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Is Your Dog Reactive on a Leash? Here are 3 Foundation Behaviors to Teach Them | Pupford

August 24th, 2023

Filed under Training

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Leash reactivity is one of the most common challenges discussed throughout in our community. However, when looking for solutions, we find that a lot of pup parents go right for the more complex or advanced training methods.

Sometimes that works out and that’s great, but sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming for you and your pup and may not lead to the success you’re looking for.

Our advice: go back to the basics.

There are a few foundation behaviors you can teach your dog that will set them up for a successful journey of leash reactivity training. Today we’re going to focus on three:

  • Automatic attention
  • Responding to their name
  • Taking treats while walking

Read on to learn how to teach these behaviors, and how they can help set you (and your dog) up for success in your journey to reduce leash reactivity!

Okay, now we’re ready to get serious… at least a little bit. Here are some of the foundational behaviors you can use to help your dog reduce their leash reactivity!



What is it?

Automatic attention sounds fancy, but it’s a quite simple concept: your dog automatically gives you their attention.

The goal of teaching automatic attention is to get your dog to turn their attention to you by default – without you having to even prompt them.

Your dog’s ability to turn their attention to you is a key indicator of their leash reactivity training success. After all, the goal is to help them divert their attention away from reactions – and ultimately towards you!

How to teach it

Teaching automatic attention is easy, but it requires just as much attention from you.

To do this, you’ll be rewarding your dog any time they choose to make eye contact with you unprompted. We call this behavior “checking in. 

This is a little different than the “look at me” behavior because in that case, you are prompting your dog to look at you. With automatic attention, however, you want them to initiate eye contact.

Make sure to reward your dog the instant they make eye contact with you by using a cue word like “yes” or a clicker, paired with a high-value training treat to help them clearly understand what they are being rewarded for.

Eventually, your dog will learn that looking towards you is good and expected. Over time, you can fade out the frequency of the reward, but be sure your dog has had enough practice before you do that!


What is it?

A lot of dogs already respond to their name, so this may not apply to you. But you want to make sure that your dog is responding to their name every time, even with distractions around. That’s the challenge.

In terms of leash reactivity, responding to their name means responding even when something more enticing is going on, like another dog, a car, or anything else that elicits a reaction.

PS – please tell us your dog’s cutest, punniest, and most unique names in the comments just for fun!

How to teach it

If your dog doesn’t yet respond to their name, whether it be because of their age or any other reason, start by saying their name often and rewarding them when they look at you.

Tip: Never use your name in a negative manner, make sure it is associated with positive things.

Next, put this to the test when you’re out for a walk. Start with situations where there are no triggers around so your dog can really focus on your ask. Then, gradually call their name in the presence of more distractions, at random times, etc., to get them used to it in all situations.

Over time, the goal is to have your dog be able to respond to their name when called instead of reacting to their triggers when on the leash.


What is it?

Have you ever struggled to walk and do something else at the same time, like chew gum or drink out of a water bottle?

Coordinating movements while walking is not easy! But learning how to do it while walking with your dog on a leash is beneficial for them and you.

Taking treats while walking allows your walk to be smooth and fluid, even when you are actively training. Plus, your dog is more likely to get distracted by triggers and react when you are stopping your walk all the time for treats!

How to teach it

This one really just comes down to practice. It takes a lot more coordination than you might think, so definitely dedicate some time to work on this before rewarding other training behaviors while walking.

Start with a slower pace to get used to it, then gradually work your way up to a comfortable pace that you would use on your daily walks.  

This skill is just as much for you as it is for your dog, so you’ll have to practice, practice, practice.


Tackling those basic skills will lay a strong foundation for more advanced leash reactivity training. But for even better chances at success, follow these additional tips:

  • Start at home. While the whole point of this is to improve your dog’s leash walking, jumping right into an environment of distractions and triggers will make things significantly more difficult. Master these behaviors first at home, then on the leash in a quieter environment, and gradually work your way up to your normal walking environment.
  • Use high-value, high-quality treats. Positive reinforcement training works best when your dog is really motivated by the reward, in this case, a training treat. Make sure you are choosing a training treat that is not only delicious but is low-calorie and healthy so you feel good about giving them to your dog frequently.
  • Get more help when you need it! The Leash Walking Course in the Pupford Academy can help you even more to achieve calm, loose-leash walking so you can better enjoy walks with your pup!

Before you know it, this will be you and your dog – calm, cool, and collected no matter what you encounter during your walk. Right now it may seem impossible, but with the right resources and a lot of practice, you’ll get there!


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