Brought to you by Victoria Stilwell
Leash lunging, leash reactivity and leash aggression are all behaviors that are caused by a dog feeling restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in a social situation while attached to a leash. In normal circumstances, an unleashed dog would be able to put sufficient distance between himself and a fear source. But if the same dog is leashed and unable to increase that distance, he will react or behave defensively in the hope that the fear source will go away.
If your dog’s behavior is reinforced by success (meaning distance has been increased), he is likely to react in the same manner again when faced with a similar stimulus.
Walking a dog that lunges and aggresses on leash is not a pleasant experience. The anticipation of a problem tends to cause human tension, which is transmitted down the leash to the dog, effectively making the lunging behavior worse. Dog and owner are then locked in a vicious cycle of tension and leash lunging that becomes hard to change.
How Do I Train My Leash Reactive Dog?
The first step to stopping your dog lunging is first identifying the cause of his discomfort, and then working to desensitize him to the stimulus that makes him uncomfortable. At the same time, you will be conditioning him to see that the stimulus is no longer cause for concern.
If you have a dog that is social, and who lunges on a lead because he is frustrated and just wants to get to the stimulus, you have to teach him that lunging achieves nothing, while calm behavior results in him being able to greet. If you have a social, yet frustrated dog, simply turn and walk him away from the source until he is calm and only allow him to greet when the leash is loose.
Do not punish a dog that lunges on the leash for any reason, especially if the cause of the behavior is insecurity, which is the case for most dogs.
Put the emphasis on giving your dog something else to do in that moment instead of using punishment, which will help him be more comfortable in the situation.
Change How Your Dog Feels About the Threat
By using positive reinforcement techniques you can actually change the way your dog feels about a certain situation for the better and therefore change his emotional and behavioral response.
Remember, punishment serves to suppress behavior at that moment, but does not help to change the way a dog feels emotionally, while using these positive techniques will have longer lasting success.
Desensitizing Your Leash Reactive Dog
Desensitizing your dog to a perceived threat, such as an approaching dog, may happen very quickly, or it might take a period of time. Every dog is different and it is important to go at your dog’s pace.
To teach your dog to be comfortable with other dogs passing by, start by having a friend or trainer bring their calm, non-reactive dog to help you.
How Long Will Training Take?
Training might take time depending on your dog’s level of discomfort, but do not give up, as this training technique has an impressive success rate. Stay calm and relaxed yourself throughout the process and gradually work up to the point where the other dog is able to walk past as your dog focuses on you or stays calmly by your side.
Like most aggressive responses, leash aggression is usually rooted in a dog’s fear of a person, place or thing. To manage the behavior, you must first identify what is causing the fear, and then work to desensitize the dog to that fear by utilizing positive training methods. Never punish a leash aggressive dog with leash jerks or physical force, as this will only increase the dog’s fear and unconfidence in that situation. Successfully managing leash aggression can take time, but as long as you stay consistent and provide positive alternatives to how the dog experiences things, you can literally change how the dog feels about being on the leash.