Sylvie loves other dogs and people (she’s a little weary of very tall men wearing hats) but we’ve never had an issue with Sylvie being leash reactive…until Covid.

Please note: I am not a licensed dog trainer, however, I have been training my own dogs for over 20 years, competing in state wide obedience competitions in high school through 4-H. I hope you can find my advice useful but as always, please speak to a licensed professional.

What is leash reactive? 

Essentially when Sylvie saw another dog she would go ballistic and start barking frantically, pulling at the leash, lunging toward the other dog. There wasn’t any aggression (teeth barring, salivating, hackles raised, snarling, etc) but it was startling and stressful.

What triggered this?

During Covid everyone started avoiding everyone else (especially me since I am immunocompromised). People with their dogs would turn and walk the other direction, step way off the trail to give other people a wide birth or in my case, not be anywhere around people at all, which meant Sylvie wasn’t around other people and dogs either.

We socialized Sylvie for the first 6 years of her life by taking her on hikes around other people and dogs, dog parks, friend’s houses, etc. She has always loved playing with other dogs of any size, she’s gentle around small children and she just adores people. So it came as a shock when she started reacting on a leash about 6 months into the pandemic.

What did I try first?

I will admit that I didn’t take it well to begin with. I got frustrated and upset and even cried when Sylvie acted this way. I would say: “What is wrong with you?!” It got to the point where these episodes would ruin entire walks. I was embarrassed and everytime it happened I would apologize profusely to the other person who just stared at me, probably thinking my dog was mean and aggressive and poorly trained.

The first thing I tried was just positive words when we would approach another dog on our walks. Sometimes I would turn Sylvie around in the other direction when I detected any sort of reaction and then turn her around and re-approach. I would tighten the lead and walk her right next to me. I verbally said “no!” a lot after one of her episodes. I bought a gentle leader, which is a walking collar that goes around their snout and behind their head. This worked the best but she hated it.

What worked? High value treats

Sylvie is incredibly food motivated (like a lot of corgis) making corgis a very trainable breed but also gluttonous.

There are 2 types of treats: low and high value. (This also applies to toys). Low value treats are treats that a dog receives often and likes but is rather used to. A high value treat is a special treat (or toy) that is given on special occasions.

For Sylvie her low value treats are Natural Balance Belly Bites which we give her when she goes potty, fruits and veggies which she gets in the morning. Her high value treats are a frozen peanut butter kong, yak cheese chews, rabbit chew sticks and an oatmeal peanut butter crunchy treat (which smells amazing by the way) that I started using on our walks to help with her leash reactivity.

How did I fix Sylvie’s leash reactivity with treats?

I carried a couple of the pumpkin cruncher treats in my pocket. Whenever I saw a dog approaching from far away I would pull Sylvie closer, use positive verbal reinforcement and take one of the treats. I asked Sylvie to sit and “look at me” a command I taught her. This is a helpful tool to teach your dog. When you say “look at me” the goal is the dog looks you in the eye and once they make eye contact you give verbal praise and offer a treat. You can also point to your eyes with your finger to guide them.

Once Sylvie was sitting and looking at me I would offer small pieces of the treat as the dog approached and as the dog passed by (giving the other dog lots of room still). Once the dog was far enough away I would say “good girl!” and get really excited for her, giving her another small bite of the treat. I did this every time a dog approached or was visible, even if the dog was across the street; “good girl” followed by small pieces of treats.

How is Sylvie doing today?

This technique worked. Not only did it work so well that all of my anxiety walking her vanished, Sylvie now looks at me automatically whenever she sees a dog, expecting a small treat and I give her one. This has turned seeing another dog from a negative experience to a very positive one where Sylvie knows that she will be rewarded and seeing another dog is a positive experience. All of her leash reactivity is gone and it took less than 6 months. I still carry the pumpkin peanut butter treats with me on all walks.

Final tips:

  • Stay calm and try to help your dog instead of reacting with your emotions (like I did)
  • Find a high value reward (treat or toy)
  • Don’t give up. It can take a while but this method could work for you and the pay off is huge!
  • Seek help from a professional dog trainer if needed

Stay Strong and Corgi On!