Contributed by Jennifer Dew, 9 to 5 Pets
There’s nothing more challenging or humbling than having a dog who’s leash reactive. If only we lived in a world where it was safe enough and acceptable to have our canine companions off leash. Navigating social situations would be so much easier. When a dog’s off leash, they have the freedom to make choices like whether or not they want to say hello, engage, play, or walk away. They have the freedom to stand up for themselves and correct other dogs when they steal their toy or get all up in their face when they’re tired. Everything changes, though, when your dog becomes tethered to you. Now it becomes your responsibility to help manage these social situations for them. And does your dog even trust you to do so?
Trust is the foundation of every solid relationship. If we haven’t built up that trust yet with our dog, navigating the world with them by our side can continue to get harder and harder as they feel more and more pressure to try and lead for the two of you. Some dog’s aren’t interested in a leadership role, but when they’re given no choice because we haven’t learned how to lead and advocate for them, a range of behaviors like fear, frustration, and aggression can set in. The same can be true of a dog who loves taking on the leadership role and will challenge you every step of the way until they learn that you’ve got their back and they can relax. From the start, it’s about understanding who your dog is and how to best communicate with them so you can begin building that relationship and earning their trust.
Whether your dog’s young or old or an angel or hellion, getting into a training program with them is a wonderful way to build your relationship and establish that foundation of trust between the two of you. Training with my dog and working through his leash reactivity has not been easy, but it’s opened my eyes to what my dog needs and the importance of being a proactive leader and advocating for him every step of the way. It’s also taught me the importance of knowing his limits and setting him up for success in each situation we encounter. We have our good days and bad days but each day is a building block in our relationship. And his trust in me, thankfully, continues to grow.
As you work through your training journey with your canine companion, I highly recommend Monique Anstee’s “As A Dog Thinketh” for daily reflections, guidance, and sound advice from a top trainer and competitor. Monique believes we have made dog training much too hard, when it really is very simple. Anstee teaches you to think differently, which will help you get out of your mind and into the moment.
Monique Anstee trains dogs kindly, but effectively, and her clients love her for her honesty. “As a Dog Thinketh” is a compilation of daily wisdom in which she shares her most deeply held values and philosophies, and her most sought-after lessons gleaned from more than 25 years in the business. With her signature no-nonsense approach and wry sense of humor, Anstee shares reflections that will inspire a-ha moments, nurture your confidence, and invite you to be more authentic with yourself and with your dog.
When should you reward, and when should you tell him to try harder? How can you create ten moments a day where you can praise your dog sincerely? How can you use your own thoughts, beliefs, and body language to improve communication with your dog? How are we creating reactivity in our dogs?
Anstee offers a new and inspiring way to think about your relationship with your dog, tempered with the clear-eyed perspective of one who has seen dogs and their owners find solutions to all kinds of problems. She empowers her listeners to affirm their instincts with their dog, and to believe in the power to change together, each and every day.
Check out her tips below if you’re working with a leash reactive dog and remember…be slow, be confident, and don’t stop believing in the journey! It’s day by day and one paw at a time.
Monique’s Tips For Leash Reactive Dogs
1) Going past another dog, make sure your muscles relax. One muscle tensing can be enough to trigger an explosion. Loosen your hand, forearm, and shoulder, and walk through with purposeful determination. And breathe.
2) Imagine in your head exactly how you want your dog to look as you pass by the oncoming dog. As you visualize it in advance, also have plan B ready just in case your dog has another plan in mind.
3) Walk your line and claim your path – and no more ducking into ditches and the trees. Your body language should look like a normal person casually walking their normal dog.
4) Loose Leash Walking seems to be a lost art. Your hand should be open on your leash, and just a thumb closing in will get a difference in your dog. Think horse-riding and reigns; through your leash you offer suggestions that your schooled dog will take.
5) As we master our challenges and feel great about ourselves, we still get stuck when we approach a dog that scares us. Normally these are the dogs that will slaughter our dogs if ours choose to cause trouble, so our fears were well founded. When approaching these dogs, recite your mental checklist of your handling skills. 1) Walk your Path and don’t avoid, 2) Open your Hand, 3) Swing your Arm and 4) Slow down.
6) Your dogs will get safety in a group (Pack Walk). This is a great step, but you still need to go walking on your own. Go walking alone right away so that you remember your jobs.
7) After every walk (at least to start) calculate the percentage that you did your mental game right, percentage that you did your technical game right, and then list every technique and moment that you did right. This will help you to remember it, and make it more firm in your memory.
8) With many dogs, as they start to learn what we want, we must go softer, not harder. Your cues must be way less, your movements slower and softer, or you will actually trigger responses from your dog.
9) Never go past a dog while your own is misbehaving. You need good behavior before your challenge has left, so go slow enough so that you can get that. Keep your forward momentum, but go at a snail’s pace if needed. You need to master each and every pass by. Going slow calms you down, and it calms your dog down. So when struggling, slow down. As soon as you are past them you can pick up your speed again.
10) Stopping is the graduation step. It is the hardest of them all and some dogs might never get to this point. Always watch carefully when you are stopped, and help your dogs.
11) Go Hunting for Victims. It is much funner than trying to hide in the bushes.
12) Don’t be as reactive as your dog. People will be rude to you, often with the best of intentions. Smile sweetly, and in your mind thank them for donating this training moment.
13) The ruder the person who judges you, the bigger you must smile. Imagine in your head what dog they will end up with next. Karma is a bitch.
14) As you graduate, if your dog is off-leash as you pass by, teach your dog a verbal cue to get him moving forward. You need for them to have forward momentum without the leash forcing it – you can always encourage and talk to your dog!
Author of As a Dog Thinketh