This is part two of a series on bad behavior on leash. The first section addressed some of the root causes of lunging, barking, growling, and snapping at other dogs when on leash. In this part I will present some training exercises and management techniques to resolve existing leash issues and prevent potential leash issues from developing. This is intended for dogs that are having trouble approaching or passing dogs on leash or who are greeting poorly on leash. If you have a polite dog on leash and would like to maintain that, check out Leash Etiquette 101.
Leashes are a normal and necessary part of being a dog in this modern day and smooth leash manners are one of the most powerful tools that we can give our dogs. For dogs that can walk calmly on leash amongst our myriad of urban distractions, the world is their oyster. They have access to a cornicopia of fun, adventure, and happiness that many dogs never have the opportunity to experience. They simply lead better lives. Here are some tips and exercises to turn a leashed dog gone wrong around.
Stop direct frontal greetings now. For a dog that has become reactive on leash or is showing signs of it, direct frontal approaches that end in leashed greetings are pretty much the most intense and overwhelming experience there is. There is no quicker way to fuel the fires of poor leash manners than walking your dog straight at approaching dogs and having them greet (of course this is how trails and sidewalks are set up). There is also no better way to ensure that things will go south when the actual greeting occurs. It is best to abort the approach and redirect as soon as the dogs begin pulling.
An equipment change can help. On one end of the spectrum we have gear like front attach harnesses and head halters that help redirect a dog’s attention by turning their heads and bodies away from other dogs when they pull or lunge. These items, although intended to be used only when training, do a lot of the work for you and can accelerate a current training program’s progress and save our backs and arms some jerking. Head halters in particular take some prep work for our dogs to enjoy. You can read more about equipment here.
On the other end of the spectrum is equipment that can slow our training efforts, magnify bad behavior on leash, or, when used poorly, cause it. By this I am talking about neck collars, particularly collars that inflict pain or discomfort like pinch/prong collars or choke chains. For a dog that already associates approaching dogs with anxiety and frustration, being jerked, pinched, or hurt upon the sight of them only magnifies this. It makes sense that we would want to correct our dogs for behaving poorly on leash, but when that display represents frustration, discomfort, and anxiety, a leash or collar correction fails to resolve the underling issues and the problem remains.
Keep your dog’s focus when passing. Allowing your dog to exchange words (in a body language sense too) with dogs on the street keeps interactions emotionally charged and is likely to set off the approaching dog too. Plus, if your dog’s eyes are glued to you it can’t see that the dog across the way is mean mugging and won’t be tempted to respond in kind. Ask that your dog watch you while passing dogs on the street. It takes some practice to execute in a pinch but pays off big time. Bring treats on walks so that you can reward good behavior.
Teach your dog to come for/front on cue. Having a cue that gets your dog quickly off trail and paying attention to you is invaluable. This looks like your dog turning towards you so that you are both facing each other. You can use this when being approached by anything your dog might react to (other dogs, bicycles, screaming kids, etc.) or when you need to yield to a passing distraction. The only caveat is that while you are asking for attention (even if it’s implied) you must ensure that your dog is not approached. This requires trust from your dog so if you can’t prevent contact, don’t ask for attention. Your dog must be able to relax and focus without fear of being rushed by a loose dog or enthusiastic child.
Remove the drama elsewhere. Active dogs can easily become adrenaline junkies, looking for the next thing to engage them. Barking at, staring at, or following dogs along a fence, through a window, or from a car can quickly become easy entertainment. This quest for the next emotional high does not stop with the leash and leash issues are exacerbated. Practice good management when you are home and especially when you aren’t by setting up visual barriers, limiting access to high-drama areas or your home or yard, and placing a covered crate in the car.
While some of these tools take a little practice to master most leash issues can be improved greatly, if not corrected, with these simple tips. If you have a leash reactive dog you may want to check out Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell. It is a short and sweet training manual on dealing with leash issues. If your dogs behavior on leash has become unmanageable, you have difficulty controlling your dog, or you just want some guidance in dealing with leash issues, please contact a qualified trainer for help.