In stressful situations, dogs that have not learned to adequately cope with something as simple as walking on a leash instinctively revert to a fight or flight mode and exhibit leash aggression.
Since they are tethered to a leash, the flight option is eliminated. To them, the only means of survival left is to stand their ground, which leads to leash aggression.
To compound the predicament, you are partially responsible. You likely expected your dog’s inappropriate reaction and have pulled up on the leash. Without realizing it, you have just confirmed, “Houston, we have a problem!”
We strongly recommend enrolling in positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience class before you have serious behavior problems. Your puppy or dog will learn how to socialize and behave properly, but you will also gain instructions on how to maintain control positively.
However, many do-it-yourselfers out there believe they don’t need or want assistance training their pet.
Either way, it’s never too late to modify your dog’s behavior to eliminate leash aggression.
To begin modifying your dog’s leash aggression, first, you need to look at the equipment and position you are using. If you use a retractable leash and reel your dog in and out, you encourage your dog to pull. If you encourage your dog to walk in front of you, out to the side, or even behind you, then you are following your dog.
Not only are retractable leashes of no use for obedience training and proper walking, but they are also dangerous. Throw it out and get a 6-foot leash, preferably leather. It is well worth the investment.
We recommend a training collar, also known as a modified martingale. Adjust the collar to fit securely. Then position it high on your dog’s neck, directly behind their ears. You now have more control and won’t be choking your pet.
An added advantage of a training collar is that when fitted properly, your dog cannot slip out of it, even when pulling backward. The more the dog pulls, the tighter the collar gets.
Never wrap a leash around your hand or wrist.
Cause and effect
Think of your leash as a telephone line to your dog. When you are walking your dog correctly, you should both be relaxed. Your hands should be at waist level. Your dog should be on your left side, not behind you or you. Ideally, the leash should be relaxed enough, so there is a U in the leash between you and your dog.
Always remain calm. If you are uptight and anticipating problems without realizing it, you are probably holding the leash too short or up too high. By choking up on the leash, you are inadvertently signaling your dog to pull. The harder you pull, the more your dog will pull. This is called opposition reflex.
When your dog’s behavior becomes inappropriate, you probably tense up and clutch that leash so tightly that your dog receives the indicator to charge.
Note: Dogs being aggression trained, whether for fighting or security, are trained similarly. The handler tightens and shortens the lead as the agitator “threatens” the dog. The dog is encouraged to pull toward the aggressor by the handler, shortening the leash before finally releasing them: their reward, a chunk out of their tormentor.
Suggestions to modify inappropriate behavior
Obedience training is paramount. If you do not have adequate control over your pet, by simply giving simple commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “enough,” start there.
You may accomplish your objective with one technique, or you may have to try all of them. The success of the training depends on how you demonstrate to your pet what you expect and how quickly they associate altering their behavior to conform to that expectation.
Next, teach your dog the command “focus” or “watch me!” Dogs are not multitask-oriented. They can only do one thing at a time.
When you distract your dog by making them focus on you and follow a simple “sit” or “down” command, you may give the object of their previous focus time to get away and the leash aggression to dissipate.
Another method is to avoid confrontation before it happens. Do this by turning and walking in the opposite direction until your dog relaxes. Praise your dog immediately when it is under control. Then turn, and continue your walk.
Repeat this as many times as need be. You may only have to do it a few times, or you may have to do it many, many, many times. Some dogs catch on faster than others. Eventually, your dog should get the message not to overreact and show leash aggression.
A third method is to set your dog up. Either get help from someone with a dog your dog doesn’t like or take your dog where there are other dogs. When your dog’s behavior is inappropriate, make a firm correction, followed by a simple command such as “enough!” Allow the dog a few seconds to respond to the correction.
If they respond appropriately, praise and reward them by removing the object triggering the bad behavior. If the dog doesn’t respond correctly by relaxing, don’t remove the other dog until yours follows your command and relaxes.
The principle behind this method is that the object of their discord is removed only when your dog is calm and not showing leash aggression.
Alternatively, CBD oils can help ease their anxiety because of their soothing and calming ingredients.
Behavior modification to eliminate leash aggression takes time and effort, and patience. How quickly your dog responds depends on their level of intelligence, how long the inappropriate behavior has been allowed, and how simple and precise your instructions are.
Keep in mind; that you may have to try more than one method.
Consistently demonstrate in simple ways, so your dog will understand what you expect them to do. The sooner you address the problem of leash aggression, the sooner you can correct it.
Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.