Leash reactivity to other dogs has always been a top priority among dog owners over the years, but the pandemic has created a huge increase in leash reactive dogs, and escalated leash reactivity in other dogs. There are a number of reasons for leash reactivity, but the symptoms are the same – barking, growling and often lunging.
Dogs become reactive to stimuli, in this case dogs. Contrary to popular belief, almost always, they are not growling, barking and lunging to attack. For some reason, the mere sight of the other dog(s) causes distress. It could be small dogs and not big dogs, or vice versa. Whatever the case, it takes time and patience to help your dog overcome his distress.
To start, you need to find the threshold – the imaginary line which, when crossed, causes your dog to go bonkers. Every dog has a threshold. It may be 100 feet or 100 yards. I recommend going to a dog park inside a larger park where you can take your dog way past his threshold where he behaves as close to normal as possible. It may be that in the beginning, your dog is way past his threshold but is still at high alert – he’s not taking treats or listening to commands. You have a couple of options. One, you can wait your dog out until he starts to calm to the point he takes treats and listens to commands, or you can back up even further to get to that point where he goes off high alert.
Let’s assume you wait your dog out and he becomes attentive. You must use the highest or high value treats and reward him with a marker (yes!) and a treat for following commands. If this whole process takes an hour or two, call it a day and a success. Come back when you can to that spot and rehash. Then move a little closer to the stimuli (dogs in the park, or dogs walking by in the distance) and rinse and repeat.
I’m sorry to say that highly reactive dogs may take months or even years to relax to the stimuli and finally relax around dogs at any distance. Other dogs may only take a few days or weeks. It depends on the dog and it also depends on how much time you have to devote to this. It will take extreme patience and time on your part, but 98 percent of the time, your goal can be achieved.