Yes, I've written about leash aggression over and over again. But after a trip to the park and witnessing two episodes of it I just have to discuss it further. Luke, Elsa and I had just gotten out of the Xterra and were on our way to the open area of the park. It is nice going out with both of them; but it is getting harder for Elsa as Luke slows. She is very good at walking slowly but you can see her chomping at the bit. As we rounded a corner I heard the jingling of dog tags behind us. Glancing over my shoulder to see who was coming; I recognized them immediately. A woman with her two Siberian Huskies; I see her often, running through the park with her dog. I like that she runs with her dogs; Huskies need to run and she obviously takes the time to give them what they need. But on this day as they ran up beside us, I could see their hair going up. Hmmmmmmm, hadn't noticed this before; perhaps it was because she always runs down the middle of the field.
They broke their running pace and started to grumble. Soon it was a frenzied barking and the owner pulled the leashes to a full stop. She tried to get them under control to go again but she only ran a few yards before they started up once more. By this time Luke was all puffed up and grumbling himself; Elsa joined in with a bark or two. The barking became more frenzied when I noticed the prong collar. I wanted to tell her but there was no way to have a civil conversation among this chaos. Luke, Elsa and I had never stopped walking; we had not changed our pace and I told them very calmly that "we don't care about this stuff," as we continued along. She ran off and as she got distance her dogs quieted. Association, it is all about association for dogs. The more the dog strained at the leash the more pain he received at the fault of my dog's presence.
We made our way around the whole park; a big walk for the old guy. As we came to the end I watched another case of leash aggression unfold in a magnitude I had not seen in some time. A nice woman with her tiny toy poodle was walking quietly and calmly down the path. At the end of the path were two Chihuahuas and a small white fluffy dog. The sound coming from the three dogs at the end of the path was that of sheer frenzied scream barking. Each dog was held by a human so there were three dogs and three humans there in a bunch. They stayed on the path which surprised me; moving off and giving their dogs some space would have been a good idea. As the woman with her poodle approached they got louder and louder and displayed redirected aggression. Snapping at one another out of frustration; it was an insane situation. The woman with the small poodle picked up her dog and walked by and on her way.
I had a choice at that moment, to go pass or not. I chose to walk pass, but with a great distance between us and the frenzied pack. They never stopped their barking once the woman had passed by them. They were far too worked up at this point and needed a huge intervention to be able to stop. When we got close enough for me to see what was going on, I was shocked. Each person was hitting the dog they had on a leash. There was yanking, hitting and yelling coming from the owners of these dogs. When I saw the one with the fluffy dog take a magazine and hit his dog I stopped dead in my tracks. I could not go by without saying something; but could they even hear me? I made sure that Luke and Elsa were calm; it was a very stressful situation so I didn't want them freaked out by it. Elsa was sniffing around and Luke was just calmly watching.
"You are making the situation worse," I yelled to them. "Every time you hit your dog you are creating a negative association to dogs being near you," I tried to yell at them. One girl heard me and stopped hitting her dog. "Don't hit your dogs," I said loud and clear. Now all the owners were facing me, listening. I explained further, although I'm not sure how much they could hear. I told them if they continued like this that their problem was going to become much worse. They seemed interested as I tried to explain how the dog's brain works. I told them about rewarding minute moments of silence with food treats. But with the frenzied barking ongoing it was difficult to get anything but "don't hit your dog," across.
Leash aggression is very, very common. The more aggression that your dog hears as they walk by other dogs the more apt they are to display themselves. What you do with that display makes all the difference in the world. Yanking, yelling and even hitting is a human attempt to stop the behavior. The dog takes all of these displays from their human as a very negative situation. The human is stressed which stresses the dog further. The yelling, yanking and hitting creates a hugely negative association to the presence of other dogs.
If you have a dog with leash aggression:
Don't stop walking, do not slow, just keep going.
Stay calm, even if you have to pretend.
Do not tighten up on the leash; if you have to, do it so that your dog cannot tell that you are.
Give yourself and your dog space. Step off of the path.
If you have to change direction or turn around, do it calmly.
You can either make it worse, or better. I opt for the "we don't care about these things," approach.