomenon that baffles their pet parents! To avoid embarrassment and frustration, you may take your dog on shorter walks, perhaps at times when you know other dogs won’t be around. Unfortunately, a lack of exercise and exposure to other dogs can fuel a dog’s agitation, making him more anxious and even less sociable.

What Makes Dogs Reactive?

Watching how dogs greet each other when off-leash in a dog park may help you understand why it’s so much harder for them to interact on-leash. Unrestrained, sociable dogs usually approach each another in an arc, coming together gradually, wagging, soft-eyed and displaying other signs of friendly interest. They circle and sniff each other’s faces and then hindquarters before deciding whether to move on or play together. You’ll also notice that the dog who forgoes this greeting ritual and instead barges straight up to other dogs is the one who tends to get into arguments or fights.

Contrast this scenario with two dogs meeting on a sidewalk. These dogs are forced to approach head-on, so they’re more likely to make direct eye contact with each other. These are very threatening gestures in dog body language. Both dogs are probably pulling hard toward one another, with leashes tight. The strangling sensation of tightening collars adds to the dogs’ tension. As the people walking the dogs become more apprehensive, they may start jerking the leashes and muttering things like “Be NICE!” This likely confirms to the dogs that a threatening situation is at hand. Is it any wonder that there’s often an explosion when these two frustrated dogs finally meet?

Click here to learn how to train a Leash-Reactive Dog

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