Barking, growling, snarling and lunging on-leash are one of the most common behavioral issues dog owners encounter. For many of these dog owners it is a life changing situation. Walking their canine companion down the street can literally become their worst nightmare. A sweet, mellow and loving dog at home becomes a monster at the end of the leash.
Leash-frustration versus leash-aggression:
There have been multiple discussions about the use of leash frustration and leash aggression. No matter how it is interpreted it is a reactivity that happens when the dog is on-leash.
Is it leash frustration or aggression? According to some trainers and behaviorist there is a difference between leash frustration and leash aggression. It depends on the underlying factor of the behavior. Although the behavior at the end of the leash appears to be similar, the reasons for reacting may be different. To keep it simple I will only talk about leash reactivity. Here are some reasons for leash reactivity:
1. Hyper- motivated or leash-frustrated dog:
The behavior is a display behavior. Those dogs often do well off-leash but get extremely frustrated on-leash. The leash becomes a barrier and the frustration level rises to the point the dog lunges, barks and sometimes even growls due to frustration.
2. Fearful or undersocialized dogs:
Some dogs are fearful or conflicted and respond to the approaching dog which forms a threat in their perception. The fearful or undersocialized dog would most likely avoid the conflict and move away from the situation but we force the dogs to pass and the dog will respond. The display works as the other dog moves on and the chances the dog will repeat this behavior is very likely. It may even increase in intensity.
3. Previous aversive training exposure:
Aversive training methods are those that cause avoidance of a thing, situation or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus. The stimulus could be a prong, choke or electronic collar, which are designed to implement pain when the dog pulls, barks or lunges. The correction may hurt and the dog may stop but it doesn’t change the emotional state of the dog and that can cause long term damage as the dog may simply learn not to like other dogs.
Note: reactivity can also be to people, kids or other objects.
It is important to keep the dog under reactivity threshold meaning your dog is in the process of getting stressed but is not completely stressed yet. Once over threshold your dog is stressed and you can identify the stress signals such as starring, hackles up, tail raised, tenseness and most likely unresponsive to food/treats. When the stress level of the dog rises so will the response which can be barking, growling, snapping, lunging, etc.
Dogs often get punished verbally and physically for displaying such behavior. We covered this as a reason for reactivity. Yelling, pinning the dog down or using a prong or choke collar will worsen the behavior. I believe these kinds of training collars provide an extra stimulus to the situation. If you implement pain while the dog is having an emotional reaction to a strange dog this extra stimulus just makes it worse. The dog already has a bad association with a strange dog. The use of force and/or pain enhances this association. A frustrated or hyper motivated dog will build up a negative association with strange dogs while on-leash.
The successful approach:
The key to reactivity is to ensure your dog stays within their comfort zone. If your dog goes over threshold the stress level is too high. It is only under threshold you can work with your dog.
To manage your dog’s behavior the appropriate training tools are needed. We start with basic obedience and positive training gear. We stay away from prong and choke collars for the reasons we mentioned before.
Having a solid sit, stay and look are priceless commands that will help you manage your dog through every situation. We replace the dog’s current behavior with a new behavior and we teach you to create a situation where the dog feels safe with you. It is really important for an owner of a leash reactive dog to hire a professional whether it is to work with your dog one on one or to teach you to handle your dog in such situations.