Dogs are so lovely when they get excited about everything whether it is meals, playtime or walks. But sometimes it is just too much. Especially when your dog lunges or barks at people out of excitement, this is called leash reactivity.
People usually connect leash reactivity with an aggressive dog that wants to jump and hurt people but it may also occur due to pure joy. Generally, it is a positive thing when your dog loves seeing people and animals rather than reacting aggressively towards them.
Take my Rottweiler as an example. She gets extremely excited when seeing people or other dogs (guess we did too good of a job socializing her).
She didn’t bark but pulled strongly on the leash just to meet dogs and be showered with affection. We leash trained her early on but when it comes to humans or dogs, she would completely forget her good manners.
Always be mindful that some fellow humans are afraid of dogs and excitement lunging and barking can put them as well as other animals (cats, horses, deer, etc.) in distress.
It is cute when you see a little tail-wagging puppy coming at you to give some love but when my Rottweiler hit the age of 10 months with a weight of 88 lbs, it was not so fun anymore for strangers. And walking a Rottweiler that was temporarily in disguise as a sled dog is not for the faint-hearted.
How exactly can you stop your dog from being overexcited on walks and enjoy walks again?
First, make sure your dog is properly leash-trained and has a reliable “sit” and “look at me” command. This way, you can teach your dog impulse control at the right distance by focusing on you.
When Will My Dog Stop Being Overexcited?
You’re basically asking how long training will take. Well, for us it was around 6 months of consistent training, at least that’s when we saw some amazing progress with her. Depending on your dog it might take a month or a whole year.
Age is of the essence here. The older your dog gets, the less he wants to play or greet people and for some dogs, it might resolve on its own.
Update: Our Rottweiler girl is now nearly 2 years old and she’s golden when it comes to walking. Humans, dogs, noises, bikes (the latter two have never been an issue though) are no problem at all. Just the occasional potential playmate she wants to meet.
Cheer your successes because your training will eventually bear fruit if you’re consistent.
Excitement on Walks is Self-Rewarding
Any excitement that your dog has towards his environment is self-rewarding, meaning that the more he gets rewarded when being excited the more excited he will get over time. If you do not stop, it won’t resolve on its own and will get worse and worse.
Except for making sure she had good experiences, we started fairly late with restricting who she meets and how she meets them, so that’d be my first advice: Start right now!
We made the mistake to not pay enough attention to her when she was being petted by people. Or rather, we did pay attention but just to make sure she wasn’t uncomfortable or anxious or anything.
Anybody could touch her and any dog would greet her. Dogs quickly learn patterns and she got used to that.
It’s like giving your child some candy every day and one day you simply stop. That’s hard to explain to a child and even harder for a dog. So depending on how long this self-rewarding behavior continued, you will need a certain amount of time to fix it.
Leash Training and Impulse Control
Before you can work with your dog on leash reactivity, he will have to learn the general leash manners of never lunging or pulling. If you have a dog that pulls even when no-one is around, then go through the steps here and train with your dog every day.
We never ever let our dog pull us down the streets. We leash-trained her right when she was a puppy because she would pull from day one.
Every time she pulled in any direction, I would stand still and wouldn’t let her move anywhere. This way, you will show your dog that pulling gets him nowhere and that you are the one deciding where to go.
Leash pulling is self-rewarding just like excitement.
Your dog will remember that every time he pulls he will get quicker to where he wants to go. You have to be very consistent with this even when you have to stop after every single step.
It also helps to just switch directions quickly and often. Walk a few steps to the right, then turn to the other side and walk in a square. If you suddenly change directions, your dog will start looking where you go as he is just used to walking straight.
Another pro tip: Don’t go with back-clip harnesses if your dog’s a heavy puller. Yes, especially for large/giant breeds it’s good on the joints, but it makes pulling so much easier for your dog. Train him properly to walk with a collar on.
Impulse control is another extremely important topic that will help you with so many other behavior issues. You can read the section on impulse control in this post which will also teach you some techniques to calm down your overexcited dog.
In general, overexcited dogs tend to develop other behavior problems such as jumping, barking, rough play, etc. Those can be symptoms of a dog that lacks general guidance. Improve your communication and bond by working on these issues.
That’s why I have created a free downloadable guide that will teach you how to solve the 10 most common dog behavior problems.
Detox Training to Control Leash Reactivity
What we did first was completely stopping any human or dog contact on walks because if your dog gets excited, pulls to a person, and gets pet THIS is the reward, this is what he wants. So no pets or greeting other dogs when on a leash.
I wanted my dog to make the association that the leash is never a place to pull. We visit 1-hour doggy play sessions two times a week at our local dog school so she gets enough dog contact anyways.
Try to avoid greetings with people or dogs as much as possible until your canine companion has learned that only if he is calm, he can go.
That means being on the lookout in public places or overcrowded parks and saying no if people want to pet your dog, don’t feel like you’re being rude for training your dog.
Always evaluate if your dog is stressed. You can easily spot a stressed dog through his body language and signs like heavy breathing.
Choosing the Right Gear
Especially if you have a big and strong dog, controlling him is not easy. The right gear will help you stop your dog from lunging. For my dog, I have bought this strong front-clip harness and a gentle leader.
A front-clip harness gives you much more control over the body of your dog and will stop him from pulling. A back-clip harness actually reinforces pulling. The gentle leader helps to control your dog’s head and where the head goes, the body follows.
Leash Training with Distance
While training your dog
If he gets too distracted, this means that you will have to build up more distance.
When you approach a dog or a human, build up distance and let your dog do some commands, like a simple sit. It also helps to teach your dog to pay attention to you and look you in the eyes, which is explained in this video:
Having your dog’s eyes will ensure his full attention and I always use this before any training. Work on this and stay patient.
Your dog won’t pay much attention to you the first time you get outside and if he continuously fails then you will need to build up distance.
When walking past another dog, get your dog into a sit and stay. And here is a little secret tip of mine: when he lunges or gets up, correct him for breaking the sit command. This will put the focus on his obedience and won’t necessarily punish his lunging to prevent frustration.
Reinforcing Calm Behavior
When you strictly follow the steps from above, you will see some first results and your dog will start ignoring other people or dogs. Once he becomes calmer on the leash you can slowly reincorporate some contact to reward the desired behavior.
To still reinforce the concept of leash ≠ greeting, you will want your dog to experience the contact off
So if you are walking in a park where dogs are allowed off-leash and you see someone you know, you can then remove the leash and allow your dog to play or greet if he remains calm.
If he gets too excited again, put him on the leash and remove him from the situation.
Release & Permission Before Dog Greetings
When letting your dog off-leash you do not just want him to run off the second you remove the leash.
A well-behaved dog will wait for his permission to go anywhere. This will help you in many situations and can also be a lifesaver and keep your dog from running outside the front door or jumping out of the car.
What I always do is letting my dog sit and stay while removing the leash. I will then take a few steps back, get her eyes on me, and then giving her the release cue. If you do not know what a release command is, you can read the training steps here.
My release cue is “go” and I use it for everything. For example, before she gets her meals or before she can get out of the car.
The release command is mandatory when teaching your dog “stay” as it needs to have a beginning and an end. And because every command should have a built-in stay, the release command always comes in handy.
How to Stop Dog From Barking on Walks
If barking’s the issue with your dog, releasing won’t help much, right?
What will help is introducing a “bark” and thus also a “quiet” command as this will set you both up for great communication. Your dog immediately knows that barking is undesirable at that moment if you use the “quiet” command.
Some breeds bark much more heavily than others (German Shepherds, Australian Sheperd’s, and especially Border Collies). Make sure to show them that there’s no danger or anything else negative.
Calming down an overexcited dog on walks is all about discipline, leash training, and distance. If you stay patient and consistent with your training, it will get much better. Share your experiences with leash reactivity in the comments below.