Why Are Leashed Dogs More Aggressive?

by Jodi L. Hartley
    Understanding leash aggression can help you teach your dog to enjoy walks.

    Understanding leash aggression can help you teach your dog to enjoy walks.

    Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images

    Walking not only gives your dog her necessary exercise, it also provides mental stimulation and socialization opportunities. But when your walk takes an unpleasant turn because your normally friendly dog lunges, growls and barks at other dogs or walkers, you may want to stop walking her altogether. Understanding why she only reacts this way while on leash can help you to overcome her aggression and make walks fun for you both.

    When your dog meets another dog off leash, she probably approaches her new acquaintance from the side, and they sniff each other over, particularly the rear. In canine communication this is a polite greeting. When your dog is walking on leash toward another, they are meeting face-to-face, an aggressive greeting in the canine world. On top of that, you may tighten the leash and pull her away from the other dog, increasing her frustration.

    Every time your dog sees another dog, she pulls to get to the other dog, and you repeat the cycle of tightening her leash, yelling at her to be good and transitioning your stress and fear to her. After a few encounters like this, your dog associates seeing another dog while she’s on leash as something negative.
    This aggressive reaction can happen not only when your dog meets another dog, but also when she encounters anything that triggers her to feel frustrated or uneasy, such as other humans or animals. Changing your dog’s reaction and resulting behavior requires you to teach her that seeing another dog or trigger is a good thing.

    Take your dog somewhere that she can see other dogs, but keep her distance. When she sees another dog, give her lots of yummy treats and praise. When the dog goes away, ignore her. Repeat. Do this several times a week for as long as needed to condition a positive response from her. As she becomes more comfortable seeing other dogs and looking at you when she sees one, move closer. This process teaches her that seeing other dogs is a good experience, and it gives her something positive to do when she sees one. Once she’s comfortable walking around other dogs, treat and praise her periodically to reinforce her behavior.

    Your dog may already be uneasy around other dogs in general, so being on a leash can inhibit her natural response to get away from the dog. Feeling cornered, she reacts aggressively to warn the other dog to stay away. Providing her with opportunities to meet and play off leash with other dogs can help her be more at ease. She also may have had a bad experience while leashed and now associates the leash with that experience. In these cases, work with a certified animal behaviorist to pinpoint the cause of her fear and learn how to overcome it.

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    About the Author

    Jodi L. Hartley has been a writer and public relations professional since 1992. Her experience includes public relations and marketing for a pet service/retail business, as well as volunteer work with animal rescue organizations. Hartley holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and an M.B.A.

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