Leash Behavior Around Other Dogs Explained and Tips to Walk Nicely on a Leash

Many dog owners encounter an interesting and perplexing problem when walking their dogs on a leash. They likely know their four-legged furry buddy to be the kindest, gentlest soul on the planet when with their owners, being great with kids, other animals in the home, and very calm and friendly when meeting new people.

That is why it is so surprising when their dogs react aggressively towards other dogs during walks on a leash when another dog is in sight. The most interesting thing is that if walking around people or even other dogs when unleashed, the same dog is perfectly docile or playful. This phenomenon is actually quite common, even common enough to be monikered “leash aggression.”

Leash aggressive dogs rarely end up causing harm or biting, but they can lunge, yank on the leash, and snap when another dog is in sight. This experience tends to be frustrating, embarrassing, and at times frightening to the owners. After all, they know their pup better than that. This causes many owners to reevaluate their walk routes and even limit the walks to not experience leash aggression anymore.

Causes of Leash Aggression

As with most things, there is a cause for this behavior, as well as solutions. At its core, this behavior is driven by the dog’s desire to interact with other dogs. It is often the case that while the dog is used to interaction with humans, their exposure to other dogs is relatively limited.

Imagine living in a world where we occasionally would see another human, most of the time, it is just another creature that housed us, fed us, played with us, and took us for walks. Our social skills would be severely underdeveloped. Similarly, a dog craving interaction with other canines will have less than ideal meetings with other dogs.

When dogs pass each other on the street, they often do not have the social canine structure that humans expect from them, and they display wanting to interact with the other animal by less than subtle signs. Embarrassed and frightened owners, upon witnessing this seemingly aggressive canine behavior, pull back their dog, literally, as well as figuratively from being able to interact with other dogs if that will be the end result.

Ironically, this only exacerbates the problem. By withdrawing from interactions with other canines, the owners deprive the dog of every developing ability to learn appropriate canine-based relationships, the pups are doomed to spend their lives lacking what they begin to realize they crave: dog interaction.

Solutions to Leash Aggression

Going Off-Leash

One of the best solutions is actually to deal with the problem of leash aggression by removing the leash. This may seem counterintuitive on its face, but it actually is not. Without leashes, dogs can naturally greet each other from the side and sniff each other's genitals. These greetings only last a few seconds, but they can become combative when dogs are forced to approach each other head-on, as is typically the case when being walked on a leash coming from opposite directions. When dogs walk towards each other, their natural predisposition is that their owners intend for them to fight. Because they do not actually want to do that, they try to increase the distance between themselves and the other dog. The tools that a dog uses for this type of distance-enhancing behaviors is to lunge forward, growl, and bark. They begin to see the other dog as a threat, one that they are trying to remove from their presence.

Feeling trapped, the dogs react aggressively. Some owners tighten the leashes assuming it communicates to the dog that they should restrain themselves. What it really communicates is that the owner is stressed. The dog then absorbs this stress, and that drives the otherwise friendly pup to switch out of flight mode and turn to fight mode.

Without a leash, however, dogs can interact with one another more naturally, get along, and socialize. Their own natural instincts will lead them to develop a relationship and be playful rather than getting aggressive and snapping at each other. 

Owners’ Understanding

Some dogs, especially those who are lacking proper canine-social training, behave rudely to other dogs, like an overly aggressive child who thinks their shoving and hitting is just playful behavior. Much like many parents would look at their child being aggressive and think they are just being friendly, aggressive, and rude behavior by dogs is typically due to perceiving it as excitement and friendliness. All this does is enable the dog to continue behavior poorly and promote this type of behavior in the future.

Owners need to recognize that if their dog is rude to another, the other dog will react aggressively. Many owners wrongly interpret this as the other dog being needlessly aggressive, when it is actually their own pup that's the problem. Many adult dogs will be patient with puppies when their antics get aggressive, but they put up with this behavior from an adult dog a lot less frequently.

Many people will reprimand their dogs for aggressive behavior, but this tends to backfire as the dog begins to associate that other dogs cause punishment to happen, and punishment increases the anxiety level in a dog. That aggression can turn, in some cases, back at the owner. Anything that increases anxiety, increases aggression. If the dog is reprimanded for barking, it could lead to no warning signs if the dog is ready to bite.

Attention and Reward Conditioning

There are a few things that can help curb leash aggression. Before going out for a walk get the dog’s attention by saying their name, then reward and praise them for responding to their name. Do this in quiet environments first, then move on to busier ones. This will mean that the dog will respond to your voice no matter what environment you happen to be in.

When another dog approaches during a walk, wait until your dog notices the other, then get your dog's attention without waiting for the reaction of the other dogs. Reward them again. This will cause the dog to associate the behavior with rewards and they are more apt to act correctly. If you do not make it in time, simply distance yourself from the other dog, without punishing the dog for the barking.

If the dogs are approaching each other head-on, just redirect so that the dogs are side by side. If the dog still lunges, get their attention, and reward more often. If your dog has hurt another dog or person, it might be time to seek the help of a professional and while those arrangements are being made, a muzzle on the dog during walks is not out of the question either.

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