Leash aggression


Leash aggression has got to be the most common problem that k9 guardians deal with on a regular basis.

Leash - a chain, strap, etc., for controlling or leading a dog or other animal; lead.

Aggression - the practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

There are many reasons for leash aggression and most are not true aggression. Leash aggression can be caused by fear, over excitement, lack of education or a misplaced leadership status. There are some cases that are truly dominant aggression but most are not. Even the friendliest of dogs can display leash aggression.

Let’s take Mr. Luke (now gone nearly 4 years) for example. He was one of the worst leash aggression cases that I worked with, yep my dog. The funny thing about Luke was that he was also one of the friendliest and most stable dogs with other we’ve ever had. He was a rock solid lover, not a fighter. Even if a dog picked a fight with him; he’d laugh it off, turn on a dime and head the other way. Many a dog were left standing alone as he chose not to fight, ever.

But the love of my life sure had a blustery case of leash aggression. So where did it come from? As soon as we strap a leash onto our dogs they change. Their ability to move and communicate freely is taken away. They are also close to us, their guardian and may have a guarding behavior kick in. Body language communications are misread as our dogs movement is restricted. Excitement can be misread as aggression when a dog strains at the end of the leash. Back and forth the dogs are misreading much of what could otherwise be a friendly greeting.

A few bad experiences can lead to leash aggression as well. A face to face greeting gone wrong can lead to going on the defense. I am not a fan of face to face on leash greetings. Dogs get tangled, get too close, send wrong communications due to the leash etc. etc.

So what do you do if your dog displays leash aggression? You find the trigger and change the association. Is it other dogs? People? Cars? Once you discover the trigger then you find what most motivates your dog; food, balls, tug toys, catching etc. Then you associate the trigger with the great stuff. Depending on how bad the leash behavior is will factor in on your time to full or partial recovery. If you really want to get rid of leash aggression; then you will implement many different things to connect a positive association to the trigger.

Along with the great “thing” you need space. Space if your friend when dealing with leash aggression. You will not achieve success if you walk right up on the trigger. You must distance yourself far enough to NOT elicit a response. So for some people that may mean 6’ away, 12’ away or 50’ feet away. Once you achieve a tiny bit of success then you can reduce the space by small increments. i

One of the biggest factors in leash aggression is us. Yes, we humans can fuel a leash aggression problem so it is imperative to get a grip and get your chill routine down to a t.

Hire a trainer to help, they will let you know what you are doing right and wrong to solve your leash issue.

Put a muzzle on it.

On the way to the park yesterday, we drove past a woman walking her Pit bull down the street.  I actually did a double take as the traffic slowed for a red light.  The dog was wearing a muzzle and I wanted to be sure that it wasn't just a face harness; and sure enough it was not, it was a full on muzzle.  You don't see dogs wearing muzzles very often and it got me to pondering.  I was impressed, very impressed that this woman was responsible to this degree.  Not only was her dog on a leash but she took the next step and had her dog wear a muzzle.  Obviously the dog is not friendly; I have no idea if it is just a dog issue or perhaps it is not people friendly either.  But nonetheless she was  not taking any chances. 

My mind wandered to the other end of the spectrum as far as safety.  The people who meander into dog parks and beaches with their dog; knowing full well that they are not friendly.  One of the dogs that I was shooting for a magazine was attacked by one of these as we were about to leave a beach on day.  As the scuffle finally ended and we were heading out; the same dog turned around and made a b-line to attack another unsuspecting dog.  They are out there and sadly these dogs live with very bad dog owners. 

It is a dismal thing when a dog is aggressive.  Aggression can stem from many other behaviors, fear, dominance, guarding etc. etc.  But the aggression is the problem, not where it comes from.  There are different levels of aggression; everything from just hating others and trying to keep them away to full on wanting to kill other dogs.  Dogs who growl and snap are common; it can be the dog itself or leash aggression.  But what I'm talking about are the dog who will inflict damage on another dog or human. 

Life is a day to day unfolding of events; many of which we have no control over.  So if you have a very aggressive dog who will grab any dog within grabbing range; then a muzzle is a great thing.  Yes, dogs are suppose to be on leash and yes any dog off leash should be under control but come on.  We all know that people who have unruly dogs let them off leash.  Those people who say "no he won't come," as you yell at them to leash their dog.  It happens far too frequently. 

There will be many people who see this woman with her dog and be angry.  But when you look at it and assess the entire spectrum of what she has done they may change their mind.  She could have been out walking her dog without any regard for others.  Knowing full well that her dog will bite if given the chance and ignored the safety of people and dogs around.  But instead she muzzled her dog for the safety of others.  First off, the muzzle let's people know loud and clear.  She does not need to say "MY DOG IS NOT FRIENDLY," to anyone.  She is hopefully trying to rehabilitate the dog to some degree.  She is not making the problem worse by locking her dog away.  She is thinking of other's safety by putting that muzzle on her dog.  The muzzle that the dog was wearing looked to be a very well fitted one as well. 

I know too many people who have very aggressive dogs who will inflict serious damage to another dog who let their dog off leash.  They know what their dog will do and yet they are so careless.  Many people with dogs like this become angry people; some get a "my dog deserves," attitude.  But I'm sorry, if your dog will hurt another dog or human for that matter; they can never be off leash, bottom line.  No, they cannot.  Not in the back forty, not down a hopefully secluded path or a quiet forest, never.   If your backyard is entirely escape proof then yes but that's it.  If you have a dog like this then get a very well fitted muzzle.  Be sure when you walk your dog that there is no risk of, simply letting go of the leash.  When you know your dog is dangerous; you cannot be willy nilly about it.  You  must take great precautions so that your dog does not hurt someone.

If you do not take extraordinary precautions then it is your dog who will lose out.  A dog can only attack so many dogs or bite people so many times before their life is ended.  Maybe considering the alternative will shake some sense into these people who are careless about their dangerous dogs.   Yes, your dog has a right to enjoy life; but enjoying means creating a safety net for others out enjoying.  Like this woman who had her dog completely under control and safely muzzled.  

I have no tolerance for stupid people and in the end it is the dogs; who will pay for their human's stupidity.   

A line in the sand - the mount.

Communicating without mounting

Many dogs have a line that they have which should not be crossed.  That line is being mounted.  Luke has a clear line, when he was young it was even clearer.  He would allow rough play, even rude behavior but don't set foot on him.  If a dog attempted to mount him, he would take swift and immediate action.  One of his best friends way back when he was a youngster was a very rambunctious Boxer.  They played hard, leaping over one another and hitting as boys like to do.  He loved to play rough as long as there was no mounting involved.  Now his line is a bit blurry as a senior; he doesn't allow nonsense in any shape or form.  He likes to be left alone unless he is interested in an interaction, he's earned that right.

But many dogs have the same line when it comes to being mounted.  At two years of age Elsa has the line.  Penny, my daughters young Bull Terrier is at our house for a visit; she has been brawling with Elsa since the moment she walked into the house.  Yesterday, for a moment in the late afternoon Penny gave the mount option a try.   Elsa had just lay down on the blanket set out for them in the kitchen.  It was very hot out so they were both inside enjoying the A/C.  As Penny approached Elsa, it was clear that Elsa immediately saw something she didn't like.  Of course I was watching them like a hawk when I saw Elsa's reaction to Penny's approach.  There was something different about it.  Penny's ears were very upright; high on her head and close together.  She put one foot on Elsa causing Elsa to growl and change her demeanor.

My attention was now undivided as I watched the interaction.  Penny now had Elsa's undivided attention as well.  She approached again and put one foot on Elsa's leg.  At this point Elsa was still laying down on the blanket.  But as Penny's foot dropped onto Elsa's leg; Elsa let out a short but meaningful growl.  That was the line and Penny had crossed it.  "That's enough" I said as Elsa got to her feet.  As slow and methodical as it had started; it was extinguished in an instant.  The moment was over; Elsa was on her feet and the two began to play again.  Funny how dogs can have such harsh words and be over it instantly.

Once they started to play again, Elsa dropped to the floor and had Penny on top of her head.  They are constantly on top of each other but play standing over and dominance standing over are two entirely different things.  As an expert body language reader; Elsa reads with crazy precision.   Elsa came to us with this skill and it has served her well.  Now that she is entering into an age of maturity; communications have more meaning.

As an avid dog watcher and behavior specialist I see lots of crazy behavior.  Mounting is one behavior that is often misplaced and typically undesirable.  I see it a lot in puppy mill dogs or dogs who have not had the appropriate time with their siblings and Mother.  Some pet store dogs are perpetual mounters which can get them into all sorts of trouble.  Often seen as a "no big deal," behavior from novice or uneducated dog owners.  A mount can quickly turn an interaction into a serious problem.

But a mount is not always read as a threat.  It can be an obsessive issue; a behavior used for anything and everything with regard to excitement.  If a mounting obsessive dog uses it on another dog; the other dog may see it as just sort of annoying.  I have seen these obsessive mounters at the dog parks.  Many of the recipients to the mounting just simply try to shake it off, literally.  But there will always be the one dog who's line will be crossed making that obsessive behavior a dangerous one.

Mounting seen in our household dogs is an undesirable behavior.  It is a very natural behavior that is seen in wolves.  It is a behavior used to enforce or establish dominance.  The act of mounting in itself is not all that dangerous but the meaning behind it is.  The problem lies with dogs mounting strange dogs or dogs who do not live within their pack.  Even dogs within a pack can run into trouble by mounting one another.  The problem lies with the acceptance of a mount by the mountee (dog being mounted.)  Hence the invisible line which is drawn in the sand as far as mounting is concerned.

Do not allow your dog to mount others.  If you have several dogs in your home; watch for this behavior.  Mounting may be accepted for a point; or may never cause an issue.  My girl Jessie use to regularly mount the legs of my Poodles.  They knew what she was doing and why she was doing it but never felt threatened by it due to her size.  She was the clear boss in their minds and every so often just needed to remind them.  There unresponsive reaction was probably due to the fact that I always removed her.  But as long as you are the boss of your home, mounting is an unnecessary behavior.  As far as mounting dogs in public, at parks, beach etc.  Do not allow it.  Nip it in the bud as they say; it can only lead to problems.