Leash reactivity in dogs is more common than owners realize. It usually has one of two sources: fear or dominance, fear being the most common. These are very different motivations, yet the response from the dogs tends to be similar, both defaulting to a type of predatory hunter behavior. Because of this, understanding predation can help us control leash reactivity, regardless of its source.
All dogs are predatory hunters by nature. Besides being a way to get food, the techniques for taking down prey can also be a nervous dog’s means of protecting himself and a dominant dog’s way of establishing or owning territory.
Predation presents in 6 predictable stages, and always in the same order:
- Locate the “victim”
- Eye stalk
- Grab bite
- Kill bite
What we call leash reactivity usually begins at Stage 2 (Eye-Stalking) and, thankfully, rarely goes beyond Stage 4. The dog will “lock on” visually to the victim he has located. He will usually freeze his body movement, close his mouth and focus intently on the other dog. When the victim draws nearer, Stage 3 (Lunging) will quickly ensue, often with much vocal ado.
Because predation is generally a straight-line process, break one stage and you can usually stop the process! In the case of leash reactivity, BREAKING THE EYE STALK becomes most helpful. Practically speaking, there are many suggested methods for dealing with leash reactivity, but the ones that work have one thing in common: They all break the eye stalk.
Blocking the victim from view can be accomplished in any number of ways. (Distracting with food, turning around, vision-blocking hoods, covering the eyes, etc.) My favorite, however, is the umbrella. When open, it is wide and concave with plenty of room for a dog’s head. When their dog locates a possible “victim” and begins to eye-stalk, owners can open an automatic umbrella and keep it in front of their dog’s moving face while they continue walking by or choose another wider or divergent path. Once they’ve passed the other dog, they can collapse the umbrella and carry on!
© 2020 Camilla Gray-Nelson
Dairydell Canine (707) 762-6111