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Reduce the Chance of Dog Aggression on the Leash

Common dog-walking mistakes can produce stress and even aggression. Here’s how to avoid them.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
August 4, 2009
Episode #022

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Out in the ether, there’s a notion that all normal dogs want to greet all other dogs all the time, and will suffer crushing pangs if they can’t do so. Like other unexamined notions about dogs, this one often gets us and them into trouble. In a previous episode, we covered getting your dog to stop yanking on the leash on your walks.  This week, on-leash dog-dog greetings and why I recommend giving them a pass.

On-Leash Greetings: Trouble in Dog Town

Dogs vary in their greeting styles, in how comfortable they are with new canine acquaintances, and in how they respond to strange dogs getting into their personal space. Being on leash can complicate these factors. A tight leash pulls a dog’s body upward, so that her posture may appear challenging to other dogs. Many dogs respond tensely to a direct frontal approach by another dog -- but two people walking their dogs will often pass or greet each other head-on. Finally, people don’t always recognize canine signals of unease or even imminent explosion.

The stage can be set for dog-dog greetings that rapidly turn into arguments or even fights, which is no fun for anybody. And for some dogs, especially those who were a bit shy or touchy to begin with, such encounters may have long-term behavioral effects. Many clients have reported to me that their dog’s reactive on-leash barking and lunging at other dogs got its start after a dog-dog greeting that went south.

Your Best Choice: Avoid On-Leash Greetings Altogether

You have two main lines of defense. Alas, the one I prefer really rains on people’s parades: don’t have on-leash meetings with dogs, period. A high-quality manners class using reward-based methods will help you teach your dog to focus on you even when other dogs are around.

Besides lowering the odds that your dog will learn unfortunate lessons, a no-greetings policy helps keep life simple for her. A single rule – “When I’m on leash, other dogs are irrelevant” – is easier to learn and potentially less frustrating than “Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.” Life may also be simpler for you if you don’t need to make a decision about every dog you encounter on every walk you take.

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