Why does my dog do that?
Does your dog bark, lunge and growl when you pass other dogs on leash? It can be so embarrassing and frustrating when our normally happy, friendly dogs act so aggressively toward other dogs when we pass by them on leash!
There are many reasons why dogs act this way, including leash frustration, owner presence, or fear. If a dog is friendly and has been allowed to greet other dogs on leash, but can’t greet today, they may become frustrated. Some dogs feel their owner’s stress about dog’s approaching (as the leash tightens up), and they feed off their human’s stress. However, most dogs are fearful, believe it or not. And for a dog who is fearful, they will do whatever they need to do to get that other dog to go away. From the dog’s perspective, they will do what works for them, and they have learned that barking, lunging and growling works. Afterall, the other dog always goes away, right?
Take heart in knowing a lot of dogs have this problem and it isn’t something you should be embarrassed out. But you can help them so they don’t feel so defensive when passing other dogs and you can teach your dog a new, more acceptable behavior.
Some dogs may require behavior modification in the form of counter conditioning and desensitization, in which case, it’s time to give the trainer a call. But for many dogs, there are a few simple tricks you can try to make passing other dogs go more smoothly.
First, teach your dog a solid ‘watch me’ cue so when they see another dog, they will automatically look at you. Then reward this lovely, calm behavior with a fun game. Afterall, it’s hard to bark and lunge when you’re in the middle of a fun game, right? My all-time favorite game is “Find it!”. Toss a treat on the ground, say, “Find it!” and just as the dog finds the first treat, toss another one in a different direction and say, “Find it!”. Teach the game at home when there aren’t any other distractions, then once your dog understands the game, play it outside when you are walking, not always when another dog is approaching as it’s best to be unpredictable.
You can also make wide curves when other dogs approach so you aren’t walking directly toward the other dog which can be very confrontational for a dog whose normal social behavior is to greet dogs from the side. It also gives more distance between the dogs which may make your dog feel more comfortable.
Most importantly, stay relaxed so you send relaxed signals down the leash which will help your dog to also feel more relaxed.
What shouldn’t you do? First and foremost, don’t punish your dog. Your dog is already stressed and punishment will only further add to his stress. Second, don’t make your dog sit while the other dog passes as this will make your dog feel trapped and defenseless, only to increase his anxiety about other dogs passing in the future. Help him move away, give him more space, duck behind a car or turn and run (with a happy, relaxed voice) in another direction so he thinks it’s a fun game.
Wishing you many happy walks with your furry friend!
Wags and woofs!
Why does my dog do that?