We adopted Gus after one of our pups passed away at the age of seventeen. My husband and I were told by the rescue (Love Leo Rescue) that he was a bit more challenging than they had anticipated. They noted that he seemed to be leash aggressive and reactive, but got along great with other dogs off leash. I feel like this happens a lot, where dogs are more ramped up when on leash, than they are when off leash. But, we can’t all let our dogs off their leashes, although that sounds like my personal heaven. Here are a few things that worked for us when it came to keeping Gus calm.
Dogs are super sensitive to the energy in their environment, and will easily pick up on your nerves, or anxiety. In this way, you can get kind of stuck in a cycle where your dog reacts, so you feel anxious in anticipation of their next reaction, and then they feed off of you anticipatory emotional charge and react again. This creates a not so fun pattern to deal with every time you try to take your pup on a walk. Try taking some deep breaths, and really check in with how you are feeling emotionally before you head out for a walk. The calmer you remain, the easier it will be to break this exhausting cycle.
The first few times I walked Gus, our trainer pointed out that my arms were quite stiff. This is something I probably wouldn’t have noticed on my own, as it was so subtle. This slight stiffness created more tension on his leash, which sent him the message that I was anxiously anticipating something. It took a few times for me to get the hang of really relaxing my body, but once I did, he began relaxing too.
Even though it can be super fun and cute to get your pup all excited about their walk, you are inadvertently pumping up their energy. Remember, with dogs, excited energy can easily turn into out of control energy aka potentially lots of barking, lunging and pulling on their leash. One of the best tricks our trainer taught us was to remain super calm when gathering their leashes, and only after they laid down and calmed themselves did they get the leash put on them. If they ramped up again, we would wait again until they calmed down, laid down and relaxed their faces. At most this took us ten minutes, and it significantly made a difference. I’ve taken Gus out without waiting for him to fully calm himself prior to our walk, and it is such a drastic difference.
These tricks take time to get the hang of, so be patient with yourself and your pup. Think of these exercises like mini challenges that you both get to work through together. This change in perspective can make this challenging behavior feel more like a great learning and bonding experience for you and your pup. You can always call for backup from a trainer if your pup’s leash behavior feels too overwhelming for you.
About the Author: Gabrielle Applebury is a Marriage and Family Therapist intern who specializes in working with individuals who have experienced trauma. Together with her husband she has adopted three dogs, two cats and two horses. She uses her horses to provide equine assisted therapy, and her three-legged pup Lily often accompanies her to work. Find her on Instagram:@lilythetripod, Twitter: @gabbyapplebury, and on her Website: theptsdcenters.com.