Leash aggression (or leash reactivity as it is often called) is an incredibly frustrating thing for you and your dog to live with. It makes enjoying your dog a very difficult task and the responsibility is on you to solve it. You don’t have to live this way and it is important as a pack leader and a dog owner to take this unnecessary stress away from your dog.
While quick fixes aren’t always an option for your leash aggressive dog, here are some tips to start solving the problem:
2) Space is your friend – The closer you are to other dogs, the more likely your dog is to blow up. Your end-goal should be to walk past another dog on the sidewalk without your dog reacting, but sometimes that’s not possible on day 1 (though often times it is). If you’re out and about and you feel your dog getting ready to blow up, then move away from the dog that is irritating him. This could be as simple as arcing away just a little bit so you relieve the tension from the situation, or it could be as severe as turning down another street to avoid the situation altogether. A big part of a permanent recovery from leash-reactivity and aggression is knowing how to read your dog and know how far you need to go to settle the situation.
3) Find a correction that works – It’s important that a dog understands his behavior has consequences. Corrections can help the process along when done correctly, but often they are mistimed or delivered with the incorrect intensity. Finding a correction your dog responds to is important. Some dogs respond to a simple leash pop; others are so used to you pulling on their neck that the leash is all white noise to them. If you have tried leash corrections for a while and it hasn’t worked, then that’s probably not a viable strategy, at least how you’re currently doing it. There are other ways to correct a dog (pet convincer, remote collar, etc), but you want to make sure you do any correction properly or it won’t work – in fact it might even make the situation worse and cause more confusion for your already struggling dog.
4) Correct early, but not often – If you can correct your dog the moment they start to fixate on another dog, that will be far more effective than waiting for them to blow-up and then trying to correct them. If you find yourself constantly repeating a correction, then re-evaluate your strategy.
5) Reset and do it again – If you’ve missed the opportunity to correct early and effectively or didn’t create enough space for your dog to feel comfortable, then you should reset (turn around and walk 10-20 steps in the other direction) and try to reapproach the other dog again. Your dog needs to stop being successful with his aggressive behavior. If he barks and lunges at other dogs because he is feeling uncomfortable and wants to get them away, if you keep walking past the other dogs or turn around and walk away every time, then he figures his behavior is working and will continue to give you the same anti-social appearance. Resetting and doing it successfully will show him that calmness can also diffuse a situation and that he can count on you to navigate tough situations.
6) Sitting – Dogs will have more problems being reactive if they are in motion. If your dog is less severe, sometimes creating an extra bubble of space and then putting your dog in a sit (while staying calm and holding a loose-leash) will keep him calm while the other dog walks past.
7) Stay Calm – Calmness and confidence can make all the difference in the world. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t be embarrassed by your dog’s behavior – every dog has his own path and this just happens to be where your dog is on his. However, don’t accept this as how your dog will always be. That is not good for him or for you. Also remember, confidence isn’t just manufactured. You can practice it by visualizing success, saying positive affirmations, learning new information, and many other ways, but the best confidence comes from a good plan and good experience.
8) Ditch the harness – Harnesses almost always increase reactive behavior. In training they are often use to excite a dog and to encourage them to pull. Work with a professional to find the appropriate piece of equipment for your dog’s individual needs.
9) Eliminate your dog’s frustration – Get your dog more exercise. Train it to be off-leash (this helps so many issues). Get your dog some social time. Dogs live a frustrating life behind walls and stuck on a leash with minimal social interaction with their own kind. A lot of them are athletes that never get to express that part of themselves. Consider any source of frustration on your path to rehabilitation!
10) Make seeing other dog’s fun – sometimes we need to change what the presence of other dogs means to your dog. Depending on what your dog likes, we can sometimes trick them into being happy when other dogs show up rather than being stressed. Meaning, the moment your dog sees another dog, you might want to run away and play a game of tug. Maybe when you see another dog, your dog’s favorite food appears. If you have this issue you have probably searched the Internet for a solution and found something like this – scientifically it’s called “counter-conditioning.” This seems simple enough when you read it, but it is something I see done terribly wrong out on the streets all the time. Don’t think this is as simple as just throwing a bag of cookies at your dog when he is blowing up, because if it’s gotten that far, your dog probably wouldn’t even notice if you hit him in the head with a whole box of cookies.
11) Seek help and get social (not just online social!) – Yes, always seek help from a pro like AWDT, but you will need help from more than just an awesome trainer to really help your dog in this situation. Call all your friends and family with dogs so you can practice with them. Put out a note on Facebook and let people know that if they have a good dog, you have a dog that needs them to practice. Join a dog walking group so your dog can get used to walk with dogs and not just walking at them.
Leash-reactivity and aggression can ruin your relationship with your dog and it can ruin your dog’s quality of life. Don’t let this behavior continue. Contact AWDT or another trainer in your area today for help!