Leash Aggression: Stop The Frustration.
March 22, 2011
When owners come to us and say their dog has “dog aggression” issues, 95% of the time it is only happening on leash or began on leash. Some of these cases the dog is fantastic off leash and only acts up when confined on a tight leash. The leash is a foreign part of the dogs world and would not exist without us, just because most dogs eventually encounter a leash does not mean they understand what the expectations are on leash. All dogs have “Opposition Reflex” which by nature, they pull, you pull back, and it is a vicious cycle. When a dog is walking on leash often they are out in front of owners which puts them in a stressful position- leadership, you are saying “here, you deal with all the things we encounter good or bad first. Do you really think your dog is ready for this management position you have promoted them to?
There are two main reasons that dogs act aggressive; fear and frustration. When a dog becomes “leash aggressive”, she is acting out of frustration. She can’t get to that dog and is being pulled away and/or being scolded or praised for it. If your dog is “leash aggressive”, train, train, train. Training is simply communication, if you do not have a clear way to communicate what you want you NEED to do more training. Training is for life, I despise being told by owners, well we went to puppy class when I am asking if a 5 year old dog has done any training. Can you imagine if we went to pre-school and then had to learn the rest of life through the “school of hard knocks”. One way that people who train dogs for protection work encourage the dog to bite is through agitation. The sleeve is placed in front of the dog and the dog is constantly pulled back and praised for lunging forward until the dog is so agitated that all it wants to do is get the sleeve. Sound familiar?
A tense leash is a tense dog. Also if you are tense you send all that nervous energy through the leash to your dog.
Train your dog to walk on a leash WITHOUT PULLING and make it very rewarding to do it. People often teach dogs tricks with fun energy and treats and praise, yet they bring a much more somber attitude to leash training. It should also be fun and rewarding! Do your training in a very non distracting area first and then start to add a little bit of distraction at a time. Use the “Loose Leash Walking” literature (from our site) to understand how to start the loose leash walking exercises. Another easy way to address the aggression is to always reward your dog heavily when she looks at you. You can also build the command watch me as you bring a treat up toward your eyes and hold their gaze for a few seconds then treat. Reward heavily when she looks at you when another dog is around. Only try to build on the successes. Try not to put your dog into situations where she will be reactive for awhile. A good time frame is four to six weeks to change this existing behavior to one you do want.
Owners also tend to try to ease their dog by saying “it’s OK” and “you’re a good dog”. Remember that any attention is still attention to your dog. If she only gets attention for firing off and snarling when other dogs are present, then that is what she will do to get attention. If you are on a walk and your dog becomes reactive, try to redirect your dog into a previously successful behavior and work from there. If your dog becomes too reactive for you to handle or displaces aggression, it is time to get some professional help.
The perception that dog’s should meet on leash is very iffy to us at G.D.T. Nothing amazing can happen when dogs meet on leash except humans feel warm and fuzzy. If you want your dog to greet when they have nice manners, build a cue like “OK go say Hi” or “Meet”. You should always ask the other human if it is OK first, too often dog owners let their dog go up to a strange dog without any human communication. (Just say no to Flexi-Leads). Keep this greeting short and sweet. It is not playtime, “OK, Let’s Go” and move on. Dogs mostly want to gather information about that dog through smell. When dogs meet on leash and dog and owner freeze either, scenario A– they love each other and spin around and tie owners up (not a bad idea if your single looking to mingle) or B– they snap or shark the other dog and learns aggression makes stressful situations go away. Neither are great things to teach your dog when you are out for a walk. The walk should be a bonding exercise where you explore the world and improve pack dynamics, not social hour.
Remember to go slow and work from a positive frame of mind.