Is My Dog Aggressive?

Barking Dog

Does this look familiar?

Do you have a dog that lunges and snarls on leash when he sees another dog? Have people angrily told you, “You’d better get control of your aggressive dog!”?

You don’t understand it. He’s fine with everyone in the house. He plays with dogs at the dog park. He has other doggy friends that come over to play in the back yard.

Why does he turn into a monster when you take him for a walk? This behavior makes you wonder where you went wrong.  Why does my dog hate to walk outside? Is my dog aggressive?

Take a deep breath. You’re dog is not aggressive. Your dog is leash reactive. There are many reasons that this happens. It can be a combination of many reasons. Genetics, under-socialization, past experiences, past aversive training, or our reactions are some common reasons.

Most leash-reactivity is fear-based. Often is begins as excitement-based, then turns into barrier frustration. Our reaction can often turn it into a fear-based behavior. Or it is fear-based from the beginning due to under socialization or a bad past experience. If you’ve adopted a dog with this issue, it’s hard to know exactly why this has happened.

The fact that we force our dogs to walk up to other dogs face to face, which they would not naturally do creates issues. Dogs like to approach each other in a “banana curve”. They would think of approaching another dog face on. Unless they had pretty bad dog manners. A dog approaching another dog face on can create mixed signals. Especially if their leash is tightened. When we walk on trails or sidewalks, we force them to do this. This is one way to create leash reactivity.

Another thing we do is reinforce negative feelings about other dogs on leash approaching our dog. Say you’re walking along with your dog and your dog spots another dog. He’s excited and wants to go meet the other dog. You do a quick jerk on his collar and say, “No!”. You are now beginning to give your dog a negative association with dogs approaching him. He quickly learns that when he sees another dog on leash, it makes you unhappy with him.  He then starts to lunge and bark at approaching dogs to keep them away so you won’t be angry with him. Dogs learn by association. He now has a negative association with dogs approaching on leash.

These are just a couple of examples of what may be the cause for this. Luckily, there are many tools out there to help you manage this behavior. The first thing for you to do is work on your own response. You MUST learn how to become more relaxed when you walk your dog. Do meditation or yoga. Practice square breathing. As long as you are stressed, your dog will remain stressed. When at home, try to keep your dog’s stress levels as low as possible. If they bark out of the window at passing people and dogs, cover your windows or don’t allow access to them. If they run the fence barking and acting crazy, don’t let them do it. Go out with them and take them indoors immediately if this begins. There are a plethora of great books and websites and classes out there to help you get through this. You are not alone!

Most importantly, have compassion for your dog. It’s so difficult not to get angry or yell at him when he’s doing this. Know that if you do yell at him for this, you will only make it worse. Your dog can’t help this behavior. He is not a bad dog. He doesn’t want to feel this way. Having compassion for him will help you both get through this.  Make sure you have realistic expectations for your dog. He may never be a therapy dog or a social butterfly. But if you work hard enough at helping him, you might just be able to take him for a nice walk one day.