Do you enjoy getting out on a nice, warm, sunny day and taking your best friend for a walk around the neighbourhood or do you cringe and have second thoughts because of unwanted behaviour? Is your pup overly aggressive when walking on a lead? If so, you are not alone. Before things get out of hand and your pup ends up not getting walked at all, you need to deal with the situation.
Before you give up on walking your dog or trying to walk at times and places where you don’t think you will run into other dogs, let’s have a look at the causes for your pup’s behaviour and see what your options are. First, have your dog checked by your vet to make sure that he’s not in any pain or has any other health issues which may cause him to act out.
Leash aggression, which entails your dog barking, lunging or trying to snap at another dog, doesn’t necessarily mean a full blown fight will ensue and rarely results in your dog biting another dog. However, the experience can be frightening as well as very embarrassing for you.
Dogs that get aggressive towards other dogs while on a leash usually are tense and frustrated. As with all animals, dogs enjoy and crave to have some interaction with others of their own kind but, because they have not learned proper social skills for meeting and interacting with other dogs, they lash out in an aggressive manner to try and say hello. When this happens, the handler usually acts instinctively and pulls hard on the lead and quite often yells at the dog to stop as they try to pull the dog away. Once your dog has shown aggressive behaviour towards another dog, you will tend to feel tense while walking your dog and try to hold him back but your dog will feel this tension.
One of the best things you can teach your dog to interact with other dogs is to let him meet another dog in a fully fenced area, off leash. If you feel your dog is overly aggressive and a large breed, you may want to start by using a muzzle on him. Also, if you are a new dog owner, you may be wise to look for a professional dog trainer who will go with you and help you to learn how to read your dog’s body language. What you might consider aggression may actually just be dog play, so you should learn to watch your dog’s behaviour and learn the signs.
Another thing to try while out walking with your dog is to leave your cell phone at home and don’t have music playing through your ear buds. Walking your dog should be an enjoyable time for both of you. You should be focused on your dog and your surroundings and not be distracted by other things. When you see another dog coming towards you, don’t panic. Instead release the tension on your lead and have your dog focus on you. Do this by showing and offering him a treat or a favourite toy that you brought along. Once the other dog has passed by and your dog hasn’t reacted, give him lots of praise and reward him with a small treat. This should help your dog to learn that if he looks at you and ignores the other dog, he will be rewarded. Similarly, you can do this while sitting on a park bench where dogs are out walking with their owners. When your dog notices another dog approaching and starts to focus on him, get your dog’s attention by saying “look” or “treat” and have him focus on you and the treat. After the other dog passes by without him reacting in a negative manner, give him the treat and lots of verbal praise. Your dog will soon learn that hearing your command and obeying it will mean that when he sees another dog and focuses on you, he will be rewarded with a tasty treat and will learn to stay calm. You can then ask him to “sit and stay” and if he complies reward him with another small piece of treat.
After a week or two of doing this consistently, during which time your dog reacts in a positive manner, try it while you’re walking. Make sure you are not distracted by your music or phone and have your dog look at you and not the other distractions. If you are consistent with your training your dog will be much calmer and, if you meet someone with a dog that is easy going and calm, you can let your dog get a little closer for a “sniff and greet”.
Once you feel your dog has calmed down while on leash, you should be able to stop and have a socially distanced
conversation with someone while your dog sits quietly by your side. If your furry friend behaves, be sure to give him lots of praise and reward him with a small tasty treat. When you feel that your pup has learned proper “dog etiquette” start weaning him off the treats and substitute a toy and lots of pets and praise instead.
Leash aggression can be frustrating but if you deal with the situation calmly and take the time to train your dog to act properly, you will soon be able to enjoy a walk and the time you share with your best friend.