Leash lunging, leash reactivity and leash aggression are all behaviors that are caused by a dog feeling restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in a social situation while attached to a leash. In normal circumstances, an unleashed dog would be able to put sufficient distance between himself and a fear source. But if the same dog is leashed and unable to increase that distance, he will react or behave defensively in the hope that the fear source will go away.
If your dog’s behavior is reinforced by success (meaning distance has been increased), he is likely to react in the same manner again when faced with a similar stimulus.
Walking a dog that lunges and aggresses on leash is not a pleasant experience. The anticipation of a problem tends to cause human tension, which is transmitted down the leash to the dog, effectively making the lunging behavior worse. Dog and owner are then locked in a vicious cycle of tension and leash lunging that becomes hard to change.
How Do I Train My Leash Reactive Dog? The first step to stopping your dog lunging is first identifying the cause of his discomfort, and then working to desensitize him to the stimulus that makes him uncomfortable. At the same time, you will be conditioning him to see that the stimulus is no longer cause for concern.
If you have a dog that is social, and who lunges on a lead because he is frustrated and just wants to get to the stimulus, you have to teach him that lunging achieves nothing, while calm behavior results in him being able to greet. If you have a social, yet frustrated dog, simply turn and walk him away from the source until he is calm and only allow him to greet when the leash is loose.
Do not punish a dog that lunges on the leash for any reason, especially if the cause of the behavior is insecurity, which is the case for most dogs.
Put the emphasis on giving your dog something else to do in that moment instead of using punishment, which will help him be more comfortable in the situation.
Change How Your Dog Feels About the Threat By using positive reinforcement techniques you can actually change the way your dog feels about a certain situation for the better and therefore change his emotional and behavioral response.
For example, when your dog sees another dog in the distance and is curious but not yet uncomfortable, bring out his favorite toy or food and play with him or feed him. The toys or food you use have to be of the highest value and only used when doing this teaching around other dogs.
Playing or feeding your dog will help him to not only focus on something else when he is in the proximity of another dog, but the pleasure he gets playing or eating will change the way he perceives the outcome of that dog’s presence.
Now he is associating the sight of another dog with positive things happening to him that make him feel good. This is the key to changing the way your dog feels.
Remember, punishment serves to suppress behavior at that moment, but does not help to change the way a dog feels emotionally, while using these positive techniques will have longer lasting success.
Desensitizing Your Leash Reactive Dog
Desensitizing your dog to a perceived threat, such as an approaching dog, may happen very quickly, or it might take a period of time. Every dog is different and it is important to go at your dog’s pace.
To teach your dog to be comfortable with other dogs passing by, start by having a friend or trainer bring their calm, non-reactive dog to help you.
Begin the training by having them stand at a distance where your dog is comfortable and can focus on other things.
Play a game your dog enjoys, give him his favorite toy or feed him some delicious food.
If your dog shows no signs of discomfort, ask your helper to bring their dog a little closer.
Continue to play or feed your dog and give plenty of praise.
If at any time your dog reacts negatively, simply turn around and walk away from the situation until he calms down enough to play again or accept food.
If your dog is reacting negatively, you have decreased the distance too quickly. Move the helper dog back to a distance where your dog can relax and repeat the process.
How Long Will Training Take? Training might take time depending on your dog’s level of discomfort, but do not give up, as this training technique has an impressive success rate. Stay calm and relaxed yourself throughout the process and gradually work up to the point where the other dog is able to walk past as your dog focuses on you or stays calmly by your side.
When you get to the point where you can walk past other dogs with no reaction at all, your dog might be ready to experience his first greeting.
Do not allow unconfident dogs to greet face to face to begin with as it can be too much pressure, so practice following the other dog or walking parallel with each other until both dogs are comfortable.
If your dog is relaxed, then you can both walk in an arc towards each other, have your dogs greet for a few seconds face to face and then happily draw them away from each other, rewarding them for making this huge step.
When it is appropriate, try going for regular walks with your dog’s new friend and begin adding other dogs to the mix until you can get a regular walking group together.
Simply experiencing the joys of a walk with other dogs will help your dog feel more comfortable around them.
Bottom Line Like most aggressive responses, leash aggression is usually rooted in a dog’s fear of a person, place or thing. To manage the behavior, you must first identify what is causing the fear, and then work to desensitize the dog to that fear by utilizing positive training methods. Never punish a leash aggressive dog with leash jerks or physical force, as this will only increase the dog’s fear and lack of confidence in that situation. Successfully managing leash aggression can take time, but as long as you stay consistent and provide positive alternatives to how the dog experiences things, you can literally change how the dog feels about being on the leash.
We’ve all seen the funny videos and animated GIFs on the internet of dogs doing crazy things (or crazy things happening around dogs). Dogs and children. Dogs and adults. Dogs and cats. Dogs and the vacuum cleaner.
We pass these “funny” or “adorable” pictures and videos to our Facebook friends and pin them to our boards on Pinterest.
…but I’m here to encourage you to stop.
It has to do with spoons. Did you know your dog has spoons? He does, and it’s a very bad thing if he runs out of them.
Each morning, a person with a chronic illness wakes up with a certain number of “spoons.” These spoons represent the number of activities or interactions that they can handle in a given day. Once they run out of spoons, they need time to relax and recharge. If they don’t, it could result in a physical or mental crisis (or a really bad day tomorrow). Depending on the day, they may have more spoons (feelin’ good!) or less (bad pain day).
Got it? Let’s move on!
Human Spoons vs. Dog Spoons
As a human, you choose how you spend your spoons. If you know you’ll need energy for a presentation to your boss at 3 pm, you’ll likely skip going out to lunch with your colleagues at noon. If your arthritis is bothering you, you can avoid doing tasks that are particularly painful. If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed or in physical pain, you can choose to take a day off work and relax in front of cheesy daytime TV.
Dogs don’t get to choose how they spend their spoons. We do. Every day, we make decisions for our dogs. We decide which path our morning walk will take. We decide whether we want them to “meet” that new dog in the neighborhood. We decide whether the little girl next door can come over and play fetch. We decide to hug and kiss them. We decide to let the toddler use the dog for a pillow, or worse yet, a horse.
How Many Spoons Does a Dog Have?
A well-socialized, happy dog may appear to have unlimited spoons. A fearful or reactive dog may start out with only a few. My fearful dog, Titania, has greatly increased her spoon collection, thanks to classes at Your Dog’s Friend and the advice of Debbie Jacobs of FearfulDogs.com. Thanks to counter-conditioning and confidence building exercises, she enjoys a lot more of life than she did just two years ago.
An Example of a Dog Losing Spoons
We remove a spoon from our dog’s collection every time we expose them to a situation that makes them uncomfortable.
This was posted to a friend’s Facebook wall:
Let’s count the stress signals this dog is showing:
Ears pinned back
Whale eyes (wide eyes with lots of white showing)
In short, in the few seconds of this animated GIF, this dog is shedding spoons left and right.
What would happen if the dog was already having a bad day? Let’s say that a meeting on his morning walk resulted in getting snapped at by an unfamiliar dog. There’s construction going on next door and there are lots of loud noises and strangers in hard hats. And unbeknownst to his human, this dog ate something in the backyard and now his tummy is feeling upset.
Now what happens when the man tries his parlor trick?
The Bite That Came “Out of Nowhere”
Dog bites never come out of nowhere. The man in the image above probably does this “trick” to entertain his friends all the time and has never been bitten. But if his dog was having that bad day described above and had run out of spoons… well, that man could end up with a bite to the face. And it would have been 100% his fault, not the dog’s.
Conserving Your Dog’s Spoons
A dog with plenty of spoons is a happy dog!
As a dog parent, it’s your job to recognize the stress signals in your dog and keep them away from situations (or people) that cause them anxiety. For your dog, this may mean scheduling your daily walk for a time when fewer bicyclists are on the trail, or leaving your dog home instead of taking them to the pet store with you. It could mean giving your dog “me time” when they can relax in their crate with a bully stick and not be interrupted by your children.
Most importantly, it means being present with your dog and knowing when to remove them from a situation. A dog isn’t able to say, “Hey, I’ve got one spoon left and if this kid pulls my ear one more time, I’m done!!” You are your dog’s spoon-monitoring superhero, and they love you for it.
A Normal Trait that is as Flexible as it is Manageable
This page is designed to help demystify the common trait of dog-dog aggression. Dog aggression shows up in numerous breeds, and it’s generally “no big deal”…unless you deny it, misunderstand it or exploit it. Like so many dog owners, we expect that our dogs have the potential to show some degree of dog aggression in select situations. Our job as responsible stewards is to keep our pets out of those situations by reading their body signals and understanding their individual limits. At the same time, we work to improve the tolerance of each dog through appropriate socializing opportunities. Because dog aggression is not a “one size fits all” trait, outlined below are four very common levels of dog-tolerance that we’ve come to recognize in our work with the dogs.
Typical Dog Tolerance Levels in a Group of BAD RAP Ambassadogs:
1. Dog Social
A dog that truly enjoys the company of other dogs, including housemate dogs. Very easy going; Forgives even the rudest dog manners. Dog-social dogs include most puppies and a percentage of socially mature (14 months and older) dogs. Example: Beanie is a mature female who is social and relaxed around all dogs. In contrast, the immature red dog, Penny, in the bottom right of the photo is not as dog-social as when she was a puppy. She’s very typical in that she’s losing her puppy-like tolerance as she matures. A bad accidental fight could shift Penny far away from her dog social beginnings.
2. Dog Tolerant
Typically non-reactive on leash and either indifferent or friendly to other dogs. Is well socialized and shows relaxed, easy body language in the presence of new dogs. May not ‘love’ dogs that he doesn’t know, but has decent tolerance for rude behavior; a long fuse. Enjoys known dog friends and, in general, succeeds with housemate dogs. Example: Honky Tonk is quite fine with other dogs but doesn’t seek them out like a puppy might.
3. Dog Selective
Has dog friends but is more selective. May dislike certain ‘types’ of dogs and/or is easily offended by rude dog manners. Can be described as ‘bitchy.’ Likes to dictate the rules during dog-play, and may need reminders to use good manners during play. Can succeed with housemate dogs with supervision. Example: Sally showed ‘dog aggressive’ behavior when she came to us, but with clear direction and supervised socializing opportunities, is not likely to show this behavior unless she’s pushed passed her limits.
4. Dog Aggressive
Has a very limited number of dog friends; sometimes, no dog friends. May be opportunistically leash reactive with a weak handler and/or no training. May have a short fuse during play, even with dogs that it knows. Needs heavy supervision during play and a good leader when out on leash. Many live successfully with housemate dogs (usually opposite sex) with proper supervision and safe management protocol. Example: Taz was labeled ‘Dog Aggressive’ when we first met him because he was very quick to tell dogs off. His tolerance levels have increased dramatically, thanks to lots of socializing opps and good direction from his caretakers. We watched him shift to Dog Selective personality and in his new home, he’s actually quite Dog Tolerant!
Note: All the dogs in this photo were introduced slowly and enjoy each other’s company under supervision. While none of the dogs illustrated are ‘Dog Aggressive,’ like any breed of dog, they may certainly act aggressively towards other dogs if they’re mismanaged, provoked or otherwise set up to fail. Dogs that we would label as Dog Aggressive can make fantastic pets with the right management (leashes!).
The Bell Curve of Dog Aggression:
Dog tolerance levels are flexible and are determined by environmental factors (handler influence, training and socializing efforts) as much as they are determined by genetics. Dog Social dogs can become less social as they come into their maturity, and Dog Aggressive dogs can become much more tolerant with good direction and proper socialization. In our experience, with the combined factors of maturity, socialization, good leadership and training, most pit bull type dogs with true ‘terrier’ personalities fall comfortably in the middle spectrum of this bell curve – as do typically 2/3 of all dogs.
In February, we held our first Fix Your Pit free spay/neuter clinic. Partnering with Kindest Cut, we’ve launched a program to help families with pit bulls and pit mixes spay or neuter their dogs. The Fix Your Pit program focuses on the importance of spay and neuter for a dog’s health and behavior benefits, but also as a way to help minimize euthanasia rates of pit bulls and improve the health of our communities.
Fifteen dogs took part in the February 13 clinic. Save-a-Bull volunteers were on hand to help the Kindest Cut staff care for these dogs.
Our next clinic is right around the corner on April 2, 2016 and two more clinics are scheduled to take place in 2016. Help spread the word about these dates so more families can take advantage of the free services to spay or neuter their dogs. Click here to see our schedule.
These clinics are made possible by the generous support of our community. All funds were raised on Give to the Max Day in November of 2015.
Our second free spay/neuter is clinic is right around the corner on November 21. THERE ARE STILL APPOINTMENTS AVAILABLE. This is an important opportunity for pit bull owners to spay or neuter their dogs free of charge, please help spread the word!
If you know a family with a pit bull that could take part in this clinic, please share or download and share the poster below. The more people we reach the better!
FIX YOUR PIT Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic
for Pit Bulls and Pit Bull Mixes of qualified low-income pet owners*
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21
Kindest Cut Melrose Animal Clinic
@ the Animal Humane Society
845 Meadow Lane N.,
Golden Valley, MN 55422
A limited number of appointments are available, reserve your spot now! Call 763-489-7729 or visit www.kindestcutmn.com for reservations.
*Applicants must income qualify. Please visit www.kindestcutmn.com for details. A $10 reservation fee required.
And watch for more spay/neuter clinics in 2016 as a result of your generous donations on Give to the Max Day!
A NEUTERED DOG IS A GOOD DOG! Responsible dog owners will want to take every opportunity to train and maintain a polite, obedient, calm and friendly dog. Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered will struggle with even the most basic of good manners.
In male dogs, the hormone testosterone acts as an accelerant making him more reactive. As a male puppy matures and enters adolescence his primary social focus shifts from people to dogs which means your human/canine bond becomes secondary. His limited attention span will make any type of training difficult at best. What kinds of behaviors can be expected from an un-neutered male dog?
• Periodic binges of household destruction, digging and scratching.
• Indoor restlessness/irritability.
• Pacing, whining, unable to settle down or focus. Door dashing, fence jumping and assorted escape behaviors; wandering/roaming.
• Baying, howling, overbarking.
• Barking/lunging at passersby, fence fighting. Lunging/barking at and fighting with other male dogs.
• Non-compliant, pushy and bossy attitude towards caretakers and strangers. Lack of cooperation.
• Resistant; an unwillingness to obey commands; refusal to come when called.
• Pulling/dragging of handler outdoors; excessive sniffing.
• Offensive growling, snapping, biting, mounting people and objects.
• A heightened sense of territoriality, marking with urine indoors.
• Excessive marking on outdoor scent posts.
Sounds awful, right?
In addition, stats show that the overwhelmingly common denominator in dog bite incidents is the fact that the dog was intact. Un-neutered male dogs are involved in up to 76 percent of reported dog bites in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Set your dog up for success! Give him the ability to be not only a good dog, but a great pit bull. Neutering your male dog is good for him, good for you and good for your community. Your dog will be happier and healthier, you’ll have a strong and respectful bond with him, and you’ll both be responsible parts of your community.
Thanks to you, Save-a-Bull has had the opportunity to rescue and rehome a lot of deserving dogs this year. But that’s not enough! Supporting spay and neuter assistance programs for our community will promote responsible dog ownership and breed advocacy which is an important part of the work we’re trying to do every day. Donate today and be a part of our Fix Your Pit program!