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How to Train Leash Reactive Dogs?

How to Train Leash Reactive Dogs?

If your dog is exhibiting strange or aggressive behavior while on a leash, he may be leash reactive. So just what is leash reactivity? In short, it’s when a dog reacts strongly to external stimuli while he is on a leash. This could include lunging, pulling, biting the leash, barking, or running. These unexpected reactions from a dog can not only scare pedestrians, but it could cause discomfort and even injury to your or your dog. 

Leash reactive dog training may sound complicated, but reactive dogs can get better. We’ve gathered all the information you need to know to help get your furry friend back on track while on the leash. Keep reading to learn more about how to deal with leash reactive dogs, what to do if your dog is reactive to other dogs, and a few great training techniques to try. 

Best Exercises to Train a Leash Reactive Dog

If you’re wondering how to train a reactive dog on a leash, we have you covered with some of the best expert-recommended exercises. Remember, patience will go a long way when you’re learning how to deal with leash reactive dogs, so take your time and go slowly. 

When you begin training, it’s best to start in a place that is familiar to your dog: 

  • Indoor reactivity practice. A familiar indoor area safe from distractions and danger will keep your dog calm and willing to train. 
  • Outdoor reactivity practice. Pet-friendly public places like parks and beaches have a ton of natural stimuli that your dog could react to and make great places to practice their new skills. 

It’s generally best to start with indoor training, where you can more closely control the environment. Once your dog has a better grasp on good leash behavior, you can move outdoors where there are more potential triggers or distractions. 

Indoor Reactivity Training 

Indoor reactivity training is the perfect anchor point for reactivity training. There are minimal distractions and triggers that could cause your dog to become reactive. Both of you will be more focused on the training at hand, leading to more successful outcomes. Here’s what to do. 

  • In your chosen indoor space, give your dog a simple command to attract their focus. Try “sit,” “here,” or “watch me.” Give him a tasty treat as a reward. 
  • If your dog begins to react to triggers, do not ignore his behavior. Instead, wait for a moment, then draw his attention back to you with a command. Reward him with a treat. 
  • Keep your dog’s attention with commands and treats to keep his focus on you instead of distractions. 

As you work with your dog, you’ll notice improvements in impulse control and attention. As he progresses, feel free to move to different indoor areas with more distractions. When your dog has mastered the indoors, you can begin heading outside to your yard, the next street, and beyond. 

Outdoor Leash Reactivity Training

Once your dog understands not to react to indoor triggers, it’s time to give him the chance to adjust his behavior when it comes to outdoor reactivity triggers. You can use the following outdoor exercises for leash reactivity training

  • Use the techniques you practiced indoors while out on a walk to familiar places. 
  • When your dog has shown progress, start walking in lesser-known areas that will challenge your dog. 
  • If there are triggers or stimuli nearby, catch your dog’s attention by calling them and giving a small command followed by a treat. 
  • Don’t give up! The process of reactivity training can be frustratingly slow; however, if you persist, you will succeed in the end with a reactivity-resistant dog and a newfound relationship with your dog that is joyous, healthy, and full of trust. 

Great Recommendations to Use for Leash Reactivity Training 

Whether your dog lunges at other dogs or pulls on the leash after a tempting smell, leash reactivity training will help make daily walks together an enjoyable experience. Here are a few extra tips that will make your leash training sessions even more effortless. 

  1. Avoid punishing your dog when he is reactive. The best response is to divert his attention to you with a command and a treat. 
  2. Don’t let your dog meet or sniff other dogs while he is on the leash. 
  3. Use a dog harness instead of a collar. They are more comfortable, safer, and more secure for both you and your dog. 
  4. Begin training in a familiar indoor area where distractions are at a minimum. When you do go outdoors, make sure you are aware of the potential triggers your dog may face. 
  5. Choose a high-value treat for rewarding your dog during training. A favorite snack will turn training into playful learning that dogs love. 

Must-Have Equipment for Leash Reactivity Training

Making sure you have the right tools for your leash reactivity training will ensure that sessions go smoothly. And the more prepared you are, the more motivated your pet will be to learn new skills. 

The Basics: 

  • A comfortable and well-fitting dog harness
  • A durable dog leash
  • Your dog’s favorite treat
  • Plenty of time and patience to work with your dog

Below, we’ll discuss how to find the best collar and the best harness for a leash-reactive dog. 

Best Harness for Reactive Dogs: Which One to Choose?

The best harness for a leash reactive dog is easy to find if you know what to look for. And yes, dog harnesses are a much better option than a traditional collar for reactivity training. Keep reading below to understand why you need a great harness and how to choose one that will work for you. 

No-Pull Training and Leash Training

Traditional collars don’t offer the safety, comfort, and security that harnesses can. With no-pull options designed to reduce tugging, harnesses are perfect for leash and leash reactivity training


You and your dog must work together to have successful walks, runs, or other adventures. This teamwork is reinforced with a high-quality dog harness as your dog learns not to pull, lunge, or run while on the leash. 


When a leash reactive dog wears a traditional collar with the leash, any pressure from pulling or lunging is directed right to the throat and neck. On the other hand, a harness distributes pressure around the chest and shoulders, which is much safer for your dog’s health. 

Additionally, conventional collars are easy to slip out of, so if you have an escape artist on your hands, you’ll definitely want to use a secure, well-fitting harness. 

Additional Control

The best harness for a leash reactive dog will allow you much more control over your dog’s movements than you might have with a traditional collar. This means that you will reduce your dog’s reactive behaviors without causing harm or discomfort to you or your pup. 

Getting the Best Lead for a Reactive Dog

If you want to get the most out of your training, you’ll also need to find the right lead for your reactive dog. How do you know which is the right leash? A great leash for training should have most, if not all, of the following features: 

  • Lead Length. A traditional leash of a suitable length will work just fine for reactivity training. However, a retractable leash with a reliable lock/release button will allow you to give or take as much length as you need for the activity at hand. 
  • Material. The material of your dog leash should be durable and strong. Nylon is an excellent affordable option that will stand up to even the most leash-reactive dogs. 
  • Tangle-Free Design. Retractable leashes offer a tangle-free design that traditional leashes lack, thanks to the lightweight plastic casing over the rolled leash length. This will help keep you and your dog safe while training. 
  • Easy to Clean. Adventurous and reactive dogs need leashes that will stand up to their activities. Nylon is an easy-to-clean material that won’t warp or stretch when wet. 
  • Lightweight. A leash that is too heavy, like a chain, won’t make a useful tool for reactivity training a dog. It can be too burdensome for you and your pup, making training sessions stressful and uncomfortable. 
  • Secure Attachment. The leash clip should be strong and secure to prevent it from breaking and allowing Fido to run away. 

Common Signs of a Dog’s Leash Reactivity

Leash reactivity is more than slight pulling when there is something of interest for your dog to smell. Instead of being curious, your dog may be feeling afraid, nervous, excited, or aggressive, which could result in some unsettling behaviors while out on a walk. 

Here are some of the most common leash-reactive behaviors you might see in your dog: 

  • Biting, nipping, or shaking the leash
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Stopping suddenly or refusing to walk
  • Trying to run away while on the leash
  • Sudden lunging or strong pulling when they see an animal, person, or vehicle
  • Being unusually vocal through barking or growling while on the leash

A leash reactive dog may show some of these signs when they aren’t on a leash, too. For example, if you keep your pup in a crate or gated room, they may jump, bark, or whine. Keep in mind that these dogs are reacting to being constrained in some way; with training, you can help your dog adapt to walking on a leash. 

Why Is Your Dog So Reactive on a Leash?

A great way to start leash reactivity training is by understanding what could be causing your dog to be reactive in the first place. Identifying and minimizing triggers can help set you up for a more effective training session with your four-legged friend. Below are some of the most common triggers that lead to leash reactivity. 

  • Frustration at being leashed
  • Fear or insecurity that causes them to attack, lunge, or run
  • A traumatic experience
  • Natural instinct to chase prey
  • A desire to seek conflict
  • Other animals, people, bikes, cars, and other outdoor stimuli

Get a Lease Your Dog Won’t React to From Pet&Cuddle!

As long as you have the right tools in your toolkit, leash reactive dog training doesn’t have to be a drag. The best high-quality harnesses and leashes will help you strengthen your relationship with your dog while reducing unwanted behaviors while walking with a leash. 

The dog experts at Pet&Cuddle know pets - even the reactive ones. And we know that all pets deserve the best. That’s why our products have each been designed with the dog in mind. Comfort, safety, security, durability, and style infuse every harness and leash so that you can help your pup learn how to control his reactions when walking. Thanks to the lightweight plastic handle, tangle-free design, and intuitive lock/release button, our retractable leashes make an ideal training tool.

If you’re ready to start leash reactivity training with your dog, head over to Pet&Cuddle for the best harnesses and leashes

Questions About Leash Reactive Dogs

Still have a few questions about leash reactivity training? We’ve got this covered. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about leash reactive dogs

Can reactive dogs get better?

Reactive dogs can get better and improve their behavior with consistent and effective training. 

Should I use retractable leashes for reactive dogs?

A retractable leash is an excellent tool for reactivity training. During training, make sure to keep the length locked so you can fully control your dog’s movements. 

Why are collars bad for reactive dogs?

Reactive dogs tend to pull on their leashes; a standard collar puts all of that force on the dog’s neck. Continued collar use with a reactive dog could result in health issues like nerve damage, breathing problems, and blood flow restriction. 

Does dog reactivity get better with age?

Dogs usually become calmer with age as their energy levels go down. However, if your dog hasn’t been adequately trained to control reactivity, this could still be an issue. Beginning reactivity training early on is best. 

Can you cure leash reactivity?

Leash reactivity could stem from various causes, so it’s essential to focus on managing it instead of curing it. With thorough training and an understanding of your dog’s temperament and behavior, leash reactivity can be kept under control. Plus, good training is much healthier for your dog than canine medications. 

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