Leash Aggression

Leash aggression is a prevalent problem in dogs, especially ones that are rescued.  Leash aggression is usually associated with fear, rather than dominance.  Most dogs that have been abused by people and/or have gotten into a fight off or on leash with another dog will most likely begin to exhibit fear aggression when they are on the leash.  When a dog is on a leash and encounters a perceived danger – in this case another dog or human- the “fight or flight” instinct kicks in.  In most cases, dogs will prefer to fight than be attacked and so they choose to growl, bark and even charge what they perceive a threat.

 If you have a dog with leash aggression, you probably noticed that it might not have had this problem before, and now suddenly your dog is leash aggressive and the issue is getting worse and worse.  You are not always going to know why your dog is afraid, but you can do something about it.

Blocking the Bad Behavior

It is important to stop the aggressive behavior, but not only that, it is vital to anticipate the aggressive response way before it gets to the growling/barking/lunging stage.  Typically the stages are as follows:  targeting-growling-barking-lunging.  The correction for the bad behavior should start when you notice your dog is beginning to target.  When the ears are forward and targeted, when the body is stiff, when the dog is not paying attention to you – that’s when you have to take charge and try to refocus your dog.  Make a loud, sharp noise and couple it with a leash correction.  Try to get your dog’s attention to focus on you.  Correct every time he targets so that he doesn’t escalate to a full blown lunging attack.  At this point all that you are trying to accomplish is for your dog to remain calm at a reasonable distance from the threat.  You can either get the dog to sit and get his attention or you can continue moving while correcting.


Level 1

Ask your neighbor or friends to help you with some desensitization techniques.  I often ask passers-by during my sessions to help and most obligeJ.  If your dog has a negative response to a dog on a walk, try to ask the owner of that dog if he would just stop and stand there with their dog while you take several passes.  Your objective is to pass the dog as many times as it takes for your dog not to have a response.  Once he is ok at a certain distance then get a little bit closer with your passes.  Remember, you should only end the exercise once your dog prances by the other dog without a moment’s hesitation, without any fear (stiffness in the body, growling, etc.)  Look for a relaxed body and maybe even a wagging tail.  If you are having trouble controlling your dog, than take it a step back…you might need to start at a greater distance and work in gradually.

Level 2

After your dog is getting better at walking by dogs without a reaction it’s time to meet some.  Dogs that have fear, should never meet other dogs face to face on a leash.  After you have taken several passes, start to walk the dogs together.  After some time and when you believe they are both at ease, allow them to sniff their behinds, one at a time…after a while longer, you can stop and let the dogs meet as they wish.

It is really important to note that these Level 2 techniques are very difficult and if you don’t feel confident about reading aggressive signals or are feeling unsure or nervous, you should not attempt them without a professional trainer.  If you don’t plan on working with a trainer, working on the Level 1 exercise would be sufficient to have a nice calm walk.  If you want to attempt Level 2 exercises I would recommend working with a trainer in your area.






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