Leash Reactivity – Causes

When our dogs lunge on leash like crazy, bark, growl, or otherwise act out whenever they see other dogs or people, there are reasons for it.

Our dogs never misbehave because they want to annoy us. Only when we understand this, can we help them turn this behavior into relaxation and become a reliable companion.


Basically, there are 2 main emotions behind leash reactivity.

Frustration: the dog desperately wants to go say “hello” and can’t because of the leash. We often see this with young dogs who were always allowed to play right away in puppy class and never learned to just leave other dogs alone.


Fear: the dog feels unsafe or fearful in the presence of other dogs and can’t get away because of the leash. So he tells the other dog more or less clearly that he should please go away.


Both emotions are basically normal, but also unpleasant.

So the dog needs strategies that give him positive emotions in the situations. For this reason alone, corrections, in whatever form, are fundamentally wrong.


Reinforcing factors can further aggravate the dog’s emotional situation.

These include:

– Health (and it doesn’t have to be a broken bone, flatulence is enough)

– Increased stress level in everyday life

– Lack of trust in humans (e.g. through aversive training methods)


Unfortunately, it is still often disregarded that our dogs can feel stress just like we do and quite often they suffer from chronic stress.

This can be caused by health issues, disharmony in the household or with the caregiver, or by other circumstances.


For example, too much or too little exercise is often a reason for an increased stress level. Some dogs are still mainly exercised by fast chase games, which lead to an unnaturally high release of stress hormones. If these are not specifically reduced with a very long cool-down phase, the dog remains virtually stuck at the high level and a spiral begins.

However, boredom is just as harmful.

Most dogs that only get walks on the same route over and over again have little interest in the environment and otherwise no mental stimulation, suffer from this. This is too little.


You can see already, that an important point in finding the cause of leash reactivity, is the needs and motivations of your dog.


But stress doesn’t always have to do with needs. Life circumstances can also lead to increased stress levels for our dogs, and often the individual circumstances are not even associated with leash reactivity.

This is why behavioral analysis/causation is always at the beginning of behavioral training.

A particularly common reason for a generally increased stress level is, for example, being left alone. An alarming number of dogs have never learned to stay alone in a relaxed way, but have to endure it every day. Many of them, however, are not noisy in doing so, so neighbors alert their humans to the fact. They wait silently suffering and tense in front of the door.

Sooner or later, this leads to a clear lack of sleep and constantly increased stress levels.


And we all know how that feels… if you sleep too little for a longer period of time, you become irritable and react exaggeratedly.

It’s the same with our dogs.


Another common cause of elevated levels is that the dog can’t properly assess his people.

This can happen when the humans themselves have a high stress level and thus many exuberant emotions. But it can also happen when people do not pay attention to voluntariness and well-being in their daily interactions.

Especially small dogs often experience that they are simply pushed away, put somewhere, treated rudely, or get overwhelmed.

This leads to the dogs not feeling safe in their own home and thus a basic need is violated. It is not surprising that these dogs escalate faster when they meet another dog.


So we have many different reasons why our dogs run riot on the leash and finding them is the first step to solving the problem. And if you don’t want to do this alone, but are looking for the fastest way to success with your dog, let’s have a free discovery call to see what behavior training looks like for you and your pup individually.

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