Bark - Snarl - Bark!
"Sorry! She's actually friendly!"
You hear yourself saying this to other dog walkers over and over. What starts out as a calm walk turns into a stressful event for you and your pup the moment another dog shows up.
What's going on?
Your dog, your baby, your angel who snuggles with you and is scared of the vacuum cleaner is leash aggressive.
Leash aggression refers to a very specific behavior, and dogs who are leash aggressive might not actually be aggressive in other contexts. They might be dogs who love going to the vet, adore the mailman, and act friendly towards cats. Essentially, leash aggression shows up when dogs cannot meet other dogs on their terms.
When dogs meet other dogs off leash, such as in a dog park, they don't approach one another head-on the way humans do. Instead, they begin to walk towards each other but once they are a few feet away, they allow a wider berth to start to circle. Dogs need to sniff one another and ensure that they are dealing with someone trustworthy. Direct movement towards them - especially by a strange dog - can be a sign that they are about to be attacked.
This is where the human world and dog world do not easily intersect. Humans walk in straight lines. In the modern world, our sidewalks are wide enough for two people: one coming, and one going. It's considered discourteous to step off of the sidewalk and into someone's yard, and it could be dangerous to step off into the street. So as we walk with our dogs, a perfect world would have those dogs stay by our sides and politely nod to the other dog walking by. But dogs will be dogs, and whether they are protecting you or feeling vulnerable, leash aggressive dogs will continue to lunge or react negatively to another dog coming their way.
Here are a few ways to deal with leash aggression:
1. Be aware of the issue. It doesn't make you a bad owner to have a leash aggressive dog. Your dog could be the sweetest, fluffiest dog in the world but please accept reality when it's barking at your neighbor's Shih Tzu. This sweet fluffy dog needs learn some better reactions to not stress out others.
2. Train your dog to walk at heal. There are a number of ways to do this, and it might involve hiring a professional dog trainer. At first, reward your dog with treats for staying by your side. Make sure that your dog knows that you are in charge of the walk - not them.
3. Stay calm If you get upset when your pup lunges towards another dog, you are only reinforcing his belief that this is an unsafe situation. Take deep breaths and keep your tone calm.
4. Enlist your friends. If your dog has other dog friends, ask them to help you. Practice walking towards one other. Of course, the dogs will know that this is safe and might just want to run and play. But try to keep your dog by your side to know what proper walk behavior is.
5. Consider a harness. This won't necessarily stop leash aggression, but it can protect your dog's neck and throat in the event of sudden pulling. A good harness can keep the dog's shoulder muscles snug to help prevent jumping or lunging. It can also give you something to grab with your hand in the event that you'll need to pull your dog away.
Leash aggression can be a headache. Hopefully with some time and training, your dog can learn that walks are fun and safe, and that chilling out on the leash is possible.