One of the best parts about owning a dog is being able to take him places without worrying how he’ll respond to other animals, people or objects.
I love that I can take my mutt Ace anywhere and know that I can trust him (he might drool on you, though). Ace will comfortably go for walks next to busy traffic, through large crowds or in a state park. When we pass other dogs that are barking or lunging, I know I can keep my dog calm and under control.
Dog leash aggression is a common issue. By leash aggression, I mean the dog shows signs of aggression, frustration, excitement or anxiety towards other dogs when he is leashed. Some people will call this barrier aggression because any kind of barrier or boundary such as a fence can bring out aggression in dogs.
The best way to help a dog overcome leash aggression is to work on the problem rather than ignore it. It’s easy to avoid other dogs during walks, but this will not help the dog learn anything. Instead, the dog needs to be exposed to more dogs while leashed so he can learn how to properly behave.
How to stop a dog’s leash aggression
Most leash-aggressive dogs are lacking in their social skills in some way. Either they are insecure about meeting a new dog and become defensive or they are so overly excited to see another dog that the excitement leads to aggression. Other dogs are territorial or possessive and become aggressive if someone approaches “their” human or “their” property.
One good thing is that most dogs will not actually attack other dogs, they just sound ferocious. But if the wrong dogs meet and both are unsocialized, the excitement could escalate into an actual fight. I’ve written past posts on how to introduce dogs and how to socialize dogs.
As for preventing leash aggression, the key is to teach the dog through conditioning that it is no big deal if another dog approaches, and there is no reason to feel insecure or excited.
Here are some additional tips for preventing dog-on-dog leash aggression:
Buy a good training collar.
The best training collar for large or strong dogs is the prong collar because it allows you to give the dog a correction if he fixates, cries, barks or lunges. I have an easier time controlling large dogs with the prong collar compared to a choke or slip collar. For dogs that are sensitive or reactive to a prong collar, try the Halti or Gentle Leader. Small dogs are usually OK on a slip lead.
Take an obedience class.
There is no easier way to practice loose-leash walking around other dogs than at a dog obedience class. The other dog owners won’t get annoyed acting as distractions for your dog because it’s good for their dogs, too. The instructor of the class should also be able to help individuals who are having trouble controlling their dogs.
Accept that stopping a dog’s leash aggression won’t happen overnight.
Dogs learn through repetitions – a lot of repetitions. It could take months to help a dog overcome leash aggression. Your consistency will pay off in the long run.
Stay relaxed and don’t yell.
When I’m walking a leash-aggressive dog, my natural tendency is to tense up and pull back on the leash when I see an approaching dog. This is the wrong thing to do because a tense leash will cause the dog to resist and pull, followed by crying, barking and lunging. If I’m relaxed, the dog will have an easier time staying relaxed.
Don’t allow your dog to walk in front.
The safest way to walk a dog is on a loose-leash at your side. There is no excuse to allow a dog with dog aggression issues to lead you on your walk. This puts the dog in control, not you. Even if you pull him back when you see another dog, he’s going to pick up on your excited energy and respond accordingly. Just keep him at your side all the time.
Recognize the early signs or aggression and correct the dog right away.
Usually the handler will correct the dog too late by yelling and pulling back on the leash. All this does is get both dogs riled up. The best thing to do is stay completely calm and pretend you don’t see the other dog. Keep the leash loose. It should actually form a “J” shape from the collar.
The “correction” is intended to snap the dog out of it and redirect his attention. I usually start with a loudly whispered, “Hey!” or by poking the dog’s side with my foot. This is often enough of a distraction so that I can re-group and make sure I have control of the dog. If that doesn’t work, I will do a quick leash pop that tightens and then releases the collar around the dog’s neck.
If the dog is so agitated that he can’t relax, I will put him into a sit position with his back or side to the other dog until he relaxes. Usually this only takes 30 seconds or so, but sometimes it’s a few minutes. If you have the dog at your left side, turn into his body and bump him back until he sits. Make sure to keep the leash loose the entire time. If he tries to lunge or bark once you start moving again, put him back into a sit.
You want to correct the dog before his behavior escalates into aggression, so watch for signs such as a raised tail or ears, raised hair on his back, heavier breathing, crying, stiffening or staring. Correct the dog the second he displays any of these behaviors.
Walk your dog by dogs that bark along fences – they are a great training tool!
Take advantages of those “bad” dogs that bark like crazy. They are often the greatest test. Stop worrying about what everyone thinks and purposely walk by. If the dog I’m walking becomes excited or aggressive, I correct him and we turn and walk by the fence again. Sometimes we walk by the fence five or six times.
If the dog’s aggression really escalates, I stop and put him into a sit position with his back to the fence for a minute or so until he relaxes. Then we walk by again. By relaxed, I mean he is not crying or frantically trying to turn and look at the other dog. Instead, his breathing has returned to normal and he is able to look at me or straight ahead rather than at the other dogs. I am not holding him back with a tight leash, but he is remaining in a sit position on his own.
Keep your own safety in mind.
If a dog is frustrated and can’t get at the dog he is focused on, he could turn his frustration against you or another dog you are walking and bite. Do not put your hands and face near the dog’s mouth. It’s safer to turn and step into the dog, making him back up rather than grabbing the leash close to his collar and pulling him back. The more agitated the dog is, the more likely he is to lash out at others around him. Dogs react to the situation they are in at that exact moment and will bite someone they love.
Walk your dog every day.
In order for the dog to learn that it’s no big deal to see other dogs, he needs to be around more dogs. I offer dog running services in Fargo, and the socialization side of getting out for a run is just as important as the actual physical exercise. Visit as many places as you can, walk your dog in different parks and neighborhoods and ask your friends if they will walk their dogs by you so you can practice teaching your dog how to be calm. Walking your dog for at least an hour every day will also help him get the exercise he needs. Most aggressive dogs are not getting enough exercise.
What suggestions do you have for dealing with leash aggression?