By Karen A. Soukiasian
In stressful situations, dogs that have not learned to adequately cope with something as simple as walking on a leash, instinctively revert to a fight or flight mode and exhibit leash aggression.
Since they are tethered to a leash, the option of flight is eliminated. To them, the only means of survival left, is to stand their ground, which leads to leash aggression.
To compound the predicament, you are partially responsible. Most likely you have expected your dog’s inappropriate reaction and have pulled up on the leash. Without realizing it, you have just confirmed, “Houston, we have a problem!”
We strongly recommend, enrolling in a positive reinforcement, punishment-free obedience class, before you have serious behavior problems. Not only will your puppy or dog learn how to socialize and behave properly; you will gain instructions on how to maintain control in a positive manner.
However, there are many do-it-yourselfers out there, who believe they don’t need or want assistance training their pet.
Either way, it’s never too late to modify your dog’s behavior to eliminate leash aggression.
To begin modifying your dog’s leash aggression, first you need to take a look at the equipment you are using. If you are using a retractable leash, and reel your dog in and out, as if you are fishing, you are encouraging your dog to walk in front of you, out to the side or even behind you. Essentially, you are following your dog.
Not only are retractable leashes of no use for obedience training, and proper walking, they are also dangerous. Throw it out and get a 6-foot leash, preferably leather. It is well worth the investment.
We recommend a training collar, also known as a modified martingale. Adjust the collar to fit securely. Then position it high on your dog’s neck, directly behind their ears. You now have more control, and won’t be choking your pet.
An added advantage of a training collar is, when fitted properly, your dog is unable to slip out of it, even when pulling backward. The more they pull, the tighter the collar gets.
Never wrap a leash around your hand or wrist.
Cause and Effect
Think of your leash as a telephone line to your dog. When you are walking your dog properly, you should both be relaxed. Your hands should be at waist level. Your dog should be at your left side…not in front of you…not behind you. Ideally, the leash should be relaxed enough so there is a U in the leash, between you and your dog.
Always remain calm. If you are uptight and anticipating problems, without realizing it, chances are you are probably holding the leash too short and/or up too high. By choking up on the leash, you are inadvertently signaling your dog to pull. The harder you pull, the more your dog will pull. This is called opposition reflex.
When your dog’s behavior becomes inappropriate, you probably tense up and clutch that leash so tightly, your dog is receiving the indicator to charge.
Note: Dogs being aggression trained, whether for fighting or security are trained in a similar manner. The handler tightens and shortens the lead, as the agitator “threatens” the dog. The dog is encouraged to pull toward the aggressor, by the handler shortening the leash before finally releasing them. Their reward, a chunk out of their tormentor.
Suggestions to Modify Inappropriate Behavior
Obedience training is paramount. If you do not have adequate control over your pet, by simple giving simple commands such as “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “enough,” start there.
You may accomplish your objective with one technique, or you may have to try all of them. The success of the training depends on how clearly you demonstrate to your pet what you expect, and how quickly they associate altering their behavior to conform to that expectation.
Next, teach your dog the command “focus” or “watch me!” Dogs are not multitask oriented. They can only do one thing at a time. By distracting your dog, by making them focus on you, and follow a simple “sit” or “down” command, you may give the object of their previous focus time to get away.
Another method is to avoid confrontation before it happens. Do this by turning and walking in the opposite direction, until your dog relaxes. Praise them immediately and only, when they are under control. Then turn, and continue your walk. Repeat this a many times as need be. You may only have to do it a few times, or you may have to do it a number of times. Some dogs catch on faster than others. Eventually, your dog should get the message not to over react.
A third method is to set your dog up. Either get help from someone with a dog your dog doesn’t like, or take your dog where there are other dogs. When your dog’s behavior is inappropriate, make a firm correction, followed by a simple command such as “enough!” Allow the dog a few seconds to respond to the correction. If they respond appropriately, praise and/or reward them by removing the object triggering the bad behavior. If they don’t respond correctly by relaxing, the other dog is not removed until yours follows your command and relaxes.
The principle behind this method is, the object of their discord is removed only when their behavior is calm and appropriate.
Bottom Line: Behavior modification done correctly is neither fast nor effortless. It takes time and patience. How quickly your dog responds depends on their level of intelligence, how long the inappropriate behavior has been allowed, and how simple and clear your instructions are. Keep in mind; you may have to try more than one method. Always demonstrate in ways that are simple, so your dog will make the association of what you are expecting them to do. The sooner you address the problem, the sooner you can correct it.
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