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Pet Happenings August 2009

Leash Pulling and Aggression
by Jessica Turquette of Moab Barkery

Often pulling and excitement can turn into bad doggie manners and even aggression. There are many methods available to deal with this, and often working with a professional can make the process go much quicker. What can you do to help your best friend enjoy their walks a little more now? Relearn the walk first in a two step process. Step one get a new leash if you are using a retractable leash, and step two enforce some new and basic rules.

Most dogs pull because it’s effective. We as humans want to get on with the walk too, so even though the dog is not doing what we want, we comply and get dragged. Many people use retractable leashes because they don’t want to be dragged anymore, although this type of leash is good for well behaved dogs, it’s a bad solution for pullers and aggressive dogs. The shorter the leash the better, 4 ft. max will help your dog stay close. Use the lowest amount of control for your dog. If they are a little nervous, a standard leash and collar is fine. If they are a little more wild or aggressive use an Easy Walk harness that leads them from the front, or a Halti/Gentle Leader that leads them from the mouth (they can still use their mouth and pant when they are hot).

Do not allow pulling (no real force needed, just patience). Here’s how: When you start the walk and they start to pull, stop and move a step or two back and call them while patting your leg. When they respond and move towards you give a treat or affection (which ever is more valuable to the dog). When you have their full attention, start the walk again. Repeat as soon as they start pulling, and especially if something has too much of their attention. In the beginning this can be cumbersome, but your dog is smart and if YOU ARE CONSISTENT, the behavior will get better.

We reinforce bad behavior because we are frustrated at the length of the process and even fall prey to what is technically termed an “extinction behavior burst.” That means the behavior gets worse before it gets better or goes away completely. We either get discouraged by the extinction burst or we get bored and give up, but don’t! It will be worth while when you are addressing any potential aggression in the future. Most information, in the kindest way possible tells the dog owner that consistency is the key to better behavior. I compare this part of the advice to that of a nutritionist saying more fruits and more vegetables for a healthier you, yet we still eat that meat sandwich. It’s good advice but it doesn’t sink in! We like quick results, but if you stay calm (firm if necessary, but calm at all times) and consistent your walks will become something to look forward too!

How did it get this way? Well, most dogs that live with people came to their homes as puppies. They did not have the opportunity to live with other adult dogs and learn good canine social behavior. This can result in an inappropriate response to other dogs a on leash (excitement first, then frustration that can lead to aggression).

Here’s a scenario you may be familiar with: You see another dog walking on the leash, your dog starts to pull, their tail is wagging and they are whining or even barking. You pull the leash tight (because you are already being pulled towards the other dog). Your dog starts to dig in and they get more frantic with their hackles raised. The other owner stops short and you say “he/she is friendly, really!” You’re correct, but your dog is frustrated and neither you nor the other owner is sure at this point. Do you let them meet; is he/she really friendly? The problem is the behavior is unfriendly in appearance and can turn into real violence, because your dog is frustrated, they are essentially throwing a tantrum like a 3 year old that wants candy. They want to meet that other dog, but never learned canine good manners.

In a society of dogs, a puppy or new dog would learn to approach another dog slowly, and calmly. They would meet nose to nose, sniff a time or two at the mouth and start the well known circle introduction. Each sniffing the other’s butt, all the while moving in a circle like a dance. If you can stop the process of excitement at the very beginning and ask your dog to face towards you and away from the other dog, you can help them calm down.
High reward treats work great for getting their attention. Be patient and calm, and if the situation allows it, let the dogs meet after they are calmed down. This can take a few minutes and in the real world can be hard to do. Whenever you get the opportunity, like with a friend’s or neighbor’s dog, practice! Eventually your dogs can meet and do the traditional sniff and circle. Just remember to help your dog out and circle with the dogs so their leashes don’t get tangled.

Dogs naturally want to travel on a walk at least once a day, so you will be feeding their instincts (which can help keep them from eating the couch), and getting some fresh air. They get to meet friends like dogs should, and you can have a nice relaxing walk with your buddy! Hang in there and remember if you’re stuck or need advice, consult a local trainer. Professional help is always a great way past road blocks.

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