Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More on Leash Aggression & Urban Overload

This is a partially revised entry from August, 2011 - As Front Range K9 Academy begins to kick off our campaign to end Urban Overload, we felt this information deserved a reprint!

Are YOU causing your dog's leash aggression or re-activity?

It's important look at the very obvious similarities between humans and dogs when it comes to proper socialization. 

As our dogs mature, we humans often don't keep up with most natural changes in canine social development.  And we continue to let our dogs 'meet' every dog they encounter, thinking, "He's so social. He looooves dogs."

In essence, we're trapping our dogs into adolescent behavior without allowing them to mature and limit their social contacts as they would in the wild as they grew up. Just because your dog was very social as a puppy doesn't mean that behavior will continue into adulthood.

Some humans and some dogs do stay more social throughout life. But really, think about it:

You're social...but do you looooove every human you meet? Just like dogs, as we age, we begin to shrink our social circles - or at least we have fewer people we want to be 
socially intimate with.

Imagine if I tied you up and placed you on a bench outside the grocery store. Then I let every stranger coming and going from the store come up and touch you. Then, if you got upset when a stranger groped you, I slapped 
you instead of the stranger.

It might seem extreme, but this is the equivalent of most leash-to-leash meetings for dogs.

They can't escape; they can't take things slowly or at their own pace; they feel restrained, so they panic and tell the other dog to get away from them the only way they know how: Growling, snapping, etc.
But when dogs do this, they get punished by their owners!

This only worsens the problem, as your dog has no way out. What you are telling the dog is that any dog can tickle, fondle, sniff or downright dominate, molest, or intimidate them and they just have to take it. 

Would you do the same to your child if they were being bullied?

I know this sounds radical to some...but I'm on a roll, so bear with me. With the warmer weather and a slew of dogs out there, these face-to-face, leash-to-leash meetings are more common than ever. And dogs who are forced into these situations generally become worse and worse, and expand the aggression to even off-leash situations.

To make matters even more complicated, the general public perpetuates the problem by continuing to push the myth of 'all dogs like each other.' 

(I bet we ALL can think of a family member, neighbor, or friend who subscribes to this INCORRECT view of canine socialization.)

So...what to do?

AVOID leashed greetings. If you are walking your dog and another person walking theirs is pressing for a meeting, politely hold up a hand and cross the street. Or put your dog in a stay behind you and block the other dog's access to yours. Or find any other way out of the situation.

(NOTE - you may have to be downright rude about this with some people. So be it. That stranger & strange dog on the street are just that - strangers. You owe them no loyalty and will spend maybe 30 seconds of your life around them. You will spend the next 10 to 15 years with your dog.)

Don't be the stranger listed up above in item #1. As your dog ages, it very likely doesn't want to meet the every other dog on the street anymore than you want to shake hands with every single person you encounter at the grocery store!

Supervise off-leash contacts and limit them to dogs that your dog knows and will have a relationship with. 

(Again - referring to item #1 - beyond the puppy stages, dogs tend to become much more selective of who they WANT a long term relationship with, and how intimate they wish to be with those other dogs...they are pack animals after all...and packs tend to be small.)

Keep in mind what GOOD leashed dog-to-dog interactions should look like. In essence they should look exactly like you at a grocery store, or other place where you and other humans are tightly packed. 

They should look NEUTRAL. If the other dog is being too hyper, too forward, too dominant, too anything, your dog will NOT be able to maintain control, just as you wouldn't be able to maintain control if someone were doing those things to you in a grocery store. 

If your dog needs more work at being neutral around other dogs (remember to keep good distance between your dog and the strange dog), then it's back to the practice field for TONS of distraction-proofing of your stays. (Shameless plug here - we TEACH these skills specifically in our Level 2 Obedience program!)

Last but not least, spread the word! Let family, friends, and yes - even strangers - know that you are working on teaching your dog appropriate dog-to-dog manners and that you need their help and respect in not allowing other dogs (or people, for that matter) to fondle, caress, or otherwise molest the dog without your permission!

Yes, I'm on a soapbox here, only because this issue is at pandemic levels in our city!!!! Do your part and promote good dog-to-dog social behavior - your dog will thank you for it.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the head trainer & behaviorist at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

URBAN OVERLOAD - The Canine Behavior Epidemic

Is your dog a victim of URBAN OVERLOAD?

What is Urban Overload?

"Urban Overload" is a term we've adopted for an emerging problem in today's dog population.

It describes a phenomenon in dog behavior that is not just a trend, but an epidemic.  

Dogs experiencing Urban Overload are usually dogs who used to get along with other dogs - but who have become reactive (or even aggressive) when they encounter other dogs outside their yards, on walks, at the dog park, at the vet's office, etc.

Some dogs show signs of Urban Overload with people, bicycles, skateboards, etc. in addition to other dogs.

Many of these dogs are fine with their own housemate dogs and human family members.  It's when they encounter new dogs or people that the trouble starts.  And often, they only react to some dogs and not others - creating a lot of unpredictability and confusion for their owners!

56% of the dogs we evaluate each year at Front Range K9 Academy are suffering from some form of Urban Overload.  The problem does not go away on its own, and in fact, it seems to get worse if left untreated.  

Is your dog a part of this epidemic?
  • Do you become tense and worried whenever your dog might encounter some other dog or person on a walk?
  • Do you find yourself crossing the street when you see dogs or people?
  • Do you avoid taking your dog out in public, when you used to enjoy it?
  • Do you avoid walking your dog altogether because it's too stressful?
Many owners report they cannot take their dog out in public at all without worrying that if their dog sees another dog, it will begin to:
  • misbehave
  • bark, whine, howl loudly
  • growl
  • pull very hard on the leash
  • leap up and down in frustration
  • lunge and snap
  • attack if approached
Dogs experiencing Urban Overload seem to be just that - overloaded. They become stressed, then fearful, then reactive, then aggressive.

Very often, the problem begins much sooner than the owners know.

This makes the problem worse, because the early warning signs are often hidden.

What causes Urban Overload?

Urban Overload is caused by a combination of factors, including:

1.  The changing landscape of dog ownership:

Today's dogs are exposed to much more of everything - more people, more dogs, more sounds, more sights, more smells.  

This describes a relatively new trend of owners taking their dogs with them to more places than they used to.  Many dogs go to work with their owners, visit family and friends with their owners, go on vacation with them, go to sporting events with them, to dog parks, dog bars, and dog cafes.  They are generally more out and about. 

While this development may be very good for dogs in some ways (they get much more attention and mental exercise than the dog that stays home all day), there are specific social pressures associated with this increase in social activity.  

In particular, dogs who have not been trained to behave well in public have no foundation for good behavior. Not knowing what they should be doing often leads to behaviors that increase the stress of their owners and other people and dogs around them, as well as increasing their own stress.  This is a recipe for setting up Urban Overload in a dog.

2.  Humans misinterpreting signs of social stress in dogs:

If you can't tell when your dog is stressed, you can't do anything to avoid or recognize Urban Overload.

Many people make the mistake of believing that since dogs are social animals by nature, they should like all dogs or people they meet.  

Humans are social creatures as well - but that doesn't mean we like every other human we meet!

Forced socialization leads to stress, which can lead to fear and aggression.

3.  Inappropriate socialization experiences:

Over-socializing a dog can be just as damaging as under-socializing it.

When dog owners understand the natural social development of dogs, they can socialize their dogs appropriately - creating dogs that are relaxed and friendly when they encounter other dogs and people outside their usual social circles.

Is there a solution?

Luckily, most cases of Urban Overload can be helped.

As more and more behaviorists, dog trainers, veterinarians, groomers, and most importantly, dog owners begin to recognize the problem of Urban Overload, we can begin to change the trends that have caused it.

Helping dogs who are experiencing Urban Overload involves a unique training approach.

First, owners must be taught to read dog body language better and to recognize stress signals. Owners must also learn about proper canine socialization (and no - the dog park is NOT the answer to socializing dogs), and social development stages in dogs. This means owners can avoid the problem (or reverse it in dogs already having trouble) by creating safe, appropriate social learning experiences for their dogs.

Dog owners who have dogs that are already experiencing Urban Overload can learn how to change their dog's reaction to stress - reducing or eliminating re-activity, and aggression.

When paired with owner education and proper training exercises, stopping the tide of Urban Overload is an entirely attainable goal.

If you think your dog might be showing behaviors consistent with Urban Overload, the professionals at Front Range K9 Academy can help.  Contact us today!

Jennifer Hime is a canine behavior consultant and the owner and training director at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She has been working with dogs professionally for 25 years.  She can be contacted through her website at: