On-Leash Aggression

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On-Leash Aggression

One of the most common reasons for dog owners wanting obedience training for their dog is, “When I take my dog for a walk he becomes aggressive when he sees other dogs, and I have difficulty in controlling him” or “My dog growls, barks and lunges at other dogs and people.” This is highly embarrassing and confusing to owners because, according to them, “At home he is gentle and friendly and not at all like he is on walks.”

The difference in the behaviour of the dog on walks as opposed to that at home would seem to indicate on leash aggression. When a young dog is taken for a walk it is very natural for it to want to investigate smells, people and other dogs. Owners make use of the leash to prevent their dogs from getting near other dogs and may even scold the dog for pulling in their direction. The approaching dog is alerted to this nervous reaction from the owner and dog and comes closer to investigate and may growl or bark. In this way a chain reaction may be set in motion.

On future walks, the owner, instead of enjoying the outing, scans the horizon for oncoming dogs and immediately stops and makes sure of a proper grip on the leash when a dog is seen. The owner’s dog, still unaware of the approaching dog is now alerted to its owner’s nervous reaction and prepares itself to defend its owner. This scene is exactly how we start attack training. By preventing a dog from getting something he wants, his owner acts as a post and the agitator teases the dog and brings out the aggression in the dog. In reality the dog is merely responding to the owner’s reaction.

To solve this problem training must focus on voice control, leash control and owner leadership. Join a club and engage in quality obedience training. Make sure that your dog learns and understands what a reliable “Sit” is. See article, “Control over your Dog.” Teach the dog to sit on command wherever and whenever you are spending time together. “Sit” is to be obeyed instantly in the house, garden, on the pavement and at the beach. A quick, “No, Sit” is used to prevent the dog from breaking a sit command. Praise compliance.

A leash should be used mainly to get the dog to “follow” its handler and NOT to lead or pull the owner. To achieve voice control over the dog, he should not feel tension on the leash at all. When the leash is used as a correction tool it should be in the form of a sharp “pop” and immediate release to be effective. A tight leash being pulled is punishment to a dog, not a correction. Dogs must be taught self-control! They must not be manhandled with a leash or bribed with food in order to get control over them.

The dog’s body language must be studied and must guide the owner’s response. The position of the tail, the ears, nose and forward leaning body posture must warn the owner to prevent an escalation of a situation. Body language tells us what our dog’s internal state of mind is. Early intervention is much easier than dealing with open aggression.

Quick action to redirect the dog’s attention must be taken. A “Come with me” command to lead the dog into the opposite direction away from a confrontation is called for if you want to play it safe. A reliable “Sit” on a loose leash should solve most situations. Make sure that you have a firm grip on the leash and a “NO SIT” command is repeated. Be careful not to physically stroke or pet a dog that still displays signs of agitation. The dog may interpret it as approval from its owner for its behaviour.

Quite often leash aggression is caused by owners who drag their dog to, “Say Hi” to your dog. Charging into another dog’s face is very rude behaviour in the animal world. It is likened to a complete stranger coming up to you to hug and kiss you. I regularly have to protect my dog from these well-intentioned people.

Fortunately most dog fights can be prevented with obedience training. You do not want your dog to have a bad label attached to him. It is up to the owners to go to the trouble of teaching puppies bite inhibition and make sure you gain voice control over your dog and the dog must exercise self-control!

Picture: Humane Society of the United States lecture notes.

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