3 Common Leash Problems Solved: Pulling, Mouthing, Lunging

Lunging, Barking, Reacting on Leash

What it looks like: Your dog will usually be reacting to something in his environment. Often it’s another dog, but triggers also include joggers, bikers, skateboarders or strollers. Your dog may lunge, stand on his hind feet and strain at the end of the leash, spin in circles or vocalize with barks and whines.

Why it happens: Most of the time these behaviors are rooted in anxiety and frustration. Your dog becomes upset at the sight of the stimulus for a number of reasons, such as: He cannot approach the stimulus and check it out because he is restricted by the leash, or the leash restricts his ability to get away from a situation that makes him uneasy and anxious. There may also be an element of chase to the sequence, especially with faster-moving joggers or bikers; the dog wants to run after them as they move past but cannot because he is on a leash. It is important to note that the more a dog is punished for reacting on leash, the worse the behavior can become; punishment can cause a dog who already has a negative association with a situation to become even more aroused and upset in that situation.

How to change it: It’s important in a situation like this to get help from a professional, such as a veterinary behaviorist or a veterinarian working with a positive reinforcement trainer.

This issue rarely resolves on its own and requires assessing the individual dog’s emotional state, triggers, level of aggression on leash and the degree to which the dog poses a risk to other animals, people and to himself through this behavior. You will need to work with a trainer to address your dog's response to the specific stimulus and provide a better alternative behavior for him to perform in that situation. This means introducing your dog gradually to the problematic situation, like seeing another dog, and teaching him an alternative behavior, like making eye contact with you or hand targeting when he sees the other dog. In addition, in order to turn the sight of another dog (or any other problematic stimulus) from something bad into a signal something great will happen, it must be paired with highly reinforcing treats, play, attention — anything your dog enjoys.

Management tool: Front-clip harnesses and head halters give more control and allow the animal to be turned around and away from the stimulus before he reacts. Teach your dog to turn on cue: Offer a verbal cue such as “turn” and immediately refocus your dog’s attention by rewarding walking next to you as you move away. Cross the street or walk up a driveway to create enough distance so your dog no longer reacts. Visual blockers, like a car or a tree, can also lessen the reaction until the stimulus passes. These strategies can be useful for preventing the habeit from being rehearsed while the issue is being addressed with training.

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