As spring arrives and the weather starts getting warmer, more people start getting outdoors with their dogs. For those who have not been walking their dogs regularly during the winter, this hopefully means they start doing more walks with their dogs. For those who have walked their dogs regularly during the winter, it means they start seeing more people and their dogs out on walks.

While it’s nice that everyone is starting to get out more, it also can bring to light some issues with dogs who don’t have great leash manners or can be reactive toward other dogs or people. This tends to be the time of year I get the most calls for help with these issues.

If a dog is reactive toward other dogs when on walks, the first thing I want to know is what the dog’s leash manners are like when no other dogs are around. In most cases, the leash manners are not that good even before another dog arrives on the scene. If that’s the case, we need to start working on things before there are other dogs around.

In cases of reactivity on leash and/or poor leash manners, I also want to know how well the dog listens outdoors. In many cases, not only does the dog have poor leash manners, but people lose their dogs’ focus as soon as they step out the door. In this case, we need to back up even further.

If your dog listens well in the house but not outside, the first step might be to begin doing some training outside. There tend to be far more distractions outside than there are in your house. It’s no wonder dogs are distracted outside – all the smells, sounds, and activity going on can make it difficult for our dogs to pay attention. And yet we expect them to behave just as well as they do in the house. It does not happen magically! It takes work.

In some cases, I see that people have inadvertently taught their dogs to pay attention in the house but not outside. Remember, if you want your dog to listen to you and be tuned in with you in all situations, you need to practice in all situations. How often do you conduct training sessions in your back yard or out in front of your house (on leash, of course) without trying to actually go for a walk? Or do some work along your walking route?

We often blame our dogs for not listening, when in reality, we have not taken the time to teach them to stay tuned in with us. Have you taken the time to help your dog understand what you expect and what’s in it for him or her? If not, now is the time to get started!