Reprinted with permission from Sally Hummel, Rugby James. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced elsewhere in any form. Copyright May 24, 2016.
Leash aggression is one of the most common types of aggressive behavior I see on a regular basis. It can be very dangerous, especially if the aggressive dog is large and difficult to manage on a leash! Dogs really can be very aggressive when they are on a leash, so it honestly is a serious cause for concern.
Leash aggressive dogs are often barking wildly,sometimes snarling and growling, often lunging and pulling at the sight of another dog. Some dogs can fire up at the mere sight of a dog at a distance, and others don’t fire up until the other dog is sniffing or in a very close proximity. The common denominator for the behavior is that the aggressive dog is always aggressive when he is on a leash.
Believe it or not, some leash aggressive dogs can play nicely with other dogs off leash! Doesn’t that just seem crazy? I see it all the time, and it always makes my mind want to bend in a direction that it doesn’t want to go! Talk about oxymorons, right? It should be mutually exclusive, but that’s part of what makes aggression such a weird behavior to correct, and why it’s so very important to prevent it from initially getting started!
How Leash Aggression Often Starts
There can be many causes for leash aggression, and I’m only going to address the most common ones that I see. Often, leash aggression gets started in very innocent ways…. on daily walks and outings! Picture a young puppy, who is excited and happy to go on his walk. He’s running, stopping, sniffing, dropping anchor, and sitting down. And picture another dog or human coming along and catching the puppy’s eye. Naturally he wants to go say hello, because he’s naturally curious about something new. He might also want attention and/or an opportunity to play with another dog!
So, he starts to pull and jump toward the other person or dog, and his well meaning owner gives him a very strong correction on his leash, probably scolding at the same time, because he wants a nicely mannered dog who doesn’t do such things. The leash correction may physically hurt the puppy, and the correction…coupled with his owner’s cross words, most likely scares him. Picture this happening multiple times on a walk, and multiple times a week.
If this continues to happen, after a while, that little puppy gets a strong message that his owner never intended for him to receive. He starts to associate that correction with the presence of humans or dogs, and that association is a negative one, since he always ends up getting into trouble whenever they are around.
Now, when this puppy is on a walk, instead of seeing other dogs or humans and thinking good things, he will immediately think of them in a negative way. His lunging and barking which were once friendly, are now aggressive, because it’s his attempt to make them go away so that he doesn’t get punished! Yikes! Who knew that would happen!!
How to Prevent Leash Aggression
The very best way to prevent leash aggression from starting, is by teaching your dog to walk nicely on a loose leash with you. Many people think that the “right” way to walk a dog is by teaching that dog to walk right at their side, 100% of the time. And many people think that they are “teaching” their dog when they hold the leash tightly so that the dog must walk at their side. In my opinion, that’s not “teaching” anything, because the dog has no choice but to comply. He’s forced to stay at his owner’s side, and his collar or harness is tight the entire time! That’s sure not going to make walks a very fun experience for dog or owner!
I prefer to teach dogs to choose to walk on a loose leash, staying on one side of their owner. That way, there’s no pulling or tripping, and as long as the leash is loose, there’s not going to be any incorrect or unwanted messages being taught to the dog. I don’t think it’s any more “correct” to insist that a dog walk at my side, than to simply walk with me on a loose leash. As long as the leash remains loose, I enjoy letting my dog have a bit of freedom to sniff around and have some fun on walks.
To be sure, I also teach dogs to “Heel” which is a command that requires a dog to walk immediately at the owner’s side. But again, always on a loose leash! If you start training your dog with a pleasant walk on a loose leash, you’ll see that often what happens is that the dog will check in with his handler, looking back at him from time to time. And, as the dog gets tired from the walk, he will naturally slow down a bit, and end up walking pretty close to a Heel all on his own. Dogs are very smart, and often intuitive about their owners. With a few tweaks, some good leash technique and some patience, this most common form of leash aggression can be completely avoided.
Part of what I just doesn’t get about Uprights is why Uprights finks doggers is too dumb to make good choices! We can figure stuff out really good! And when the Mama works wif me, she always tries to make sure that what she wants me to do is my best option, so I will want to make that my choice! She always makes sure she gots sum tasty treats or kibbles for me, and she always lubs me up a big much and that kind of stuff. I likesa get rewards for making good choices, so if she makes the reward sumping that I’m willing to work for….I make that choice almost every single time!
The Mama likesa use a harness wif me, on account of it doesn’t put any pressure on my neck at all! That way, if I does lunge after sumping, I’m not gonna get any kinda strong correction what might make me wanna get aggressive or make me extra reactive. We use a harness what holds me really secure sos I can’t get out of it if I start to wig out over sumping.
The Mama is really kind wif the leash. She doesn’t make it get really tight at all. She lets it stay loose sos I just feel like I’m walking wif a friend instead of sumpawdy what is trying to control me to make me do stuff. That really helps me relax! And the Mama practices “Leave it” and “Watch me” all the time, sos I can learn to tune out the stuff around me and pay attention to her.
The rules what the Mama makes for me at home is that calm and relaxed behavior can earn me a reward. We play games what helps me learn to has sum self control sos I won’t be so reactive when I’m away from home. These kinds of fings helps carry over into self control when I really needsa behave.
Here’s a lil movie what the Mama maked last November when we was out for a walkie. The leash is staying purty loose, and I listen purty good to the Mama when she tells me stuff. When she feels me pull on the leash, she gives a gentle tug and tells me “No” and I stop pulling. We has worked at home lots and lots, so that we can be a team when we go sumplace togedder!
In 2007, a dog trainer found herself falling in love with her first rescue dog. That trainer was Sally Hummel and the dog would become Rugby James. The goal of her website is to provide education, support, community, encouragement, and hope. Difficult dogs are often “recycled from shelter to home to shelter to home, and back to shelter, until they are often put to sleep.” Sally would like to change this by sharing her own day to day life with a “neurotic” dog. She wants to help owners “stay committed to their pooch, and try to make life better for them.” Her site exists because she believes pet owners can live well with a difficult dog. Her own Rugby James is living proof of that!