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?
1. 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.)
2. 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!
3. 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.)
4. 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!)
5. 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 www.k9counselor.com