You may be an Accomplice to Leash Reactivity!

Dog Training Cat Tip of the Day: With dogs who have reactive behavior on walks, it's important to remember that there was typically one more accomplice to the explosions...and that person is unintentionally you! You are, through association, a part of your dog's insecurity, protectiveness, arousal, adrenaline, and frustration process when he becomes reactive. You've been a partner at the scene of the explosions, and that relationship feeds their response. (If you just got a dog who is reactive, and have zero history with them...that's ok, too! This info still applies and can help you define a relationship so that you can help them move past their issues) 😊

Don't worry, with some work it can get better! Your individual dog and the depth of the association and relationship will determine how much work and diligence is ahead of you to tackle this issue.

When we think about reactivity, it's important to remember that in a nut shell it is an exercise of poor impulse control. Sure, there are emotional triggers behind it, but the action of "lift off" is coming from making a knee-jerk response to act on an impulse. That means, particularly if you've been working with your dog already in training, the best way to prevent reactivity is by being pro-active and addressing other incidents of poor impulse control.

The reason we say that the first things reactive dogs MUST do is walk in heel beside you with no pulling, sniffing, marking, barking, eyeballing squirrels, etc is to not just create a "pretty walk" but to create handler relevance and the understanding that things are different now - that every doggie impulse is not acted upon, and in fact on your walk none of them are allowed. Can you imagine how that would change your dog's mindset on a walk? If they were already softer, less adrenalized, paying more attention to you, waiting for permission, and not following their own agenda on a walk, instead differing to you? For a dog, it's hard to be reactive or continue to hold that association of your owner being a by-stander to reactivity when all of a sudden they have stepped up and set a bunch of rules and expectations for the walk. In fact, your dog will be mighty surprised that there is so much of your presence and influence in what used to be a pretty dog-decided and oriented walk. Instead of being a witness to your dog's checked out behaviors you are now becoming relevant and influential - a huge role shift that, for many dogs, can almost remove reactivity because the rules and roles are different! And guess what - your dog is able to be more comfortable, relaxed, and less tense on the walk because they see you have total control. There is no more uncertainty or concern about what you guys will stumble accross in the world - a dog see their owner assertively and confidently taking the reigns, and let our a sigh of relief to follow and let them deal with the stresses of life.

Have you tried all of that and are still struggling? Don't worry - I wish, but not every dog relaxes quite that easily 😉 Many dogs may see the shift and the new rules you are laying down, but are so patterned and sort of junkies for the "adrenaline dump" that comes with reactivity that you are still struggling. Here's what may be missing: Many of those dogs are also looking for other little moments in your walk, even your structured heel as you try to apply the new rules and atmosphere, to get a little "worked up" get a little bit of their arousal fix! Those are the dogs you have to work harder for to address impulse control in a much larger scale, beyond just reactivity.

These are the dogs that you are "setting the tone" with early and often. These are the dogs that you are holding accountable and getting on their case a bit, not to let any moments of pushiness or disconnect slide. For example, if your dog-reactive dog is walking in heel, but constantly showing interest in squirrels, birds, bikes, sounds they hear (not full out reacting, but alerting checking out those things) that is is a perfect opportunity to correct impulsively challenging behaviors. Think about it like this - if you correct firmly and consistently to address those little checked out moments of chasing squirrels with their eyes or tryinf to rush a little because a distraction is approaching, your dog will start to put some valuable thoughts into how they want to focus their attention on a walk. If something seemingly minor like eyeballing a squirrel or missing the auto-sit cue on a walk got a pretty firm consequence, they'll likely start thinking "If I can't get away with squirrels, there's no WAY I'll get away with barking or lunging at dogs!" It's the beginning of a new relationship and association of behavior on your walks! :)

For many dogs, they won't start making those choices right away because of the history you guys have together. For many it will take some convincing that you are consistently interrupting that disconnected and aroused state-of-mind, and every walk being black and white clear on your rules and expectations! For a while, your dog can't handle looking, checking out, or fixating on anything that takes their mind (and heart rate) to "That place" where they begin to disconnect and adrenalize - especially not with you, who's been an accomplice to their behavior in the past. However long it takes - weeks or months - there is definitely some ground to cover association and reationship-wise for your dog to trust, feel advocated for, respectful of what you ask, and safe to follow you instead of them taking the lead for you both. How you interact with them and what you do with them on your walks matter, as well as the boundaries and leadership you share inside of your home (constant cuddling and soft energy, allowing them to do what they want inside including barking a lot and practicing poor impulse control in your day to day life) affect their believability in the new "rules" your laying down. Don't be someone to be protected by with reactivty (although most dogs are actually just trying to protect themselves, not you!) - be the protector, guide, leader, teacher, boundary setter, and source of information your dog needs to feel safe, calm, comfortable, and NON-reactive:) -Cenicero,#dogtrainingcat

leashreactivity take the lead