Leash Aggression

by Katy
(Billings, MT)

Can a dog be trained out of leash aggression?

My pitbull is having problems meeting other dogs when he's on leash. He does pretty well off leash except that he doesn't always come back when he gets to running around with other dogs. That's something I'm working on and he's actually gotten alot better.

He only gets kind of nasty when he's on the leash. He doesn't lunge or try to go after animals that ignore him, but if one comes up, he snaps at it. Is there a way to train this problem out of him?

He gets into trouble when he does it, but that's mostly for the benefit of the other owner. I don't like getting him in trouble and I'd love to find a way to get him comfortable with other dogs both on and off leash.

Thanks for your time.

Gale's Reply:

Hi Katy:

First I apologize for the late response. I'm still working my way through a backlog of questions. I realize it's possible you may have solved your problem by now. But, it's a great question, one I think quite a few people can relate to.

From what you've described, it's not just the leash that causing the aggressive behavior. It's having another dog run up to him while he's leashed. When that happens, it's like he's trapped because he can't maintain the distance from the other dog that he needs to be comfortable.

I wouldn't scold him for this. It could actually make things worse. (If the other owner is present, I would ask them to call their dog to them.) What you really want to do is build up your dog's confidence so he feels less need to warn off the approaching dog with a display of aggression.

Ideally, you want to pre-empt confrontations before they happen. When you are in a situation where your dog may be approached be on the alert for a dog that is heading your way. And get your dog's attention before the other dog reaches him.

Treat your dog for keeping his attention on you and remaining calm. The idea is to show him that good things happen when he relaxes around other dogs.

Though your control over the environment may be limited, it's best to work up to situations that may seem threatening to him gradually. So, if you can, begin this exercise in a setting where other dogs are mostly on leash and can be introduced to him properly. As he becomes more comfortable, you can up the ante.

A great book that outlines the concept of this process (called counter conditioning) is Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons.

Continue working on his obedience skills as this will help build his confidence. And, make sure he's getting plenty of exercise that allows him to release his pent-up energy in positive ways.

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