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The Chew: How to Overcome Leash Aggression

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The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Dog Paws n Cat Claws, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, DPnCC offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.

On my first day as a dog walker and pet sitter at Dog Paws n Cat Claws, I met Sierra. Sierra is a Pit bull and Boxer mix with the strength and energy of both her breeds. I was trained to hold on tight to leashes and wrap the handle around my wrist for extra precaution and security, especially if I was not familiar with the dog.

Five minutes into our walk, she nearly pulled my arm out of its socket when she saw a rabbit. Lesson one: Watch for small animals. When she saw another dog, she barked furiously, lunging and jumping into the air. Her aggression took over as if flipping on a light switch. Lesson two: Avoid other dogs.

We developed a closer understanding as we continued to see each other every day. I became firmer with her, lowering the tone of my voice and making her walk next to me instead of in front of me. When we would run into another dog or spot a small animal, she remained calm, but I could tell it was a struggle for her. I wondered why she was so aggressive. When I heard she had been to daycare, I was surprised and a little concerned.

Leash Aggression Training

The next time she came to daycare, I checked in on her. Imagine my surprise when I discovered her romping across the room, happily searching for new playmates. She loved the other dogs. Sierra was not aggressive — unless she was on a leash!

Leash aggression is a common issue for dog owners. When dogs are on leash, they can feel restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable. In daycare or dog parks, dogs approach one another on their own terms and distance themselves when they perceive something scary or unlikable. When we put them on a leash, we’re taking away that natural process. In Sierra’s case, it’s not that she didn’t like dogs; she just had issues with dogs when she was on a leash.

If you have a dog with leash aggression, make it clear that lunging at whatever the stimulus might be won’t get them anywhere. Turn and walk away or put your foot on the leash and ignore the behavior. Do avoid punishing them. It will only suppress the behavior and won’t change their negative emotions thereby increasing insecurities.

When you see another dog in the distance, bring out a favorite treat or toy to get them focused on something else. They will begin to see that positive things happen when they see another dog. Don’t let them approach another dog until they are calm.

I began training Sierra with her favorite treat–my face! When I saw another dog approaching I would tell her to sit. If she did, I would get down on her level and let her give me a lick on my face. It didn’t take long for her to figure out she only had that privilege when she was behaving herself. When it came to small animals, I remained alert on each walk and eventually she began to ignore them altogether.

We train our pet sitters/dog walkers to take certain precautions. Every pet gets full attention for the entire walk and we don’t walk dogs from multiple homes together. We instruct dog walkers to keep a strong hold on the leash, and avoid dogs, and people until they are confident in the dog’s behavior.

These days, I don’t get to walk Sierra every day, but each time she comes in for daycare, I spend some one-on-one time with her. When I call her name, she recognizes me immediately and her body shakes with happiness. Because you see, Sierra still thinks my face is the best treat ever!

Sara Schabach
In-Home Pet Care Manager

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