Your dog may be a lover at home, happy to have visitors of all sorts. But when you grab his leash and head out on a walk, he becomes aggressive toward strangers – barking, growling, and even lunging. This is known as leash reactivity.

By definition, leash reactivity is an involuntary emotional state that overwhelms a dog’s brain and triggers the fight-or-flight response. The reasons for this vary, from overstimulation and excitement to fear and anxiety. Leash reactivity is one of the most common issues dog trainers deal with on a day-to-day basis.

There is good and bad news when it comes to having a leash-reactive dog. The good news is that your dog can improve, the bad is it requires a great deal of effort, patience, and time.

1.       Don’t approach other dogs on a leash
This is easily the most important step in helping your dog overcome reactivity on the leash. While it may seem like getting your dog used to greeting others while he is on a leash will help him be less reactive – this couldn’t be more wrong. Essentially, you are forcing your dog into a situation in which he has proven he is not comfortable. That’s a quick path to failure.

Opt to avoid interactions with other dogs while your dog is leashed. Distance is your friend in this scenario and will keep everyone safe.

2.       Make yourself the center of attention
It seems obvious that if your dog is focused on you, he can’t focus on outside distractions. Easier said than done. A key step in addressing leash reactivity is developing a strong connection between yourself and your dog when on leash. Most trainers will recommend practicing this indoors with basic obedience sessions done on a leash.

3.       Redirect before there is a problem
Success is found when you can eliminate a reactive outburst before it even happens. This means you need to be very vigilant of your surroundings and where your dog is putting his attention. With leash reactivity it’s easier to play offense than defense. This means redirecting your dog before a distraction occurs, either by using positive reinforcement (treats) to get his attention on you or changing your route and avoiding the situation altogether.

Success will look different for every person and dog at first, but persistence is key to seeing improvement. If problems persist, reach out to a trainer or veterinarian for a consultation and assistance.