Leash Reactivity – Basics

Are you wondering why training doesn’t work, despite your best efforts?

Your dog explodes on the leash and it seems like you can’t do anything to help him?


Then it’s time to look at the basics.

Actually, it would be nice if every training session started with assessing and reviewing the overall situation for the dog. Unfortunately, this is often passed over as unnecessary and that’s exactly when training just doesn’t work.


Especially problems with encounters often arise as a symptom of other causes. If these are not recognized, the training is not effective at all or only for a short time.

And by the way, this is also the reason why good trainers take a very thorough anamnesis in advance or in the first session. Maybe sometimes this seems superfluous or you ask yourself why you should build up a relaxation zone when the problem occurs outside on the leash.

Of course, you can always ask your trainer what the purpose of a certain measure is, and you should do so. But a sustainable training always includes the overall condition of the dog.


So what are these basics?



A blockage, tummy ache, joint pain, dizziness, headache, itching… are often unrecognized causes of behavior problems.

Many dogs don’t show this discomfort, even though it upsets them. Then behavior problems arise. Also, dogs that are suddenly sensitive to certain regions might suffer from pain issues in that area.

Therefore, a good check is very important. Depending on where the suspicion goes, a specialized veterinarian is an appropriate contact. So if you feel your dog doesn’t have a clean gait (or we trainers see something there), an appointment with an osteopath/orthopedist/physio vet is in order. Also, protective postures can easily lead to tension and thus to discomfort or pain. These in turn affect communication and of course the dog in general.

If, on the other hand, the dog has frequent diarrhea, this is also not something that should simply be ignored. Of course, diarrhea can be caused by stress, but it can also always have an organic cause.

A small anecdote at this point:

Sammy had diarrhea every now and then. There was a very clear connection with excitement. Nevertheless, I wanted to have it clarified “just to be on the safe side”. So I took a fecal sample to the vet. Diagnosis: Pancreas not working properly. I had it confirmed by a blood test and from now on he gets an enzyme in his food.

By the way, his behavior was completely normal 😉

So you see it is not always super obvious when something is wrong. But it is better to clarify once more than miss an issue.


You know this for sure. A small permanently itchy insect bite, and we become more irritable… ok I have to admit, I’m always completely covered in stings in the summer and maybe that’s why I’m sensitive, but in the end, it’s the same for our dogs with intolerances or allergies.


The next often overlooked point is stress.


In the best case, stress is a recurring impulse and therefore neither unhealthy nor a cause for concern. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Our dogs are very challenged in their daily lives and then they often have a weekly schedule that would push any competitive athlete to the limit.

So one stressor follows the other and thus the organism cannot recover. The result is chronic stress, which makes ill.

Now one may say, then cut such a dense program and everything is ok.

But unfortunately, not only those dogs are affected. Every individual is special and for some dogs, even a walk in unknown territory at a certain length is overstimulating. Others are already overwhelmed by living together with their humans (anxious/scared dog).

So it is important to look at the dog’s everyday life and to eliminate possible excessive demands. Of course, the dog can have new experiences, but then should get enough rest.

Tension and relaxation should always form an alternating wave.

For example, if a visitor comes to the house and your dog finds it very exciting, the next day is a relaxation day.


In order to recognize chronic stress, it is necessary to look at sleep and rest in addition to behavior. For this, you can take notes for a few days. How often/long does your dog sleep/rest and how does he look while completely relaxed?

The latter will also help you to quickly identify pain/discomfort.


Basic No. 3 is the general handling


So can your dog feel completely safe in his home, or does he have to expect punishments/corrections if he does something “wrong”?

Of course, there will always be situations where we react annoyed or maybe grumpy. But punishment (=corrections) should never be built into a training plan.

And it’s not about if these things work or not (sure it works if the timing is right). It’s simply about the feeling it causes in the dog.

Of course, we want our dogs to feel absolutely comfortable and safe with us. Therefore we must not be the bearer of negative emotions.

And don’t worry, it is not necessary to tell the dog when he does something wrong. Of course, if you feel this need, you are welcome to sit down with him and discuss his misbehavior 😛

Admittedly, a bit provocatively worded.

BUT you can explain to a child why you don’t want something. A dog does not understand this explanation. Therefore, it is much more effective if we simply reinforce desired behavior (i.e. the dog does it more often). In this way, undesirable behavior becomes more and more unnecessary for the dog and we see it less often.

However, if you ever need a behavior interrupter in a situation, try an attention signal. That way you can nicely interrupt your dog and offer something else.


Those were my basics that should be explored before starting any training. Of course, meeting (basic) needs is also important. So there is no kenneling/caging, the dog gets meals from a bowl (no hand feeding only) and always has enough water available. In addition, he can live out needs such as sniffing, exploring, chasing (to a certain degree), cuddling, etc. But this is surely self-evident anyway


And if you have already checked the basics, then start with training.

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