I was amazed at the number of “good dogs” walking calmly by their owner’s side through the maze of people as if they had done this a 1,000 times or more.
I was more amazed at the number of dogs pulling their owners through the crowd tangling people with the leash or jumping on kids who were trying to walk and eat a hot dog (fondly remembered as Dome Dogs).
I’ve been on a number of lessons in the past where dog walking issues was the complaint – more specifically, pulling on leash and sometimes it ended in the dog becoming reactive or aggressive towards other dogs. One was a Border Collie that turned out to have fear aggression resulting from a lack of socialization.
Another was a 24 month old male golden who, on observation, had always been in charge of the walk. The owner had the road rash to prove it. The owner seemed to think her dog might be aggressive towards other dogs but really didn’t know because she was afraid to ever let him near dogs.
I immediately recognized the symptom: “BOHS” or Bad Owner Handling Skills. The owner clearly over time kept communicating wrong information to the dog by keeping the leash tight. And, as the dog was consistently corrected for pulling, over time he began to think, My owner doesn’t want me to go near other dogs.”
Additionally, opposite reflex action – owner pulling back – causes dogs to naturally pull against the leash pressure when owners “honk down” on the leash. And of course, the dog was pulling in the direction of the other dog. Owner anxiety travels down the leash to the dog and further exacerbates the problem. Clearly this dog would never get a good butt sniff much less a good playtime with other dogs – unless we could resolve this issue.
In my lesson with the golden, I was not sure what to expect meeting other dogs so I brought two of my dogs. I muzzled the golden, put him on a flat buckle collar and a15’ long line to make sure there was no leash tension and proceeded to approached my two dogs – one at a time (from behind for a good butt sniff).
The golden showed no signs of aggression at all either on muzzle or off muzzle. I finally mixed up the approaches with pass-bys and frontal approaches and still no issues. Over the weeks we concentrated on correct owner/dog practice on how to walk their dog on a slack leash around other neighborhood dogs and this eliminated any of my concerns with territorial aggression or aggression to protect the owner.
Key: Learn how to correctly walk your dog on a slack leash and try to check your anxiety at the door before the walk. Structure your walk with your dog so that he looks to your leadership.
Control most of the walk – but do give your dog his unstructured time to pee, poop, sniff and explore with his nose. It is also a good idea to have your dog sit before allowing your dog to leave your side for his flex time. Build your confidence in your handling skills with practice and time. Remember, the window of socialization and desensitization for most puppies closes by 5 months of age.
Socialize your puppy well and keep it up through the life of your dog. Learn how to walk your dog on a loose leash as this will lead to many more satisfying walks for both you and your dog.
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children. And remember: “Opportunity Barks!”