Leash aggression or reactivity is one of most common "problem" behaviours that dog trainers are contacted to help with everyday.
Many people are dealing with high anxiety and stress around their dogs behaviour on walks. Just the thought of taking their dog out for their daily walk creates an ache in their stomach and starts the mental whirlwind of worry.
Some people get up at 4am to walk their dog so they won't encounter anyone else, some people hide behind bushes or cars to avoid oncoming dogs, and some people avoid walking their dogs at all because they simply cannot handle the stress.
You're not alone!
The good news is that it is trainable and can get better! The bad news is that it doesn't usually happen overnight.
Most dogs with leash reactivity are having a fearful reaction. They are typically afraid, insecure, and under-socialized. It's not possible to eradicate that fear or anxiety your dog is having overnight. You can, however, reduce the amount of stress your dog is under through desensitization and giving them clear expectations and boundaries, and an alternative behaviour (such as ignoring and walking calmly).
Where to start:
On the Walk:
When you encounter another dog (Some things you can try. All dogs are different so give them a try and see what helps):
I don't believe it's an overnight fix for most dogs, though some respond immediately to a trainer with great timing and consistency!
Remember that your dog's behaviour on the walk starts in the home. Make sure you have established leadership at home and that will help your dog trust that you can handle whatever pops up during your walks.
Let's talk for a minute about reactive dogs:
For those who are unsure of what a "reactive dog" is, it's typically a dog that explodes in lunging/barking/growling when encountering another dog on a walk, or for some dogs, even when encountering people.
Of course my recommendation for anyone with a reactive dog would be to seek help from a trainer who can help you and your dog with properly timed corrections, desensitization etc., but unfortunately not everyone is able to invest in quality training (for many different reasons).
For those people who are struggling with their reactive dogs, there are a few things you can do when encountering them to help make their walks a little less terrifying. And yes, for people with dogs like this, IT IS TERRIFYING. The walks often entail hiding behind bushes, hiding behind cars, turning around and walking the other direction, walking their dog at 4am before anybody else is out and about, and A LOT of apologizing and nervousness.
Instead of the disapproving looks, snide comments, and asking why they might want to own such an "aggressive" dog (note that not all reactive dogs are aggressive. Most are not!), here are a few things you can do instead to make their lives a little, or a lot less stressful.
1. Understand that SO MANY PEOPLE are dealing with reactivity in their dogs.
2. Give them extra space. When you're passing them, cross the street, or give as much space as you can to relieve some of the pressure on the dog.
3. Please don't stare! That only makes the dog more reactive. Instead, pretend they aren't even there and continue on your merry way.
4. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT MAKE KISSY NOISES OR TALK IN A BABY VOICE TO THE DOG thinking this will make them less reactive.
5. Ensure your own dog (if you have one with you) is under control, and not staring at or engaging at all with the reactive dog. They will only trigger more reactivity, which will likely set your own dog off as well and reinforce the reactive behaviour.
6. Show some kindness and compassion. It will ease a lot of stress for the reactive dog owner, who is likely making reactivity worse by being so nervous.
We will post some notes later this week on how people can avoid creating reactive dogs in the first place, but it really will be a community effort as people open up to learning how they are creating it in their own dogs, and other people's dogs too.
Have a peaceful day everyone!