My Pet World: Dealing with dog who exhibits leash aggression
I have a 5-year-old mixed breed dog. Most of the time, he's a lovable smooch. When I take him to the dog park, he plays with the other dogs and runs and really has a good time.
But whenever I have him on a leash, if he sees another dog on a leash or a human in our vicinity, he goes nuts with an aggressive stance, barking and pulling. What can I do about it?
- Dennis, Las Vegas
Leash reactivity describes aggressive behaviors seen while a dog is on a leash when passing by or being introduced to another person or dog. While it looks like aggression, and sometimes it is, it can also be a fear-based reaction to perceived threats to keep other dogs and people away. It works, too. No one wants to approach a leash-reactive dog.
Watch how your dog meets other dogs at the dog park. They circle and sniff and move in and out of each other's spaces until they know the other is safe. They don't meet eye-to-eye, which is what happens with leash walking and what causes body language cues to get murky.
We can't let our dogs run loose when meeting other dogs, so what do you do? Stop leash introductions for now and practice passing other dogs on a leash. Get high-value treats, like cut-up hotdogs or chicken, and reward his relaxed behaviors during your walks. When no dogs are around, say his name and use his reward word (like "bingo") or use a clicker to mark the relaxed behavior, then give him a treat.
When you do see another leashed dog, walk to the other side of the street and keep his attention with the instructions above until the other dog has passed. If he responds positively, it will only take a few weeks to train him.
If he reacts aggressively, stop once you reach the other side of the street, pull him behind you and hold the leash tightly so he can't peek around your legs to see the other dog. You're telling him you've got this (because you're in front) and he needs to settle down. When the other dog passes, turn and walk in the other direction, and work to keep his attention again. Continue rewarding him for any relaxed behaviors on the walk, so he learns what you want. It could take a few months, but in the end, these techniques should result in more pleasant walks.