How to Train your Dog to be not as Leash Aggressive


Leash aggression is caused, for the most part, by frustration. It occurs when a dog pulls hard on the leash trying to get to another dog. He’s not able to reach the other dog, so he throws a tantrum. The tantrum has all the earmarks of aggression: full tooth display, straining to get to the other dog, dilated pupils, barking, or growling. However, in most cases, if the owner lets go of the leash, the dog will race up to the other dog and introduce himself. Leash-aggressive dogs are often bullies, so their overtures might be quite uncivilized (which certainly could cause a fight).

Leash aggression is very common, and most of the aggression cases I see involve it. Most leash-aggressive dogs are not aggressive off leash but can be holy terrors on leash, scaring the other dog, the other owner, their owner, and themselves. How, then, do you control these dogs? Every time you yank on the leash, you increase his frustration; if you yell, you’re barking with him. The best behavior modification technique combines learning to walk on leash nicely and conditioning your dog to realize that other dogs are not as interesting as you are.

How to Train your Dog to be not as Leash Aggressive  Dog Leash

Behavior modification method

The equipment you use when modifying aggressive behavior should be humane and completely reliable. Make sure your leash is comfortable to use and doesn’t have any cuts in it. Your dog’s collar should be secure—it should not come off. I’ve found that some modern harnesses with a front leash attachment are extraordinarily helpful when modifying leash aggression. When you pull back on a regular collar, the dog tends to pull forward, his head straining toward the oncoming dog. This increases frustration and sometimes aggression. When you use the harness, it minimizes and sometimes even eliminates leash pulling. It also tends to shift your dog’s position, pulling him backward in a sort of U-turn. This allows you to get his attention back to you much more easily. Strider was leash aggressive when I got him (as well as anxious!); I attribute much of my success with him to the harness—as well as my fantastic training, of course.

Many people don’t know if their dogs are truly aggressive or just leash aggressive. A good trainer can usually find out by testing the dog under controlled circumstances. It’s very gratifying to see an owner’s relief when he or she realizes his or her dog doesn’t want to kill all other dogs. Unfortunately, these dogs are still in for a lot of work to modify the behavior. Just because you know what it is doesn’t mean it’s easily fixed.

To solve leash aggression, you’ll need to teach your dog to walk properly on leash and demonstrate to him that he doesn’t have the right to meet every single dog that he sees. Of course, that’s easy to say and much harder for a poor owner to do! First, practice lessons including sit, recall (come), and find-it at home (in a calm location) until your dog is very reliable. It is impossible to teach an exercise when your dog is overly excited, which he will be when he sees another dog.

There are other methods for working on leash aggression, and most require the help of a good trainer. I don’t ever recommend physically punishing a dog who has any kind of aggression, including leash aggression. There’s a huge chance it will backfire on you.

Going for a walk

Walk the dog when he is hungry, and take along some delicious treats. He should be on a slack, not tight, 6-foot leash. Hold most of the leash in your hand, but make sure he’s not pulling, as tight leashes increase frustration and encourage aggression. When your dog sees another dog, say your dog’s name, get attention from your dog, and move as far away from the other dog as you need to (desensitization). Now you have several choices. You can continue to walk by as you give him treats, or you can signal him to sit and reward him. You can also turn away from the other dog and use your find-it lesson, which will tend to reinforce a different behavior (that of finding food.) You should be able to keep your dog’s attention on you or on the treats on the ground while the other dog passes you or you pass the other dog. If the other dog comes too close, grab your dog’s collar and continue to move in an arc away from the dog, keeping your eyes on him and your body between him and the other dog. Stopping sometimes increases the anxiety, while moving more quickly can spark a chase behavior in an oncoming dog.

Repeat this sequence several times, allowing your dog to get closer to the strange dog as he becomes more relaxed. He should get a delicious treat when he sees the other dog and when he gets past the other dog. Remember to try not to sound worried or overly concerned when training your dog to do this. It is just a training exercise, and the more worried you are, the more anxious your dog will be.

How to Train your Dog to be not as Leash Aggressive  Dog Leash Aggressive

Your overall goal is to keep your dog’s attention predominantly on you while walking past another dog. He should be rewarded before, during, and after the process. If he begins to show aggression, move rapidly away, but don’t yell at him—he may have been pushed past his threshold.

As the behavior becomes more reliable (at least three weeks of consistent rewarding), begin to vary the number and times you reward good behavior. Your dog should view you as a godlike creature who dispenses various types of praise and goodies at different rates.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Desensitization and counter conditioning methods take time to work. We humans tend to get impatient and quit before we see results, or we quit when we get some results but they’re not consistent. Repetition is the key to success—think of 1,000 repetitions as your base. In some cases, I’ve worked with a dog for months or even years, always seeing slow, steady improvement.

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About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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