Over the years many clients have initially come to me because of dog aggression when walking on a leash. Interestingly, many of these dogs were not, in fact, aggressive – their behavior was simply a result of the dog perceiving the owner’s anxiety. The first step in curbing any negative behavior in dogs is dog training, and lots of it. I cannot overemphasize the critical nature of training in order to establish yourself as the pack leader, and subsequently teach your dog to respond to basic obedience commands. Only after you have mastered these two phases, can you expect your dog to respond to you (and trust you) in potentially fearful or unknown situations. After basic training, aggression when walking on a leash can be evaluated properly by the owner and effectively addressed.
Assuming your dog has successfully completed basic obedience training, the first step is to have confidence in your handling skills, leave your anxiety at the door and understand that as long as your dog is on a leash the situation is controllable. IF your dog is well-trained, some ideas to curb dog aggression when walking on a leash include:
- Ask the other dog owner if their dog is friendly and if so, let them interact. A good way to do this is to allow your dog to approach the other dog from behind for a little backside, get-to-know-you sniff. This is the best non-aggressive hello in dog-language.
- Alternatively, keep on walking and pass the dog by, or put your dog in an obedience command of sit and stay (at a safe distance) while the other dog passes. Both of these communicate to your dog that you are in control of the situation, and they need not worry. This also helps with familiarity, so that passing another dog on a leash becomes a regular occurrence.
- Take the opportunity to train your dog with other dogs around (when the environment is safe), and begin to reward your dog for neutral or positive behavior around other dogs. Anything short of good behavior requires a stern OFF, then call your dog to you, get a sit, and then send your dog to interact once more.
With the above suggestions, repetition is key, especially around other dogs/distractions. If you are not having success in consistency, and/or if your pet continues to struggle with aggression while walking on a leash, I recommend that you see a positive reinforcement trainer in your area, being sure to work on distraction training.
Again, always set your dog up to be successful. Give your dog what he needs and he will give you back years of wonderful companionship and love.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember, “Opportunity Barks!”