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.
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!
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I searched a few videos on “how to use a prong collar” and the videos are so outdated and horrifying, yet I know many people are thinking these are the ways to learn!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.