Leash aggression is very prevalent in dogs today, and is one reason that many owners are afraid to socialize their dogs. It is however quite common to have a leash aggressive dog that is very friendly off leash. This article is meant to explain how I work with leash aggression in the Chicago Suburbs and how I train clients to do it on their own.
The vast majority of dogs that growl, bark, and lunge on leash are not aggressive dogs. Their leash issues are usually caused by walking in an excited dominant state. When the dog feels high levels of frustration from being restrained by the leash and collar, aggression can start to occur. This is why I have coined the term Leash Frustration as opposed to leash aggression. Many owners who have dogs with this issue, make the problem worse when they pass another dog by tightening up on the leash and further frustrating the dog.
To overcome this issue I start by teaching the dog to walk in a calm submissive state without other dogs around. This entails training the dog to walk at my side (never ahead) with their attention on the road ahead. It is very important that the dog’s brain is not in prey mode (constantly looking side to side for something to focus on). As you teach the dog to walk at your side make sure that you use sharp tugs instead of pulls. Each correction should last no longer than the time it takes to snap your fingers. With the dog on your left side practice making left about turns until the dog slows down for you to turn each time. If you are having trouble teaching your dog to walk properly even without other dogs around please read the following article first. Training your dog to heel
Once the dog walks at your side in a calm submissive state without dogs around it is time to start practicing passing dogs. The key to success here is to never ever fail. If your dog barks or lunges it is not a failure, it is only a failure if you leave the situation without calming your dog down. This is one reason that many owners never conquer this issue. They pass a dog and their dog lunges so they keep walking. This process will be repeated day after day until the pattern is changed. The biggest change that you need to make for now on is to never leave a situation until your dog is completely calm and submissive. I achieve this by having a helper with a dog so that we can work for as long as we need to.
Start your training by walking your dog for as long as you need to until they are in an appropriate state of mind. When ready, walk past the other dog while keeping your dog moving and looking forward. Never stop walking or yell at your dog, it only makes the issue worse. As you pass the dog keep walking until your dog is calm and focused forward. If he keeps looking back at the other dog give short tugs forward until you break his attention. When your dog is calm, turn and walk back past the other dog; keep walking until yours is calm. Your dog should never be ahead of you, so give as many tugs as necessary to keep him in position. It is much easier to keep a dog at your side than to try to get him back after he gets too far forward. Every time your dog turns to look at the other dog you should be correcting. Successfully performing this technique is more of a dance than it is training. The purpose of each tug is to break your dogs focus and redirect it the way that you want. As you do this you will be tugging back as you walk towards the dog, tugging away from the other dog as you pass, and tugging forward after you have passed. Each tug has a purpose, and you keep working until you don’t need the corrections anymore.
I have never had a dog that I couldn’t achieve this within a relatively short period of time (for most dogs this can be as short as twenty minutes but extremely aggressive dogs can take up to a week). The hardest part as a trainer is teaching a human to be consistent with these methods. If you allow yourself plenty of time and don’t get frustrated you will always have success. If this article piques your interest and you would like help, I can usually train a human to perform this on their own after one training session.