Leash Reactivity

When you have your dog on leash and without meaning to, you might inadvertently be teaching your dog to be aggressive.

For example, think about this scenario –

You have decided to take your dog for a walk.  You know he is a bit nervous of strange places and is also a bit distrustful of strange dogs approaching, but you believe that a walk will do him good.  While on your walk your dog is approached by another dog – he starts behaving strangely – he freezes and gives a soft growl.  No-one pays any attention to these messages that he would rather not greet the strange dog.  So the strange dog keeps on getting nearer and your dog’s growling becomes more intense.  It is your reaction that will now start your dog on the road to being aggressive when on leash.  You believe that your dog should be punished for behaving in this way and you give the leash a jerk and shout at him “NO!” and then, probably move away as you want to avoid a fight.

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Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, and from now on every time your dog sees a dog approaching and he is on lead, he will associate the approaching dog with the punishment he received the first time and will now regard the dog as dangerous.  The need to survive will require either flight or fight and because he is on lead and cannot flee, he will have to stand his ground and because the warning growl was suppressed he will now lunge and bite.

The best way to deal with a nervous dog when on leash is:

  • Learn to read the signals he is sending you
  • When approached by a strange dog (or person) and before the dog or person gets too close, gently move your dog far enough away for his behaviour to normalize and gradually habituate him to the situation until he understands that there is nothing to fear.
  • Teach your dog to walk on a loose leash and pay attention to you when you call his name
  • Practise your recall so that you can safely let him off leash if you are in a situation where you can let him run free and meet other dogs without compromising his normal greeting behaviour.
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