Training Tips: Leash Reactivity and Barrier Frustration
Updated: Apr 26, 2019
By Emily Schultze
Ever been in this situation?
You are out walking in the park with your dog. It is a beautiful day and you are admiring the sunlight streaming through the trees when suddenly you hear loud barks and realize your dog is straining against the leash. You try to pull them back to you, but that only makes your dog more agitated.
Has your normally sweet pup been hiding a dark side? Why have they started acting so aggressively? Your dog hasn't been replaced by an evil twin, they are most likely just experiencing frustration related to leash reactivity. In this training tips video, New Life K9 educators Nicole and Rosa discuss the signs of leash reactivity and barrier frustration, and how to work with your dog to ease the tension.
The first important thing to note about leash reactivity is that it is often mistaken for aggressive behavior. However, your dog is not acting out of a desire to hurt or attack anyone, they are simply dealing with frustration related to feelings of confinement. Generally there are two main causes of the frustration that is attached to leash reactivity: not being able to reach something exciting that's ahead or not being able to leave a situation that's making them uncomfortable.
In the first situation, your dog probably spotted another dog walking in the distance or caught a whiff of a good smell next to that tree over there. They really want to be able to go and investigate these things, but their leash is holding them back. They make some noise to let you know how they're feeling, but you don't realize those sounds aren't signs of aggression and pull them back even more. This only makes the situation worse and you both leave the park unhappy.
In the second situation, your dog might be feeling intimidated by a different dog in the park or scared of the loud noises of the gardeners mowing the grass. They want to get away from the things that are making them uncomfortable, but the leash catches them again. They feel trapped and so they start barking to try and let you know. Here, forcing them back to your side or scolding them for barking will only escalate the problem and lead them to act out more.
So what can you do?
It is important to first identify what kind of situation you are in. Knowing how to read your dog's body language and signs of excitement or fear will help you take the next steps to deal with the problem. When working with a dog that is overexcited, it is best to not pull them back to you. Instead, look around and find out what makes them excited so you will be able to take preventative measures. Nicole and Rosa use an example relating to barrier frustration. At the Pet Resort, many of the dogs rush to the gate and jump around when they see their owners approaching. This excitement can cause the dogs to squabble because they all want to be closer to their owner. Providing a distraction with a toy or moving the dogs to another space can help in reducing this type of overexcitement. However, if your dog is in a situation where they are scared and uncomfortable, it is best to lead them away from the thing that is causing them stress.
Now that you know some of the tips of how to recognize and break the pattern of leash reactivity or barrier frustration, you can go out and have fun with your dog without worry!
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