One of the most common problems I’m called for is something of a mystery to owners. It’s termed “leash aggression” among dog trainers, and it’s the case of a dog being aggressive toward other dogs only when on leash.
Leash aggression typically starts when dogs are still young. They’re bouncing around at the end of their leash, wanting to meet every dog they pass. Then three things happen:
1. They aren’t allowed to meet every dog they pass, and they aren’t re-directed into something more positive. Instead, they bounce along yelling out, “Hey! Dog! Over here! You want to come play?! I totally would, but dang this leash is stopping me!” Eventually they get frustrated at never being able to get to the other dog (and constantly obsessing on it) and then start to associate seeing other dogs with frustration. Aggression builds.
2. They are allowed to meet every dog they pass (or many dogs they pass) and/or are jumped at/snapped at/lunged at. Not every dog wants to meet your dog, sadly.
3. They start seeing dogs who are also leash aggressive, and become intimidated by another dog essentially cursing them out. Since the best defense is a good offense, and since those who are bullied, bully… you can follow this to its end!
If you have a young dog, there are some things you can do to mediate this effect.
1. Keep your dog from getting obsessed with other dogs. YOU are your dog’s best friend; they really don’t need to meet everyone they see. When they start bouncing around and wanting to go see the other dog, get their attention with a kind word, a pet, a treat, anything that will turn their focus back to you. This way we break the obsession and keep them from getting frustrated.
2. They really don’t need to meet every — or most — dogs they pass. Imagine you’re walking through the shopping center. Do you say hello and shake hands with everyone you pass? No? Why would your dog do the same? If you did do that, would people get annoyed and start avoiding you? Probably! Our children, like our dogs, don’t know better and want to meet everyone. Do we curtail this as possible, or allow it? Puppies are like children. They aren’t aware that there are other dogs in the world who don’t want to deal with them (which, honestly, is most dogs over the age of 7 and many dogs of a younger age), and we have to teach them when and where it’s appropriate to meet other dogs. This will keep them from being jumped at/lunged at/snapped at.
3. There’s not much we can do about this one, except bolster our dogs, praise them and give them treats when they ignore a bully. We can also call their attention to us, helping them to ignore the bully. You can’t stop the other dog, but you can teach yours to turn the other cheek!
Following these steps will give you the best shot at keeping your young dog or puppy from becoming leash aggressive. If your dog is already leash aggressive, you can start on these steps and see if they help; sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. (If they don’t, then you need to call a dog trainer!) Either way, at least now you understand why your dog is only aggressive on leash!