The Star-Herald

Reacting to the leash

I have a sister who lives downstate and gets free issues of Downeast Dog News.  It is a great little newspaper that comes out periodically.  It has some great articles, lots of advertisements on pet-welcoming hotels and motels, veterinarians’ locations, shelters in that area, and what is up for adoption for dogs in the area.  She always saves them for me after she has finished with them.I was reading one of the newspapers the other day and came across an article that I didn’t even know was a common behavior in dogs.   It was called Leash Reactivity in Dogs by Christine D. Calder, DVM, DACVB, of Calder Veterinary Behavior Services. Their website is www.caldervbs.com.

According to Calder, leash reactivity is a common behavior in dogs. Often characterized by barking, growling, lunging, snapping and biting, this behavior can be directed towards people, other dogs, or objects such as bikes, cars or strollers.  Reactive dogs often have poor social skills resulting in fear, anxiety, and frustration directed towards others on walks.

One of the steps Calder recommends is to have the right tools to manage your dog. This improves safety for both you and your dog. She suggests using a harness that clips on the front, a head collar and a 4- to 6-foot leash, but never a retractable leash.

Calder said owners should watch their body language as well. Humans send signals to their dog every time they tighten the leash, yell or pull the dog closer to them. Over time, dogs can become sensitive to their owners’ behavior, resulting in an increase in reactivity.  She said when walking your dog, people should breathe deeply, keep a loose leash, hold the leash with two hands and never wrap the leash around a wrist. 

“Avoid triggers and keep moving,” Calder said, adding humans must make sure there is distance between their dog and any triggers. “Crossing the street, emergency U-turns, stepping off a trail, hiding behind a tree or parked car can keep your dog feeling safe.  If avoidance is not possible, keep moving and engage your dog,” the article states.

Calder also suggested using a pleasant voice when interacting with a dog, to encourage eye contact.  

Though it can be challenging to work with dogs who react to a leash, it can also be rewarding, Calder said. If owners take time and practice with their pups, the animals can learn that even a scary trigger can be associated with a good time — and in time, dogs will behave better when out walking.

Owners may also consider getting help from a veterinarian or a dog trainer.

If you are looking for a friend for life, check out the Central Aroostook Humane Society, located at 24 Cross Street in Presque Isle  They have some great animals looking for that forever home.  

Please be responsible — spay and neuter your pets!.

Gail Wieder is a member of the Central Aroostook Humane Society board of directors.

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