Is your dog unnaturally aggressive when on a leash?
Leash-reactive dogs, or dogs that show aggression toward others when on a leash, can be frustrating and dangerous if not properly controlled. Do you find that your pup is a complete gentleman when wandering off-leash, but seems to turn into Cujo once the harness goes on? If so, it might be time to rethink your training methods for everyone’s safety.
What is leash aggression?
Leash aggression is when your dog becomes aggressive or violent toward other animals or people when on a leash. This can occur at home or on walks, and is often a symptom of anxiety or stressed associated with being restrained. Some dogs become anxious and act out when they feel like they’re not in control of their own movement. In addition to being dangerous, walking a leash-reactive dog can be downright embarrassing, and may discourage some owners from walking their dog at all.
Fixing the problem can be difficult, and depends greatly upon your ability to maintain your cool in these situations. When your dog becomes aggressive on a leash, he will also pick up on your emotions. Your anxiety may fuel his own anxiety and aggression. This means that it is important to work on the problem in a controlled environment when starting out.
How do I fix it?
Correcting any problem behavior begins with training. Rather than tackling this issue on your own, it’s best to enlist the help of dog trainer with experience in managing leash aggression. Simply heading to the dog park with your pooch can put him and other dogs in danger. A qualified trainer can help you work with other dogs who they know will behave well in any given situation, and will be able to step in if things go awry.
A trainer will help you understand your dog’s body language so that you know when a problem is about to arise. This way you can remove your dog from situation before he gets angry. Many trainers will start with distraction techniques, namely using treats to lure your dog away from potential sources of anxiety before he can react.
It’s important to use positive reinforcement when training a dog to be less reactive on a leash. Negative reinforcement, like physical punishment or yelling, will only heighten your pup's negative emotions. Instead, always try to distract your dog with treats, affection, verbal praise, or even games when you see another dog approaching.
It’s often a good idea to enlist a friend, trainer, or relative with another friendly dog to help out. Start with long distances and slowly bring them closer together. When you see your dog tense up, distract him until he forgets the other dog is there. Over time, with patient effort, your friend should be able to bring the dog within arm's reach without your pup turning aggressive.
How long does training take?
All dogs are different, and there’s no set timeframe for your dog to learn how to be comfortable on a leash. Practice allowing your dog to walk past other dogs around the yard and street on a daily basis. When he reaches a point where he can do so without lunging or growling, you can begin to let them greet each other face to face. Always be sure the other dog is friendly by speaking with its owner. Make them aware of the situation and keep a firm grip on your pup in case he decides to get out of line.
Leash aggression is one of the more frustrating dog behaviors to attempt to fix, but with consistent training and effort, you can turn your pup into a gentleman in no time.
Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible.