Tackling leash aggression
Yesterday's visit to the park has yet again inspired another blog on leash aggression. We were done our walk and making our way back to the car; the girls and I that is. Luke and Dad headed the opposite direction towards his car. We were almost there when a car pulled up; the passenger door opened to a symphony of scream barking. A young girl hopped out with a chihuahau mix then came another and yet another. When they were all out there was a Mom; two girls and three dogs. And all of the dogs were going off on my dogs. I was pleasantly surprised that Jessie decided not to retaliate; I guess at 14 she's over it.
The largest of the bunch was doing the most serious barking; the Mother bent down and grabbed him under the neck by the collar and strung him up; right off his feet. The dog quickly turned its attention to her trying to bite her. She put him down and he proceeded to growl at her; direct hard stare and all. This while the younger girls voiced their complaints for the treatment of their dog. What a crazy stressful scene; made worse by the harsh treatment in attempts to stop the frenzied barking.
So what should have happened? This one particular incident could have been avoided by waiting until we passed by; getting the dogs out of the car and redirecting them onto something else or grab a handful of treats and have everyone receive treats while we walked by. But if you want to teach your dog not to act this way you need to work; patience, understanding and lots of treats are way to get started. First each dog needs work on their own; it is very hard to teach three dogs a lesson when they fuel each others inappropriate behavior. Once you work with each individual you can then attempt taking them out together.
So you have a leash aggressive dog; there are several ways to approach the situation. One you can teach your dog a very solid behavior that is not conducive to displaying leash aggression; meaning you can't do this one behavior and act like a crazed dog at the sametime. Teaching your dog to watch you when asked is a great tool. You can use "watch me" "look" "me" or whatever word you want to get your dog to give 100% attention on you. Starting out you reward for just a look and then ask for longer and longer time looking at you. To build the time your dog watches you; use praise and continual rewarding. The rewards need to be really good for watching you. Many trainers spit food out of their mouth which really helps to have your dog keep watching you.
Once your dog understands this well you need to work on the same behavior but with small distractions. Distraction work is called proofing; this means that you are creating many different situations that your dog learns to work around. When you add distractions you typically need to up the value of your treat. Once you have achieved some distractions you will want to practice around other dogs; but the first work needs to offer the other dog and you some distance. Do not set yourself up for failure; keep as far away as you need to, to achieve success. Once you have success then you slowly start moving closer and closer.
One of the most important things for YOU to do in this training is to remain calm. You need to show your dog that other dogs mean nothing, no big deal at all. Your dog is attached by a leash so don't worry about it. Keep your dogs mind active while you walk by other dogs. I like to use direction changes as well as the watch; my dogs have been taught turn, this way and let's go. These direction cues are useful for walking by other dogs because they interfere with the whole focusing on the other dog.
I also use "catch" while walking by other dogs. My dogs all LOVE catching; especially when it is food. When you are doing a fun activity and getting food while walking by other dogs; it makes walking by dogs a good thing. Many behaviors snowball once they get going; that factors in good and bad behaviors. So once you start making walking by other dogs a good thing; it just gets better and better. You can get closer and closer until you actually have contact; a monumentous event.
But be aware there can be moments of regression; if another dog goes after your dog it can set you back in your training. But get right back on the horse and attack it head on; promote the positive and try to erase the negative.