Leash Training

Leash Reactivity in Dogs – Behavior Causes & Training Tips

by Karen Parquet

Life With Dogs is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.

Sharing is caring!

As a dog owner, one of the most frustrating experiences is walking your pup and having them become extremely reactive to leash cues. Whether it’s another dog, a person, or a car driving by, it can be incredibly difficult to handle.

But never fear! With some patience and consistent training, your pup can learn how to stay calm and collected when on their leash. So, let’s look at some leash reactivity causes and what you can do to help train your pup out of the reactive behavior! 

Leash Reactivity in Dogs

Woman with Her Aggressive Dog Outdoors Closeup

We know dogs as man’s best friend for a reason – they’re loyal, loving, and great company. But even the best of friends can sometimes have disagreements – like when your dog is walking on a leash and sees another dog. If you walk your dog without a leash, you may be in hot water at some point. 

If your dog barks and lunges at the other dog, it’s what we call “leash reactivity.” Read on to learn more about this behavior, its causes, and how to train your dog to be calm and friendly around other dogs on walks.

Causes of Leash Reactivity in Dogs

The first step to correcting any behavior is understanding why it’s happening. There are three main reasons a pup may become reactive when on their leash: fear, breed, or excitement.

Fear-based reactions include:

  • Cowering
  • Trembling
  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Growling at strangers
  • Other animals
  • Hiding behind you for protection

All these reactions stem from feeling scared or intimidated by something they don’t understand. Excitement-based reactions include pulling towards the thing that excites them (other animals, people), excessive barking/jumping around, and whining/crying because of wanting something they can’t have (like chasing after another animal). These reactions come from feeling overwhelmed.

Training Tips To Reduce Leash Reactivity

Asian Man Training his Dog

There are many methods out there you can use to train your dog not to be reactive. Personally, I like clicker training and positive reinforcement. I find that it makes a stronger bond between myself and my dogs when I’m training them. There are a few things you’ll have to learn on your own while training your dog, but with consistency, you’ll get there!

  • Introduce new environments slowly. If there are too many distractions all at once, it could cause your pup to become quickly overwhelmed.
  • Practice basic commands, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “down,” using treats as rewards for good behavior. This helps establish trust between you and your pup, which makes training easier.
  • Be patient. Remember that all dogs learn at different paces, so don’t expect immediate results. Give yourself and your pup time!
  • Start leash training as soon as possible. This helps your pup get used to being around people and other dogs while out on a walk. Use a training muzzle if you need to should your dog be highly reactive towards other people or dogs.
  • Reward your pup with praise when they display good behavior. This helps reinforce positive behaviors, which are vital when trying to reduce leash reactivity.
  • Always remain consistent with commands and rewards that are given during training. Inconsistency can cause.
Dog on a long leash

With patience and consistency in training, leash reactivity in dogs can be controlled and eventually eliminated! Remember to remain calm while training; positive reinforcement works best when trying to correct unwanted behaviors in pups.

If all else fails, don’t forget that professional trainers are always available who specialize in working with reactive dogs and can provide more guidance tailored to your situation.

As pet owners know, training a dog is key to living harmoniously with our furry friends. Of all the tricks and tips for behavior management, I suggest three foundational basics. First up is “look at me,” where you draw your pup’s attention back to you anytime they get excited and startled.

When that happens, they take their eyes off of the distraction, literally seeing the world through your interpretation like you are their life compass. This technique also helps strengthen the bond between you while reining in unwanted behaviors early on.

Second is distance control, so it’s not just forming an obedient pup but also a respectful one. It is done by confining interactions to safe distances and having a handle on personal space boundaries: yours and others – mixed with a good dose of respect, even at playtime between housemates or outdoors!

Third, positive reinforcement by providing treats gets those brains firing the right way – part of the strike-while-the-iron’s-hot strategy – so call upon this tool whenever your pup does something that deserves recognition from their favorite person: you!

By remembering these three essential tips for teaching your pup lessons in cooperation between species, they will thank you for being such an assertive leader, especially if there are snacks involved… Yum!

Behaviors to Look Out For – Signs of Stress

Puppy biting leash by mans legs refusing to go

Once you understand why your pup is reacting a certain way on their leash, you can begin working on ways to reduce their reactivity. Foremost—remain calm! If you get angry or frustrated with how your pup is behaving, this will only make things worse as they pick up on those feelings from you and react accordingly.

Naturally, working with a veterinary behaviorist is also beneficial in helping you read your dog’s body language and symbolism in leash reactivity and aggression. Finding out the underlying cause will help us redirect our pup’s energy in a more healthy way and give them confidence on leash.

You can also help them let off some steam with a good game of fetch! Either way, addressing leash reactivity should be done with care and patience so everyone involved can have positive experiences with their furry companions.

A leash-reactive dog isn’t necessarily an aggressive or disobedient dog but one that displays certain behaviors while they’re on a leash. This can include pulling, barking, lunging, and other similar behaviors.

A leash-reactive dog is exhibiting these inappropriate behaviors because it feels restricted by the leash and perceives a threat. To break this behavior cycle, owners must learn how to differentiate between real danger and everyday events that pose no threat.

It is essential to familiarize your dog with situations that could cause leash reactivity—such as loud noises, people in costumes, or bicycle-riding mail carriers—to desensitize them and create trust in their leash environment.

Working with a certified dog trainer can be a helpful way to understand how dogs perceive the world around them in order to help train leash reactivity out of your canine friend and teach you how to redirect their behavior.

Here are some behaviors to look for:

  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Pulling
  • Snarling
  • Growling
  • Startled reactions to loud noises and unexpected things
  • Avoidance/Fear of certain objects or people
  • Biting/Nipping if feeling threatened or in fear
  • Freezing in place, not wanting to move
  • Cowering/Submissive behavior
  • Excessive barking at other dogs and people

These behaviors could suggest leash reactivity, so it’s vital that you recognize the signs in order to work on getting your pup the help they may need. Also, make sure you’re paying close attention to their body language signals

It is essential to be mindful when dealing with leash reactivity, which means having the patience to listen and understand your pup’s feelings in order to create a positive experience for both of you. With time, effort, and love, your pup can learn how to trust their environment even when on a leash.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by leash reactivity issues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Working with a certified canine behaviorist can help you not only understand why your pup is acting the way they are but also learn how to train and redirect those behaviors with leash reactivity protocol in a positive way!

Here, I’ll give an example. My Jack Russell Terrier (JRT) Rocco was extremely leash reactive when we got him. He would display all the behavior issues and more while walking. I took him through some intense training and practiced the No Free Lunch (NFL) method.

No Free Lunch basically means you’re asking your dog to do something before they get anything, attention, food, toys, etc.

Beagle with treat

What you’ll want to do is to have plenty of high-value treats around. So when your pup is reacting to something, you can give them a treat such as string cheese as soon as they make eye contact with you, taking their attention away from the thing that was making them react.

This will help teach your pup that if he looks away and doesn’t pay attention to what he’s feeling nervous about, then good things can happen!

This helps build trust in their environment and can help break leash reactivity. Consistency is critical here, so be sure to keep practicing this method until your pup gets the hang of it.


So, have you ever dealt with a leash-reactive canine companion? If so, we’d love to hear your story in the comments below! In addition, if you have any tips or advice on how to train a dog not to be reactive when leashed—especially if that dog is anxious or fearful—please share.

It can be tough dealing with this type of dog behavior problem. But with patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement (plus some helpful tips from experts), it is possible to get your pup to stop reacting negatively.

Leave a Comment