Q & A: Behaving poorly on leash

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.


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