Contact Us

Get in touch!

Call Us

Skills To Help Leash Reactivity In Dogs

By Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, LFDM, FFCP

If you have a dog who is reactive; growls, barks, lunges or fixates on other dogs, people, animals, vehicles or anything else, then the skills in this blog may be helpful. Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let me simply explain what reactive behavior or reactivity is. Reactive behavior represents an emotional response to a stimulus (i.e., the sight, sound and/or smell of something) that triggers an abnormal level of intensity (i.e., an over reaction). To learn more, you can read my blog on Reactive Behavior In Dogs. You can also check out my blog on Leash Reactivity In Dogs. 

Note: Remember that each dog is an individual, which means each dog has their own reasons for reacting. This also means that each dog needs their own individual training plan and behavior modification plan. The skills in this blog do not guarantee proper behavior change. This blog is intended to provide a few helpful skills, BUT it is NOT a full training and behavior modification plan. These are skills to help your dog have success during the training and behavior modification process. You may need to hire dog trainer to help you and your dog make proper and long lasting change. If you live near me on Long Island and would like in-person help, contact me. If you are out of my service area and would like in-person or virtual dog training help, click here! 

Quest the dog sitting on a rock near a lake

6 Skills To Help Your Dog’s Reactive Behavior

1- Luring

Luring is a simple skill, but you need to teaching this and practice this skill through constant repetitions in a variety of locations so that it becomes a fluid skill to you and your dog. Luring is simply having food in your hand and having your dog follow the hand with food in whatever direction you move. Luring can be used to teach dogs skills like sit, down, stand, heel and so much more. For dog’s who are reactive, luring is a great skill to help manage your dog’s behavior by luring them away from a trigger (something that causes your dog to react). This is a great way to help your dog avoid a reaction. Even my own dog, Quest, who can be reactive, has this skill in her tool box which has gotten us out of some difficult situations. Start this exercise at home and in quiet environments away from triggers before trying to use this in a real life situation. Repetitions in quiet environments away from triggers or at a distance from triggers are really important so that this behavior becomes useful when it is truly needed.

Here are some video’s of luring:

Instructional Video On How To Teach Your Dog About Luring

Example of Luring Around Triggers To Avoid A Reaction

2- Auto Focus

There are a lot of exercises to teach a dog to focus and check in with you. I like teaching multiple exercises to teach my dog to focus on me. One of those exercises is the Auto Focus exercise, where the dog has to focus/check in on their own, WITHOUT me asking my dog to do so. Start this exercise at home, then move to quiet environments away from triggers before trying to use this in a real life situation. Successful repetitions are key with this exercise.

Here are video’s on how to teach the auto focus:

Instructional Video On Auto Focus With Millie

Introduction To Auto Focus With Dash

3- Tapping To Redirect

Some dog’s benefit from physical touch or a tactile cue to be redirected from a trigger so that they don’t react or over react. To introduce this skill, toss a treat in front of your dog by saying “get it”. Once your dog has consumed the treat, use your hand or index finger to tap on your dog’s rear or somewhere on their body and tap your dog twice. When your dog turn’s his head, reward your dog! Repeat the process. The goal is to teach your dog when you tap them, it will cue them to turn and look at you, at which point your can reward and walk away from the trigger. Start this exercise at home, then move to quiet environments away from triggers before trying to use this in a real life scenario. Successful repetitions in quiet environments away from triggers or at a distance from triggers are really important so that this behavior becomes useful when it is actually needed.

Click here to watch a video on what Tapping for redirection looks like.

4- Name Response

Spending time practicing your dog’s name response is important. Even if you dog knows his name, spending time making sure your dog can respond to his name in distracting environments and around triggers is important. Name response is another way of redirecting your dog away from a trigger to avoid a reaction. For me, a dog’s name means to turn and look at me or come to me. If your dog knows his name, then while on a walk, randomly call your dog by his name. If he turns to look at you, mark and reward for a job well done! If I am on a 15 to 20 minute walk with my dog, I might only practice this skill 3 to 5 times within that 15 to 20 minutes at random while my dog is sniffing, exploring or looking at a trigger WITHOUT reacting or over reacting so that I can get those successful repetitions in before using this in a  real life scenario.

Click here to watch the introduction to the Name Game

5- Side Position / Heel Position

Teaching a side or heel position can be beneficial for some dog’s to help keep them close to you rather than lunging forward towards a trigger. What I also like is that you can teach your dog to do this skill on both the left and right side so that you can always move your dog to either side depending on where a trigger is located. I also like this skill as a way of being in between my dog and the trigger so that my body becomes a little bit of a shield or protective layer for my dog when passing a trigger. (There is a video of this below with me demonstrating this with Quest as a puppy.) I also like this skill because once my dog gets into a side position, I can then choose to lure my dog to move away from a trigger without having a reaction or over reaction. This skill requires a lot of practice and repetition away from triggers before trying to use this in a real life situation.

Here are two helpful videos:

How to introduce a side position 

Using a side position to move my dog away from a trigger

6- Play and Reward Events

For many dogs, play and reward events for a job well done can help create joy, confidence and trust in the face of triggers. It can also help create a window of opportunity in situations where they may otherwise react as play can help your dog become motivated or interested in playing or training and less focused or fixated on the triggers in the environment. To learn more about play and reward events using toys and food, click here to read my detailed blog with helpful videos on this topic.

How to Manage Reactive and Aggressive Behavior In Dogs

Get my helpful guide on How to Manage Reactive and Aggressive Behavior where you will get helpful tips and suggestions all by clicking here!

Additional Helpful Videos On Reactive Behavior in Dogs

What are Triggers? 

Having Success With Leash Reactivity

Reactivity Skills and Behavior Modification Session

Leash Reactivity- Before and After 

Reactive Towards Cars- Session Clip

Most important dog training tip

Getting Your Dog and Yourself Help

If you would like help and live near me on Long Island, click here! If you are out of my service area or out of state and would like in-person dog training or virtual dog training help, reach out to me to see how I can help you!

Follow Anthony On: 

Facebook

Instagram

Youtube

About Anthony De Marinis

Anthony with his dog, Journey in the woods

Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and dog training services in most of Nassau County and western Suffolk County on Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), and a Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP). Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding with his own dogs. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest.

Anthony

Anthony De Marinis specializes in working with dogs with behavior issues, specifically with aggressive behavior. He provides comprehensive in-home behavior consultations and dog training services in most of Nassau County and western Suffolk County on Long Island, NY. (Online Virtual Consultations for aggression and behavior modification are also available for clients who are local and out of state.) Anthony is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Accredited Dog Trainer by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Licensed Family Dog Mediator (LFDM), and a Fear Free Certified Training Professional (FFCP). Anthony currently has an interest in training and behavior modification in Working & Sport bred dogs. He is also learning about and currently competing in agility and sheep herding with his own dogs. Anthony has two Australian Kelpies, Journey and Quest.

August 13, 2023