What can make our dog walks less stressful, and what may have caused my dog to become reactive and stressed on their lead walks suddenly?

What can make our dog walks less stressful, and what may have caused my dog to become reactive and stressed on their lead walks suddenly?

For some owners walking their dog can be so stressful.

Not all dogs are the same, so what suits one dog doesn’t suit all dogs. Yes, dogs need exercise of some sort every day, whether that be scent work or mental stimulation in a quiet environment. This doesn’t mean we have to take our dogs to the local park every day to mix with other dogs, not all dogs are suited to the park environment, especially those with reactive or anxiety issues. We also can’t control what other owners are doing with their dogs. It just seems some owners are lacking in respecting other dog owners and all common sense is going out the window when people are out walking their dogs. So, this is for some dog owners walking their dogs. If you see a dog approaching on the lead please recall your dog back to you. ( If you don’t have 100% recall don’t let your dog off the lead). Don’t shout he’s friendly, he only wants to play as your dog races towards the other dog on a lead because you have no idea of the emotional state of the other dog. Please don’t approach dog owners asking to stroke their dogs on a lead, you have no right to invade a dog’s space. if you see someone training their dog, don’t make a beeline to them with your ball throwers but keep your distance. Please, owners, you must have your dog back, especially if they are nervous, many times I have to tell people don’t touch my dog when I’m out training. I’m going to think about my own dog’s needs before that person who wants to stroke my dog. We just think as owners that our dogs should accept and like every other dog and every person that comes our way. This can be very damaging to your dog’s behaviour and puts them in the same situation over and over again. I wouldn’t like a stranger walking towards me and trying to stroke my head.

What could be some of the causes of why your dog has suddenly started being reactive/nervous on the lead?

This is something I get asked a lot from owners.

Again going back to reading the information above I have given you so far it won’t help your reactive dog by putting them in the same situations constantly. Many dog owners are struggling on walks with their dog’s reactive fearful behaviour. So, let us look at some scenarios that could be contributing to your dog’s reactive behaviour on the lead. Again this is not pointed toward all dogs, remember every dog is different and some have different needs, and your dog may be well-balanced and has no issues with parks or dog daycare. One of the problems is you letting your dog off the lead every day in the local park to run wild like adrenaline junkies and play with dogs they don’t even know. Can you as a dog owner read your dog’s body language and is their play mirrored happy? Do you have 100 % recall? When your dog is playing with other dogs are they spending more time on their back or getting bullied by other dogs, or trying to avoid other dogs? Are you taking your dog to doggy daycare? Again not all dogs are suited to this environment and this could be making your nervous and reactive dog worse because they can become overwhelmed very quickly. Owners will say he’s tired when he comes home from doggy daycare but in some cases, this can be due to them being stressed out all day and not getting any chill time away from other dogs. If you need a doggy daycare, find one that offers individual care and an environment that is tailored to your dog’s needs for your nervous reactive dog. They should have trained staff that understands dog’s body language, the last thing you want is your dog getting bullied all day by other dogs.

Another common question.

My dog goes to dog daycare and socialises with dogs all day, but when I go for walks with him on the lead, he’s started being reactive towards other dogs but he’s ok off the lead. Another common problem if we think about it logically is that your dog has been so used to running free in the local park with other dogs or in doggie daycare hanging out with dogs all day, with no boundaries just doing what dogs do like playing or possibly getting bullied constantly.

So, you as an owner then put the lead on your dog to go for that relaxing walk, but your dog has been used to freedom and running up to whatever dog whether that be in the park or doggie daycare.

For example, you’re out walking your dog on the lead and see a dog approaching you, your dog starts getting overwhelmed because he can’t get to that dog because he’s on his lead, and your dog’s been used to going over to dogs when he wants to. So, this is where your dog’s reactive behaviour can start to kick in, he’s hit the end of the lead feeling pressure, and he’s gone to the next level barking and lunging at the other dog through frustration. So, it’s not always aggressive behaviour, it’s more likely frustration. In some cases, you may have a very nervous dog on the lead, and when it hits the end of the lead they want to take flight because remember when dogs are free in doggy daycare or the park environment they can remove themselves without the restriction of the lead. Owners have said to me yes he has got worse on the lead since going to doggy daycare but I didn’t connect it to his behaviour.

The other problem that can occur is in doggy daycare they will insist after six months your dog is castrated, I totally understand why they ask you to do this, but for some dogs castration isn’t a good idea for your already unbalanced nervous dog that has behavioural issues. Unfortunately, fear-based aggression is often made worse after castration due to a fairly rapid drop in blood testosterone, the very hormone that was keeping them self-confident and relaxed in the presence of potentially threatening situations. So, putting some dogs in this environment daily will certainly make your nervous or reactive dog worse.

How to teach your reactive dog to be calm and walk nicely on the lead, you need to practice in a quiet environment. Dogs cannot learn new skills when they are overstimulated and distracted. I would start in your home environment and work on your engagement with your dog as this is especially important. Engagement is everything, this means your dog should be focused on you and not on other dogs and people in the environment. You can use treats or your dog’s favourite toy to work with.

Try to vary your dog’s daily routes to the park. If your dog drags you to the park, he is learning how to access these things and it is self-rewarding for him but this is not helping your engagement training or your lead walking.

For example, you can start lead walks in your home environment. If your dog pulls the second you walk out the door, then bring him back in again and practice in the house. Then when you think your dog is improving, try again with the front door open and practice in and out. The next step is down the path to your gate, this is a mental exercise and it is just as tiring as physical exercise. Also, don’t let the lead be a trigger for excitable behaviour, dogs should learn to be calm when the lead comes out for a walk. Randomly through the day pop the lead on your dog and take it off again, the lead shouldn’t always mean going for a walk and excitable behaviour, this is not a good start for your walk.

Exercising your nervous reactive dog.

You can provide physical exercise in other ways. Put your dog in a car and drive them somewhere quiet, so they can do some sniffing and exploring because this is so relaxing and calming for reactive dogs. You could hire a field that is safe and enclosed. Provide your dog with plenty of enrichment games or puzzles. Even just finding a quiet spot when you’re walking and sitting down with your dog so they can watch the world go by at a safe distance. I love doing this with my dogs. If you find waking your dogs is not helping improve their behaviour or mindset, a couple of decompression days isn’t going to hurt, while you focus on implementing a clear training routine that you can enjoy with your dog. Please get help from a dog trainer if you are struggling.

All dogs can go through periods of high stress, this is normal and sometimes unavoidable because it’s part of life, but we as owners can try help not to keep putting our dogs constantly in the same situations over and over again. Remember when cortisol enters the body due to constant stressful events, it can take up to 72 hours for levels to return to normal. So, please take this into account with your dog’s training. Walking our dogs doesn’t have to be stressful if we pick the right environments and training methods for our dogs.

Justine Shone

JP Holistic Nutrition

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