How to Inadvertently Teach Your Dog to Be Dog Aggressive and Reactive

20 years ago, dogs that were “leash reactive” or looked “dog aggressive” were few and far between.

But, nowadays, so many dogs and their owners suffer from this horrifying behavior, it is more common than not.

What is “Leash Reactivity”?

Reactive, as defined by Merriam-Webster online, is being readily responsive to a stimulus and occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.

leash reactive

Proactive is the opposite of reactive.

Proactive, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is creating a controlling situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.

Proactive dogs are often confident and nothing bothers them because they feel in control of situations.

Reactive dogs are often nervous or fearful and feel as if they have no control.

Many of these dogs adopt a “the best offense is a good defense” approach and deal with stressful or unknown situations by becoming aggressive and defensive-looking through their negative behaviors.

Humans are Creating Leash Reactivity

The problem is that, in most situations, the human component is creating leash reactivity and defensive behaviors.

Even a confident, proactive dog, can be turned into a stressed, reactive dog when on leash!

How?

Through use of corrections and negative training techniques.

You see, 20 years ago prong collars and shock collars were rarely available and even more rarely used.

Now, it seems everyone thinks they are proficient with these torture devices. I think because trainers who use and recommend them are lazy and tout them to be a cure all, when really they create many more problems than they fix.

And, most people don’t know how to use them effectively and precisely and instead, overuse them.

Heck, I saw a 14 week old puppy come into the vet clinic I work at, just the other day, with a prong collar around his neck.

No puppy needs a prong collar, and no geriatric dog should need a prong collar either (another one of my pet peeves).

By misusing these devices we are creating stress, and pain, and fear, and therefore, creating behavioral monsters.

Let’s Break It Down

I searched a few videos on “how to use a prong collar” and the videos are so outdated and horrifying, yet I know many people are thinking these are the ways to learn!

dog aggression, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity

This is so old school, yank up and push down to teach “sit” YIKES

This person is actually recording and looking for opportunities for the dog to make a mistake so she can use this prong collar with “precision”.  She waits for him to see another dog so that she can let up, give the dog more space, and pop that collar.[/caption]

By giving him more space she can add more of a “POP” or more pain to the correction, and she will describe to you, just how to do that with efficiency.

dog aggression, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity

Why Correct, why not teach?

Here we are taught how to get the best correction by letting the dog get to the end of the leash and then pulling back in the opposite direction.  Again, getting the best “bang” for your pop.

dog aggression, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity

That is a lot of force!

This trainer actually says that if the dog screams or shark rolls (in pain) he just calmly waits them out…. Wow, I am glad he doesn’t work with kids!

Why This Doesn’t Work

I mean, sure it seems to work in all the videos and these people make it look so easy!

But it will backfire!

Why?

Because you are adding conflict, stress, fear and pain every time the dog sees another dog.

You’re Out on a Walk

  • You see another dog and owner walking toward you.
  • You feel some stress, so you reach down and reel your dog into you closer with the leash tight, adding a correction or choking off some of his air.
  • Because your behavior has changed and your dog feels and smells your stress, he looks around and notices the other dog and owner.
  • He then begins to fight back on the end of the leash, because he is uncomfortable.
  • You continue correcting or trying to pull your dog in toward you (chances are the other dog owner is doing the exact same thing).
  • One or both dogs may bark, hackle or try to lunge.
  • Another leash correction is given, and you try to drag your dog away.
  • Usually you will stressfully shout a command or a verbal correction.
  • Some people hit the dog on top of the head with the leash, or kick the dog in absolute frustration.
  • And all of this continues until the dog and owner is past.

The whole set of circumstances is unpleasant!

And, chances are, early on in your dog’s training, he didn’t even understand why you got stressed and panicked.

But, time after time, he realizes this happens each time you see another dog.

Clearly, YOU are terrified of other dogs and those dogs must present a risk to you and to him.

Why else would you act this way each time you see a dog?

His reaction is to create distance between the perceived threat and the trigger until it is below his threshold and he can deal with it.

You See, the Leash is a Tether to Your Emotions

The leash is a tether to your emotions.

He feels your anxiety the moment you make the leash tight and pull him back.

He notices when you are stressed or uncomfortable.

dog aggression, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity

So much correcting, so little “teaching” and kind communication

And, if it always happens when a certain stimulus is present (a dog), he determines and understand that other dogs are bad.

So he becomes even more defensive.

Even if he didn’t bark, and hackle, and snarl, and lunge in the beginning of training and walks, you have taught him that this behavior will likely scare your nemesis away!

You are, literally, creating the problem, even if it is not your intention!

This is why so many people say “my dog is aggressive on leash, but he is fine playing with dogs off leash”. It is because your behaviors have inadvertently taught him to be aggressive and defensive when he is on leash!

At Best

Even if you are not actively correcting him with a prong collar, choke chain, or shock collar, just tightening the leash conveys an irritating message.

Pulling on your dog’s leash is like nagging him.

dog aggression, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity

I prefer loose leash attention, teaching a good behavior!

Imagine that you and I go on a walk every evening after dinner.

Whenever I see a dog, I poke you in the ribs until it is out of sight.

Irritating right? I mean, after about the second dog you would be yelling at me to stop.

But let’s assume I don’t speak the same language and you love your walks with me and don’t want to just leave me and my rotten behavior at home.

After a few nights and a few dogs, you would be on heightened alert for dogs.

You would want to see them before I see them, so that you could turn around without me seeing them.

Because, after all, you don’t like getting poked in the ribs.

So you would avoid dogs, because dogs = pokes.

This is how your dog feels when you tighten the leash and choke him.

It may not be “painful”, but it is irritating and he tries to fight back by keeping dogs away.

Because if he “scares” the dog away more quickly, he will be poked, or choked and irritated for less duration.

You Really Have to be Careful What You are Communicating!

I, for one, prefer to teach my dogs fantastic leash manners, coping skills, and an alternative behavior, like focus, that I can reward.

Instead of, like the trainer above, just waiting for my dog to make a mistake so that I can swoop in with a painful correction.

I mean, I wouldn’t treat my child that way, why would anyone want to train their dog that way?

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Comments

  1. Becky Troutman says:

    Holy Cow! An Ah-Ha moment. I have been teaching my dog to be anxious while trying so hard to give him confidence when walking. I no longer use a choke collar after your first few videos I watched. That was the method used when my husband and I attended our first training class with our rescue. We didn’t go to the last 2 classes because our dog was so upset and fearful I felt like attending would defeat our purpose for being there. That’s when I said there has to be a better way and I found your ideas and philosophy on dog training. The difference has been amazing. I still have a lot to learn but now I am headed in the right direction.

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    Minette Reply:

    🙂 at least you are willing to learn!

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  2. Susan Ryan says:

    I was guilty of the leash tightening with our last lab. Even at 12 weeks old she started growling if she saw anything in the distance walking towards us. TOOK me till she was past 10 to realize my learned reaction to her insecurity caused it to be worse. When I loosened up on the leash she stopped aggressively behaving to passing dogs on leash.

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  3. Linda Durie says:

    I unfortunately have made my young GSD lead reactive ( I have worked and trained for 30 years ) and I am working to alter this – I agree with what you are saying and wondered if there is any further advice you can give – I know I am the trigger but many people walking towards you do not control their dogs ?

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  4. Sarah says:

    What do you recommend doing if your (rescue) dog pulls / lunges on the lead when she sees another dog (i.e. it’s her rather than me doing the pulling). The only way I can think of is to drop the lead (which is only on because it’s not safe with a road nearby or sheep, or dogs aren’t allowed off leash there) or run with her (but I’m not so fast!). I try to avoid head on meetings but the unexpected does happen.

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    Minette Reply:

    Look into our ERT or companion dog program. You can email customer service at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com

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  5. Mary Lou Wright says:

    Yes, this is certainly a Ah-Hah moment!!! I have a rescue dog (part yorkie and Shih-Tzu)) and he has been aggressive from the start. The people that owned him we extremely mean. When we go for a walk, if a dog he doesn’t know comes toward us, he pulls on the lease, barks and barks. Then the other dog reacts the same way. Some times I let the leash loosen (if the other dog doesn’t bark) and he nips at the dog, or he will smell him and still bark. Most times we give him a little treat to get his attention away and he stops barking. But after we give him treat, he still tries to go see the other dog (even after they have passed). My dog is 13. What to do?

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  6. Catherine Sansivieri says:

    My 10 month old Golden Retriever is pretty good when we are out for a walk…..UNTIL we see someone, anyone, walking our way. She goes crazy for their attention, and It is so very difficult to control her. Even when they have passed or I turn her around and go another way, she jumps all over me, bites the leash making it impossible for me so I struggle to take her back home all the while she is acting awful, jumping on me while I practically have to drag her home. The minute I get her up on our porch she immediately calms down. I don’t know what to do.

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  7. Marcia says:

    I have two Vizlas. 7year old, and 7 month old. The elder does not want to go for walks anymore since our 15 year old Vizla died. So, since he needs the excercise, I make him go for walks. It’s horrible, he continually jerks around to get home to his safe spot. Is their a solution to this? The 7 month old enjoys her walk until a person, Nike, child or dig appears ( even in the distance) then she reacts by becoming frantic, backing up, jerking herself around to get loose. At this point, there is no loose lead and no way to get her to relax. I used to walk three miles with the 15 year old and the 7 year old (it’s been two years since the elder dog passed). So there just isn’t any walking beyond 15 minutes. It’s sad. And I am so disappointed. Any suggestions? I hired a K9 trainer (paid him $1100.) non refundable. He accomplished nothing. Spent a total of 5 hours with my dogs. I sure was duped.

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  8. Kathy says:

    It all makes sense but I live in North Africa, and in the countryside. There are dangerous strays, guard dogs that are loose at times and generally dogs that are not on leashes that are aggressive. I am curious what you think about my situation.
    Thank you,
    Kathy

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    Minette Reply:

    carry mace

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  9. Chantelle says:

    I agree with what you are saying, there needs to be more kind communication as well. My dog is pretty well behaved he gets excited but he never barks when he sees; people, other dogs, squirells, birds, etc. The only problem we had was him pulling constantly towards anything and everything so we had a training lesson and this girl gave us a prong collar. She wasn’t very helpful but the collar really was. We don’t tug on it much because after a couple times “popping” it a little bit while walking to show him not to pull he stopped. So he only wears the prong collar when we go out for walks and he doesn’t pull at all anymore but he also isn’t scared and anxious. And we’ve never pulled the leash hard enough to make him yelp or whine. When we’re out for a walk and sees another dog he just looks at them and I just say “leave it, it’s okay” and he just keeps walking. I’ve always tried to talk to him more and he listens, dogs are pretty smart when you give them the chance to be.
    Thank you for your articles; they tend to be very insightful and helpful. 🙂

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  10. CiCi says:

    I taught my very protective GSD “in back”. That means to go behind me and sit quietly, facing the same direction as I am. This took about two months to get rock solid with only verbal praise and correction. First in the house, then the back yard, then the front yard, then on walks with no distractions, then on walks with low level distractions (squirrels, sticks, balls).

    Now when another dog approaches, or even barks at us from behind a fence, I face the other dog, give the “in back” command, and my GSD immediately sees that I am in between him and the other dog, in charge, and most importantly CALM! The first time I did this, my dog immediately changed from defensive barking to excited playful yipping, and could walk calmly beside me no matter how much the other dog barked!

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  11. Rosemary Marsh says:

    Everything you say makes so much sense! I agree with all your methods and I am now so much better at walking my dog. I also learnt a lot from Caesar ‘the dog whisperer’ . I wish I had learned all these techniques years ago. Thanks

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  12. Linda L. Beeler says:

    No problem with my pup/dog. He usually ignores other dogs. If he does go towards another dog on lead and the other owner clearly is anxious about them getting close, I do shorten his lead on his halter and talk calmly to him until we pass. Do same with other humans depends on their body language. My dog is interactive. Cool.

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  13. Michelle Welch says:

    My Doberman has several triggers when I try to walk him. He wants to chase cars, bark at other dogs and people. He is almost 1 yr old. I bought your trainings but not sure where to start. I really need to take him for a walk to burn some of that high energy. Can you point me in the right direction?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I would recommend our ERT program

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  14. Karen says:

    My GSD came to me as a lunger and it has taken lots of rewards and distance training to get her trusting dogs on leashes. I have been playing with her on leash near public walkways. She is now really happily ignoring most dogs and enjoying the games. The only time she lunges now is if a dog suddenly comes up on us but I can now distract her quickly. She still shakes when she sees a white dog but not as much. It takes patience and rehabilitation of me….

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  15. Gary samson says:

    I use your command leave it when my dog is distracted
    It’s working well ,and I get his attention when he is confused ,this makes him rely on me for stressful times,but I try to watch his reaction when I’m not around , he’s getting more confident ,any ideas on the dog getting more confident lessons I can reinforce to make my dog more independent ,
    Confident ,and reassured .he is great with me ,but relies
    On me to be secure .he alway looks to me for direction.

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  16. Donna says:

    What do you suggest for a dog that is dog aggressive when in his own backyard, not on s leash or tethered. My 4 year old male rescue aussie shephard mix (i got him when he was 8 months old) goes ballistics when a dog is being walked on the sidewalks by our home. My home is close to the sidewalks due to village widening road. He did not do this for the first year, as I got him in the Fall, but the following summer, he started this up. I run outside every time he gets that angry bark and either tell him to go inside, or I hang on to his collar and talk softly to him, telling him to “let it go, they are not in your yard.” He has gotten better by me being out there, but I’d rather not have to run outside everytime someone walks by. I don’t care that he barks, it’s the mean ballistics I dont like. He is wonderful with other dogs away from his home.
    Thank you

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  17. Melissa says:

    What do you do when your dog is nicely by your side, behaving, not pulling on the leash and someone else let’s their dog run up to your dog in their face. The person could even tell I wasn’t happy about it and they say oh their dog is friendly. I don’t care! I don’t want your dog in my dogs face!. Then my dog starts pulling on the leash. How do you handle that without putting tension on the leash? Even if you turn to leave I have been told that can cause aggression from the other dog.

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  18. Kim says:

    Thank you Chantelle. We also use a prong. It’s how we use it. As you said, one pop and that’s all it takes. I am NOT lazy. I have had my whole ribcage displaced from a regular collar. They (prong collars) are not cruel when used properly.

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    Minette Reply:

    All it takes is teaching the dog what your expectations are for leash walking. A well trained dog should be able to walk on a buckle collar and should not need a prong collar. Again, I think they are lazy and I certainly would rather someone teach me rather than add pain

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  19. MWDwoman says:

    Mary Lou, by giving your dog a treat you’re basically rewarding his behaviour. He barks at another dog, you reward him, and so he’s bound to continue looking for the other dog in order to bark and be rewarded again.
    Treats (rewards) should only be given to reinforce good or desired behaviours.

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  20. Alan says:

    I have 2 boxer’s. When they were pups they would approach all dogs but, they were always too bouncy for the other dogs and it usually resulted with my dogs being a pest and being growled at. I then made the mistake of holding the leash tighter on approaching other dogs. The dogs became leash reactive, that’ll also be aggressive to dogs when I let them
    off the leash. They’ve also been attacked on numerous occassions whilst on the leash by dogs off the leash. They’re much better if i walk them one at a time but, i havent got the time to take them on 2 seperate walks as i tend to have them out for a while. I use Haiti’s on them both. Find them a bit easier to control when they have their Haiti’s on.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I would look into our aggression coaching program

    [Reply]

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