Tuesday, November 8, 2011

City Dog: Managing a Leash Reactive Dog in the City

Living in the city, we need to be prepared for a lot. Especially since most of us don't have backyards and we need to take our pooches out on several daily walks. I've estimated around 30 dogs live on our single city block alone, so we know the chances of running into other pooches is high. It was only the other week that I happened to be volunteering, and walking a leash reactive dog, that I realized how extraordinarily difficult it must be to have a leash reactive dog in the city. When I was with the pooch, all I could think about was trying to find some path back home where I wouldn't run into any dogs, but that isn't so easy. This really made me recognize how hard a single walk must be for leash-reactive pooches.
We have been so impressed with Maize, one of our SociaBulls members, who has leash reactivity, but you would never realize this during our SociaBulls walks. Her mom has worked with her for a long time, and here are some of her tips to managing a leash reactive dog in the city.
I live on the lakefront surrounded by multi-unit buildings, which means little space and a high concentration of dogs. When I first adopted Maize it was a nightmare, every corner we turned it felt like there was a dog waiting for us. At the time I would have given anything for her to be a squirrel chaser or even a dog that eats rocks, anything but being leash reactive.   
My experience with leash reactivity is a built-up frustration. Two dogs see each other across the street; one dog gives a hard stare or bark; the other dog lunges forwards and feels the pull of the leash on the collar or harness. In this case, the lunging dog then becomes frustrated that it is restrained and unable to approach the other dog. When this repeatedly happens over and over again, the dog begins to equate the pull of the harness or collar as being retrained and becomes reactive towards this restraint.
I am extra sensitive to the sounds of another dog on walks, and I recently noticed I do it when I am not with the dogs out of habit. I try to stay one step ahead so I can avoid a negative reaction. For a long time I didn’t understand why Maize kept on reacting until I realized I was putting her in situations where she would react. Instead of turning around to taking a different route I would plow us through just to get by. Now we make sure not stay a safe distance and if we need to take a shorter route we will.  SociaBulls has made a huge difference as well.  Maize has become a lot more comfortable being around other dogs after each walk I do see a difference in her. Working with a trainer and reading several books I learned three things that have made a huge difference on our walks.

Making sure that I have enough space between Maize and another dog is key.  When I first got her she would see a dog across the street and react. Now, depending on the dog and their owner we can move to the edge of the sidewalk to pass. Walking with SociaBulls has helped Maize feel more comfortable being physically closer to other dogs. This week for the first time we walked in the middle of the pack, she was pulling like crazy but she was not reacting.  

 We learned “Find It” which consists of throwing treats on the ground in front of the dog and encouraging him/her to search for them. When a dog passes (I recommend giving yourself a lot of space) your dog’s head is down and doesn’t see the other dog pass. Another option is to go behind a car for a physical barrier and have your dog sit and stay or do “pushups” which is a combination of three commands of your choice. 

 Learning recall was a lifesaver. I use “let’s go” when I turn around suddenly to avoid another dog.  We practiced recall at least 4 times on each walk until it became natural for them to reverse direction or come when called.

These are the three that have helped me the most but I am always looking for new ways to work with Maize. Anyone else have helpful tips?

PS. If you are interested in helping foster dog SuperLevi find his (super) x-ray vision, we are still taking donations for raffle tickets until November 12, and we have limited sizing available in T-shirts (so let us know today if you'd like a T-shirt!).  We have been so overwhelmed with the response, and we're super-excited for the 'Gathering of Superheros' walk this weekend both in Chicago and virtually.


Amy said...

We have a leash reactive dog as well, and we've modified "look at that" to
"where's the doggy" and that's helped. Now, when I see a dog at a distance, I say "where's the doggy" and Buster looks around until he sees the dog, then he looks back at me and gets a treat. I'm hoping to build positive associations with seeing dogs and extinguish the anxiety that leads to his outbursts. At first I had to be at least a block away from the dog for him to stay calm, but now we can do it from across the street. :-)

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

This was a very helpful post for us, because Havi is mildly leash reactive as well. Thank you so much.

Maisie's Mom said...

Maisie is selectively leash-reactive...but when she reacts, she REACTS. there are certain dogs on the block I know are friends, those I allow her to approach. other dogs who are known enemies (or unknown entirely) are avoided. I will cross the street, shorten a walk or (like Anita suggested) have Maisie sit/stay or down/stay behind a car as they pass.


Kate said...

Great post. I know that working with a leash reactive dog isn't easy, but those are great tips and she's obviously come a long way.

Froggy said...

Amy, we do teh same thing. I always say "where's the puppy? do you se the puppy? good girl" and that helps a lot.

Lacie Josephine said...

I've got two leash reactive pups...this is so helpful!

Kristine said...

Reactivity is so hard. Luckily, after two and a half years of very hard work, our dog is in "remission." I use that word because I don't think she will ever be cured. Unfortunately, she was leash-reactive to dogs AND people, often times more toward people than dogs. Walks were incredibly stressful. Even now I am careful not to let my guard slip too far. As long as I am paying attention, we have fun. But I can't assume she will be okay without taking the right precautions. Hence why there is kibble in every pocket I own. :-P

Congratulations to Maize's person for all of her success!

SherBear said...

Nala can be leash reactive with larger dogs in tight spaces - aka our elevator bank, front lobby area and sidewalks enclosed by say a building on one side and parked cars on the other (We are probably neighbors with you and Maize on the lakefront). The number one thing that has helped us is tons of focus work - esp sit/stays with unbroken eye contact. We do pretty much all of our training in the elevator, lobby and outdoors with yummy treats so Nala has learned it's beneficial to keep her eyes on me at all times, even if there is another furry creature around. If I am unsure how she is going to react when we see another dog I try to pull her off to the side and have her sit and watch me for treats. Other dog owners immediately understand that she is "in training" and give us space - Nala is usually wagging her tail at this point so other owners walking by will praise her too.

The most "dangerous" place for Nala is the elevators since the other dog appears out of nowhere. To combat this we do our sit/stay until the elevator door opens (and she is wagging her tail bc she just got a treat) and then I tell her wait so I can peak out and assess the situation. I also make sure not to be standing right in front of the elevator door when it opens so if there is a dog we don't know in it I can give both dogs their space (I always assume other dogs are leash reactive since it's so common).

Luckly Nala is a super social girl and loves doggy day care and playing at our building's dog park. If we are onleash in a grassy area and another dog is running up to us I have found it most beneficial to just drop Nala's leash and let her do her meet and greet on her own terms.

You can shoot me a message on the SociaBull site if you want to meet up for some practice meet and greets on the lakefront! I volunteer at ACS in dog training so I have some experience in this area.

Anonymous said...

this behavior is a tough one for all of us! Great tips on this post.

Some other resources as well:


and Patricia McConnell's books are always awesome:

jen said...

What a wonderul and informative post! I think I will use some of these tools on our daily walk!

Anonymous said...

Really good post. I can definitely relate. Pearl is LEASH REACTIVE (in caps on purpose!) and I live in a neighborhood in my city that is full of dogs. It is impossible to avoid them all, even when I walk her at 5 in the morning or 11 at night. It is especially hard because people assume your dog is aggressive or vicious and she really is not! I am glad to hear about people who have made positive strides with their dogs. I am definitely going to try out some of these tips.

Patty said...

Like Amy, we play the look at that or find the doggy game. Sophie has made huge strides in her leash reactiveness. We used to have to be quite far from a dog to play the look at that game. Now, we can be a few feet from the other dog and she thinks CHEESE!!

Road Dog Tales said...

Maize is so beautiful! Sounds like her person is doing all the rights things and she has come a long way. Yay for SociaBulls, too!

The Road Dogs

Anonymous said...

This is a great resource. Chick's reactivity has all but extinguished over the years, and we've used similar tactics to Maize's people. Thanks for sharing@

Unknown said...

30 dogs on your block alone? I am unsure of how many dogs live in our block, but know that it is nowhere near 30 (rural area). Unfortunately, few of our neighborhood dogs are lucky enough to get walked & are relegated to the backyard.

LOVE Maize's ears :)

Daisy Dog said...

This is great! Daisy is leash reactive but selective about it. With all the tools you described, plus a class in leash reactivity we have managed to get it under control. We started with a haltie like you, and have graduated to a martingale about a year ago after she passed her CGC.

Anonymous said...

Those are terrific ideas and I employ some of them with my own Mayzie. I discovered BAT (Behavioral Adjustment Training) and while I have been REALLY bad about putting it into practice, it made me realize that what Mayzie wants is just to get away from the other dog. So I do the "let's go" thing a LOT with her. Mainly, it's continuing to build up positive reinforcement and trust that I'm not going to put her in a situation she can't handle.

I'm planning on enrolling her in an "About Town" class, where we go different places with other dogs. Not really sure how it'll work because when she's in a class setting like that, she's totally fine. It's just when she sees another dog approaching.


P.S. About Rescue Me Week - YES! Levi TOTALLY counts! Just let everyone know that this is a special "Rescue Me Week" post featuring Levi.

Two Pitties in the City said...

I loved learning these strategies, and I think I'm going to start using these because our pooches can get so excited around other dogs. Usually Miss M will redirect onto Mr B, trying to get him to play, then I'm dealing with 2 big dogs playing like bears on leash. We have been so impressed with Maize's progress in Sociabulls as well!

A Confessed Pit Bull Addict said...

We just started a new class with Strut that focuses strictly on aggression/reactivity. We're not there for aggression(though we'll probably go back with our girl who is leash aggressive), but Strut gets way too worked up and scared the pants off of everyone, including the other dog. Everything Maizie and her mom are working on were touched on in our class. We're looking forward to getting to the point that we can go on sociabulls walks as well!

Emily said...

I can definitely identify with the frustration of leash reactivity because I have dealt with it in a variety of forms. My boy has it, but with him if he is able to approach the dog it completely goes away, and he meets great on a leash. He just thinks every dog is his friend and if we don't let him meet he gets overexcited.
I can't walk my boy and girl together because they go at each others faces when they see a dog! My boyfriend I can walk them at the same time, but they can't be walked by the same person.
Now our foster is probably the worst, she reacts and reacts and can't calm down. Long after the dog is out of sight she is still way overstimulated.
We are working on distraction, because you can't-- and I don't want to avoid it, especially with our foster. When we are at adoption events she has no choice but to sit and watch dogs go by. (We do adoptions at Petsmart.)
But I will say this-- when it comes to leash reactivity, it isn't even the behavior that is the most frustrating, but the way people look at you like you have a rabid out of control dog!

jet said...

great tips.... I especially like 'find it' - something new to try with my boy!

Two French Bulldogs said...

these are great tips mom says lets go and we turn quick too
Benny & Lily

Anonymous said...

Great post and great tips! I react to other dogs on walks too. Especially if they are still intact. Drives me nuts! We practice the 'take a different route' and distraction (Mom uses 'watch me' with hot dog treats as incentive ;) I've heard of the 'turn around' tactic butt Mom hasn't incorporated that yet. I'll remind her :)

Waggin at ya,

goosie mama said...

Great post! G and I combat the same thing: apartment elevator and lobby aggression. Basically any small small that she feels overly familiar with. It's a struggle, but we've been very diligent with our training and she's been getting better. She still has her ups and downs, but for the most part, she's starting to get the hang of things. I've also noticed that doggie day care really helps her to understand that dogs all over the place aren't so surprising!

Luis Carrasco said...

I'm so glad I found this blog! My wife and I have two pitties. Our older pit mix rescue Kakoe and our younger pit Kai. Out of the two, Kakoe is the one who is more leash reactive and has anxiety issues. Since our move into a midrise, we have endured our stressful days in the elevator, in tight spaces and dealing with other reactive dogs (specially the pint size dogs like Chihuahuas). We went to Curtis Scott and have been using allot of his tips when in tight spaces and with Kakoe’s anxiety which work most of the time. But after reading this post on different methods, I’m looking forward to using them starting today!
My wife and I are also super excited to meet the sociabull group. We applied and have finally been scheduled to do our first walk (without the dogs of course!

Unknown said...

Whenever I take my dog to the park he gets overly enthusiastic when he sees other dogs. He's a strong dog and I don't want him to drag me around; so what I did was that I got a dog leash anchor so that even if he goes wild, I won't be dragged along with him. He just stays around the area where I placed the dog leash anchor.

Mariah Blum

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