Snoqualmie Pets 101: Rex: Portrait of a Leash Reactive Dog

In her newest column, pet trainer for Le Chic Pet, lets one of her canine clients help explain the dog phenomenon of “Leash Reactiveness.” Look for a follow-up to Rex’s journey in two weeks.

rex1Hi my name is Rex!

I was rescued as a 2 ½ year old by my pet parents Jeanne and Bob. They had a friendly and nice Golden Retriever named Spencer who unfortunately died of Lymphoma at the age of four.   We Goldens have a reputation for being nice and warm family dogs, so they decided to go the rescue route and they found me!

Seeing how I’m such a looker, it was love at first sight. I met their dog friend Sophie and played well with her. I also lived with another Golden and a cat; shh don’t tell my dog friends about the cat….that could be embarrassing. So my new mom and dad decided to take me for a walk to seal the deal. I was so excited! Before we left my foster mom told them my secret – that I seemed to “not like other dogs.”  She said I did a lot of barking when I saw other dogs. My potential new parents leashed me up and off we went.

I tried my best to show off my new leash skills and walked contentedly with Sophie, until I saw another dog. He was waaayyy far off in the distance. So far off my new friends could barely see him. He made me so mad I turned from that handsome fellow above, into this…


I exploded into a lunging, barking, snarling beast quite unlike the affable fellow my prospective adoptive parents just met.  

They didn’t know what to think.  After a time I calmed down and, lucky for me, they were so smitten by me that they took me home. 

Little did they know I was “leash reactive” and that we were going to have quite a long journey discovering what that meant and how best to deal with it.

I’ll let my trainer person Melissa take over now. Nice talking with you, WOOF!

“Leash Reactivity” is a term trainers use to describe dogs who have trouble meeting other dogs while leashed.  The trouble can range from avoidance to full-blown aggressive displays. We don’t know how or why Rex came to be this way. Very little is known about his time before Jeanne and Bob rescued him. What we do know is that he spent much of his time in a small apartment and that his leash skills in general were very poor. He may have just missed out on that crucial time in a puppy’s life when they develop good social skills. This problem is very common and many people hide their dog away embarrassed or fearful at the fuss he or she is making on his walks. Unfortunately avoiding walks and/or other dogs will only make the problem worse.

When allowed to greet naturally, dogs tend to approach each other in a curve or a semi-circular arc. This progresses to the” butt sniff” and the decision if they’d like to play or keep moving along. This is the polite way to greet if you are a dog.

Some dogs will be cranky with one another, though, when greeting on a leash.  The reason for this is that they are forced to greet head on.  In dog-speak this can be considered threatening and rude.  In addition, many humans pull back on the leash and hold it very tightly; communicating tension to the dog through the leash and making the dog feel cornered. In Rex’s case, the very sight of another dog could provoke a reactive response.

Grrr, woof, ruff!… yes Rex? I think a dog should explain this, make it easy for everyone. Ok, go ahead!

Alright! So imagine this…every day you see the same neighbor at the bus stop and every day you greet each other in the same human way. You say hello, maybe shake hands or give your friend a little clap on the back. One day you walk up to the bus stop and your neighbor drops to all fours and sticks his nose up your butt, how would you feel? Weird I’ll bet, maybe rather insulted, and maybe even flat-out ticked off! This is how some dogs feel when they are forced to greet like a human, face to face. 

Well thank you Rex. That was a very, umm, descriptive way to explain it. I think we’ve got it now.

The “bottom” line is that this condition is fixable and with a lot of work with a qualified trainer there is hope.

Stay tuned! In two weeks I’ll explain how with help, Rex and his person leaned positive ways to change Rex’s behavior by changing how he feels when he sees another dog…


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