Socializing your dog is an important part of their development, but what if your dog is so reactive and aggressive on a walk that you can’t even imagine taking them to a dog park? Unfortunately, this is a common story for many pet owners. Leash aggression is when a dog reacts in an aggressive way when they see another dog, human, or even a bike while walking on a leash.
Ironically, dogs who experience leash reactions are often calm and cool when off-leash or running around a yard with other dogs, but the second they are leashed their demeanor changes. According to dog trainer Ashley Arnold, leash aggression is usually caused by 2 things: frustration or fear.
When they are off-leash, dogs naturally will greet each other running up side by side and sniffing each other. On a leash, dogs are forced to approach each other head-on, which can be overwhelming to them. If your dog is reactive to another dog, this could be because they are frustrated that they cannot go smell the other dog, or they are scared of the other dog.
“Some dogs show leash aggression out of simply just wanting to greet another dog and don’t know how to properly behave with the overwhelming excitement,” said Ashley Arnold, Denver, Colorado pet trainer.
The owner of a reactive dog is often likely to tense up and pull the leash back when they pass another dog, and the dog can read that their owner is stressed, contributing to the dog’s reactive behavior. This cycle can be hard to break for pet owners and can get worse over time.
Another thing to remember is that if a dog is reactive, it may seem natural to punish the dog, but that just increases their anxiety level which can lead to worse reactions. Punishments can include grabbing your dog, yelling, jerking their leash, saying no, or demanding them to sit.
How do you correct this behavior?
Dog trainer Ashley Arnold says she believes every dog should be able to overcome leash reactive behavior.
“I usually start with teaching the dog strong eye contact inside the home and slowly moving it to the environment where the aggressive behavior is happening,” she said. “When the dog fails to make eye contact I will then try to use my correction noises and or distract with a treat or toy - anything to take the dog's attention of whatever else is happening.”
The goal is to practice this training of teaching your dog to pay attention to you inside your home on a daily basis and continue teaching the same commands when out. Many people use the phrase “watch me” or “look.” This basic technique of training your dog to pay attention to you can be valuable in so many situations and is an important command for every dog to learn.
When another dog is approaching, wait until your dog notices the other dog, give them the “watch me” cue, and reward them so they begin associating a reward with seeing other dogs.
When starting out, it is good to try to manage your environment, meaning starting off in areas without high traffic and work your dog up to more populated areas. Always try to keep distance, get your dog’s focus, and walk in a curved route away from directly passing an on-coming dog.
Other things to consider are tools like a basket muzzle if your dog has ever tried to bite, or a gentle lead to help keep your dog focused on your commands.
If you need additional insight, contact the free Animal Humane Society Behavioral hotline at 763-489-2202 for advice.