Somewhere in the top ten reasons that people contact me for training help is on-leash aggression. Often when they do contact me people are bewildered — their otherwise friendly dog simply goes crazy when they encounter another dog while out on a walk!
This is a very common problem. Why does it happen?
- Frustration – having a leash tied to his neck means your dog cannot move freely. When this means that he cannot check out a nearby dog, it leads to frustration. Repeat this a few hundred times and the frustration can become automatic.
- Fear – a dog that is already nervous around other dogs can feel restrained or confined by a leash. Similar to the pattern with frustration, if this happens enough just seeing another dog on leash can cue the anxiety.
- Bad experiences – a bad experience on-leash can cause a bad association to seeing dogs on leash.
These are all variations on a theme – being on-leash becomes associated with fear and frustration. So what can be done to avoid or alleviate this problem?
Well, if you are not already experiencing this problem here are a few key steps:
- Train your dog to walk nicely on leash. If your dog is well-behaved on leash he is probably paying attention to you and not other dogs. That’s more than half of the game right there.
- Avoid on-leash greetings. When dogs greet each other on leash, their movement is limited and misunderstandings can very easily happen. Moreover, if your dog expects to be able to greet other dogs on leash, you have already set him up for frustration!
- If you see trouble avoid it. Discretion is the better part of valor. It only takes one bad experience!
How can you alleviate it? Well, you may need to seek some help from a trainer. There is no quick fix for this issue. Implementing the list of preventative steps above will go a long way toward making on-leash aggression easier to deal with, but it will not go away by itself.
Like most behavior problems, systematic counter-conditioning and desensitization are going to be a part of the solution. Gradually introducing other dogs at a distance, and then closing the distance while giving your dog very high value rewards (often food), and practicing defensive on-leash techniques, changes your dog’s opinion reduces the fear and frustration.
Classes like St. Hubert’s Dog Training School’s Feisty Fido class are geared toward practicing these techniques. These classes are fantastic since your dog gets the attention required to keep things safe, while also providing you with access to other dogs for the training.
I’ll be revisiting this issue a few more times over the next few weeks. Are you experiencing this problem? What have you tried to address it? Have you had success? Let me know in the comments.