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Leash Aggression
By Gretchen Decker

We recently had a Jack Russell Terrier mix at the Animal Protection of Orange County NC's Adoption Center who wanted nothing more than pets, snuggles, and a walk outside. But when Dinah was out on walks, this demur dog would turn into 15 pounds of terror when she saw another dog on leash, barking, lunging, and snarling. But when off-leash she tolerated the presence of other dogs. Dinah's behavior on leash is actually a common problem known as leash aggression. If this sounds like your dog, don't despair because for some dogs the behavior can be changed, and walks can become a more pleasant experience for both of you.

What you want to do is change your dog's emotional reaction when she sees another dog on leash. Instead of seeing another dog on leash predicting an excited "aggressive" response, you want seeing another dog on leash to predict a good thing happening. That good thing, to begin with, will be a yummy treat delivered by you.

Before leaving the house to go on a walk, arm yourself with tempting treats cut into pea-size pieces. By tempting I mean things like hot dogs, steak, turkey and cheese, whatever your dog really loves to eat and considers a high-value treat. You can use a fanny pack, hardware store apron, or "bait bag" that you can buy at dog stores to dispense the treats.

When a dog approaches you on leash, initially you will want to move far enough away for your dog to remain calm enough to accept a treat from you while sitting or standing. This point is your dog's "threshold," and it may be across the street initially. You are going to keep her attention focused on you by giving her treats and praise as the other dog approaches. As the other dog gets nearer, increase the rate at which you give the treats. Don't be stingy. Give the treats as fast as you can, and give more treats than you think you should! When the dog passes and starts to get farther away, stop giving treats.

After a week or so of consistent calm behavior when your dog sees another dog, you can experiment with whether her distance between your dog and the passing dog can be decreased. However, you don't want to decrease the distance too quickly because this could set her back.

Believe it or not, if you do this exercise every time you go on a walk, your dog will eventually see another dog on leash, and then turn to you expecting a treat. Seeing another dog now predicts a good thing happening--a treat from you--instead of a bad.

Last, it's inevitable that you will get into a situation where another dog owner will approach wanting their dog to meet yours and telling you their dog is friendly. Don't be afraid to tell these people that your dog can't meet other dogs on-leash. You can say your dog isn't friendly, or you can say you're working on training. If you do get into a situation while out walking where your dog does meet another dog on-leash, be sure to keep the leash loose. You don't want to add to the tense situation by transmitting more stress and negative energy through a taut leash. So remember, loose leash and lots of praise when she meets another dog while out on a walk.