By Terry Jester
At least once a week I get a phone call about dog aggression when the dog is on his leash.
The caller will state that the dog is usually fine or at least indifferent toward people or other dogs unless leashed.
Once leashed, the caller’s dog takes on an entirely new persona. The dog may lunge, growl or even try to attack dogs or people that come too close. So what causes the dog aggression?
Off leash – no problem. On leash – a whole different story. The caller will then go on to say that the dog is most likely protecting the owner, right?
A dog that is protecting its owner would be protective off leash as well as on leash. The leash wouldn’t matter. Dogs aggression while on leash is usually caused by one of two reasons: either the dog is fearful of people and other dogs, or the dog feels the owner is backup and wants to show aggression as a way to let off steam.
One of the worst things we can do to our dogs is to isolate them from others, confine them without social interaction and adequate exercise, give them little or no training and then expect them to be well-behaved when something exciting occurs, like meeting another dog or new person while out on a walk.
We wouldn’t expect a human child to know social etiquette if the child was kept in a closet 23 hours a day. Yet this is basically what we expect from our dogs.
The average dog out on a walk gets an intense thrill when it sees another person or dog approaching. It’s been bored and alone all day and wound up tighter than the inside of a golf ball. It’s ready to go berserk at the first person or dog it sees.
If the owner is lucky, the dog is a friendly berserker – jumping all over the new dog or person in ecstasy. If the dog is the average dog, however, that frenetic energy is going to come out as either fear-related dog aggression or territorial dog aggression.
Fear-related dog aggression is when the dog sees the leash as a restraint preventing him from escape. Territorial dog aggression is when the dog is an extrovert, seeing its owner as a pack mate who has his back should the dog need backup in a fight to let off steam.
Correcting dog aggression is best done with the help of a reputable dog trainer or behaviorist. However, little may be accomplished if the dog is continually left out of social interaction and not given adequate exercise.
Dogs need companionship, exercise, training and affection.
Most of us who have dogs find the affection part the easiest to give. However, it isn’t enough. If people truly love their dogs, they’ll also give the companionship, exercise and training all dogs need and deserve.
Terry Jester is a nationally recognized expert on companion animal behavior. She is regarded by The Humane Society of the United States as being, “Humane and effective in dealing with problem pets and their owners.” Connect with Terry on her website.