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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to Avoid "Leash Aggression"

You're out walking your dog on a leash. Your dog spots another leashed dog across the street and "loses it." Is it dog aggression or something else?

I "lifted" the following article from another website dedicated primarily to the rescue and training pit bulls. IT IS EXELLENT!!!!!! It is applicable to every single breed out there, especially the more reactive ones.

When dogs greet in a natural setting (not in today’s urban living) they greet in a “C” shape curve or side by side to smell each other’s rear ends. They don’t go up to each other face-to-face and stare. This is considered rude and offensive behavior.

Now that dogs have to be on leashes in our communities, as it is the law (and safer for all concerned), dogs can’t just go up and perform their normal greeting behavior. When a dog does see another dog from a distance, across the street, usually on a walk, it is normal for him to look over and see who it is. He can’t interact with the dog normally (such as smelling to get to know him, etc.). He can only SEE the other dog. The other dog may look at him, too. This can potentially create a staring situation across the street. This may cause your dog to feel insecure about the other dog. When he sees the other dog “staring” at him, he may see it as the rude, offensive staring behavior mentioned above. He pulls forward and feels the pull of the leash. He feels restrained from being able to approach. Frustration ensues, and after a number of times he begins to feel frustrated seeing other dogs while on a leash at a distance. This is what is called conditioned frustration or leash reactivity.

This can happen with any breed, and it is common in today’s style of living. Also, this does not mean that your dog is necessarily dog-aggressive or less tolerant of other dogs, especially if your dog is fine playing with his select, properly-introduced friends off-leash.

The way to curb and/or prevent this behavior is to reinforce a differential behavior. This means that you teach your dog to focus on something else instead of the dog over there. This can be a “sit” and “watch me” or you can also have your dog perform a down-stay and a look at you at the same time. Continuing to walk with your dog and having him look at you while passing the other dog is also very successful at keeping your dog from even locking into a stare-down with the other dog. Timing is key, don't even let your dog stare at the other dog at all. This eliminates the frustration before it can even begin. If you wait until he's already frustrated, lunging and pulling forward, he may not even hear you say, "look" or "watch me" at that point.

These distraction techniques will prevent frustration from building up while on-leash around other dogs. A good leash manners class can help you learn these very simple techniques. Then you can take these techniques outside the class and use them in life in many different situations.

Establishing good leadership with your dog is a very good way to start. This also helps your dog feel that someone is in charge and gives him a better sense of security around other dogs.

The above is a very good way to set a good example in public with your dog showing good manners around other dogs. He can be taught to even be calm and focused on you even when other dogs are riled. This is very impressive in public and really shows off your dog as an ambassador.

Marthina McClayDog Trainer/Behavioral Counselor
Certified Canine Good Citizen Evaluator
Tester/Observer for Therapy Dogs
Int'l Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

1 comment:

Tilsy said...

Great article... basic but makes perfect 'canine' sense.
My dog is an absolute pain in the butt when on the leash with other dogs around - even tries to bite me when I correct him. I am going to try this on our next walk.