Q: “Our GoldenDoodle Parker is terrible on leash. He is not even a year old yet and my wife refuses to walk him. We thought we did everything right by taking him to puppy class and the dog park as much as we could. He loves other dogs but he barks and pulls like crazy until he can say hello. We thought he was just excited but he bit a dog in the face. He has done this twice since, sometimes even at the dog park. We just can’t trust him anymore. What can we do?”
A: This is a very common issue and is only getting more common. Trainers call this “leash reactivity” meaning the dog reacts inappropriately to other dogs or people on leash. Leashes are awkward for a whole lot of dogs and a whole lot of people but they are necessary.
It sounds like Parker is a well-socialized dog with a lot of experience playing with other dogs and likely, very nice dog-dog skills when off-leash. Unfortunately when on-leash, he is unable to greet dogs how he is used to and this is awkward and frustrating for him. Sometimes this anxiety about leashed greetings bleeds over into his off-leash greetings or even worse, becomes true aggression. He will need to learn how to deal with these uncomfortable feeling on leash to get better.
For the meantime you can start by limiting Parker’s on-leash greetings. You want to give him a break from having to greet dogs on leash. Bring treats along with you on walks and treat him every time he sees another dog on leash. For him, dogs should equal good things happening. If he is staring intensely, reacts poorly, or refuses treats you are too close to the other dog and need to create distance.
For many dogs this is enough to resolve their leash issues with time. If there are other training issues that need work, like basic leash walking or manners, or as it sounds like is the case for Parker, his frustration with leashed greetings is contaminating other aspect of his life, you will want to seek a qualified trainer or attend a class for reactive dogs. You may also find the book Feisty Fido by Patricial McConnell helpful. Best of luck in your training endeavors.