Leash Reactivity

A contagious but curable and preventable problem

What is Leash Reactivity?

Leash reactivity is when a dog will react intensely on the leash towards stimuli in their environment. This can include lunging, barking, growling or redirecting onto the person walking them. Sometimes this occurs due to fear, guarding, over-excitment or frustration. 

Leash reactivity is the #1 most common behavioural issue that I deal with in training. Unfortunately, it has become somewhat of an epidemic in Toronto. I describe it as a disease, because it gets passed around from one dog to another just like a common cold. How can your sweet docile pup catch leash reactivity? Its really quite simple.

Imagine This Scenario:

Your walking your dog in your neighborhood, and you see a new dog that you’ve never met before. You want to be friendly, and your dog equally shows an interest in meeting the new dog on the block. You and your pup walk up to the new dog, who’s also walking on a leash with their owner.
“Don’t worry, my dog’s friendly!” you say… and allow your dog to pull towards the new dog to greet them. All of a sudden, the new dog jumps onto your dog and attacks your dog for absolutely no reason.
Wham! Now it is more than likely that your dog will begin to develop the symptoms of this disease.


It only takes one negative experience like this to cause your own dog to start to fear and distrust meeting new dogs on leash.
Like most mammals, dogs have a fight or flight response to situations that make them uncomfortable or scared. If they are leashed, they can not get away, and if they are nervous or unsure, their reaction will be to fight.

So What Should You Do?

The best solution to this problem is prevention. No matter how friendly your dog might be, it is best practice not to meet new dogs on leash. Likewise, don’t let your off-leash dog approach an on-leash dog. You cannot trust the other dog, and since this leash reactivity is proving to be so common, it’s better not to take the risk, and continue walking.
But what if the other owner is coming towards you allowing their dog to pull towards yours? Just speak up and step in front of your dog and say “I’m sorry, I don’t allow my dog to greet on a leash.” Don’t worry about offending the other owner, what’s most important is your dogs safety and mental health. Doing this also shows your dog that you are in control of the situation, which will help nervous and unsure dogs become confident in your ability to protect them.

“But that’s no fun!”

Do you stop and say hello to every single person you walk past on the street? Usually, humans will stop to talk to people they already know. It should be no different for our dogs. Trust me when I tell you, it’s just not worth the risk. The amount of stress and anxiety this problem brings to both dog owners and their dogs can be debilitating and damaging to the relationship you have with your dog, and your lifestyle.

So What’s the Solution?

If you want to meet new dogs, the best way is to take your dog to an off-leash trail. Unlike dog parks, off-leash trails allow for you and your dog to keep moving if your dog happens to meet a dog they aren’t comfortable with. Most trails also happen to attract dog owners with better control of their dogs, since there are no gates or enclosures to prevent dogs from running away.

“What if its too late, and my dog is already leash reactive?”

If the ingredients for the cure was simple enough to give you in this blog post, I would write it all down so everyone could just help their dog get better, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. While leash reactivity is curable, unfortunately, it’s a complex problem that involves rebuilding the trust your dog has in you, and your dogs confidence. Depending on the severity, it can take 3-5 sessions over 3-6 months to fully curb, and requires a lot of patience, time and effort on the dog owner / families part.

The vaccine to this contagious disease is simple: stop meeting and greeting strange dogs on leash. If everyone followed this practice, this behavioural problem wouldn’t be spreading like wildfire.

Please share this post to all dog owners you know. They’ll thank you for it.

If your dog has leash reactivity and you need help, I’m here for you.