Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT
One of the most common calls we get at Companion Animal Solutions is from an owner whose dog barks, growls, and lunges at other dogs when on leash. Often, the owner is baffled because their dog loves playing with other dogs at the dog park or dog daycare. There are several reasons why dogs act so differently on leash than they do off leash. I thought it might be helpful to explore some of the more common reasons.
Dogs are highly social animals and when a dog sees another dog, they’re biologically programmed to head on over and investigate with a quick butt sniff. If a dog is on leash, their intense biological drive to investigate the other dog is being thwarted. This reaction is called barrier frustration. Even the most dog friendly dogs in the world are prone to barrier frustration around other dogs. In fact, the most difficult dogs to stay calm around for many dogs are other friendly dogs.
I worked with a Great Dane client who was enormous, black, and the belle of the ball at the dog park. In 2 years she had never gotten into the tiniest little scuffle at the dog park. How good was her dog/dog body language and manners?! When she was on leash and would see another dog in the distance (and I do mean distance), she would begin to whine and jump straight up into the air. In the beginning, I could walk her by another dog who was giving her hard eye or a dog who was ignoring her, but if the dog walking towards us started throwing play solicitation body language, look out! I call these dogs “Woo Hoo’ers” as in “Woo Hoo! I love other dogs so turn me loose to meet them!”
Some dogs react aggressively on leash because of fear. They’re afraid of other dogs. They react by barking, growling, snarling, and lunging at other dogs. This is just their way of saying “I’m not comfortable. You need to go away”. When a dog encounters a person or another dog they’re afraid of, they’ve got two choices; fight or flight. When the dog is on leash, we’ve taken away their flight option. It stands to reason that any dog is going to be more reactive with their flight option removed.
There’s another category of dog that it took me more experience to be able to identify. I call these dogs my Anxious Woo Hoo’ers. By in large, these dogs do just fine with other dogs off leash but they tend to be reactive in general and not super confident around other dogs. Not being confident around other dogs isn’t a problem until that pesky flight option is taken away. These dogs are highly conflicted. They’re super curious about the other dog but anxious at the same time. In my experience, these dogs are the quickest to react on leash towards another dog meaning they react at long distances. Often, it takes the longest amount of time to counter condition these dogs’ reaction.
We always have a Reactive Rover class going on at Companion Animal Solutions. Our classes are unique because of the one on one personalized attention each student receives and because we work outside where the problem is happening. If you’re interested in learning more about our Reactive Rover classes, check out the Companion Animal Solutions web site. If taking a class seems too inconvenient, we can always work with you privately on this problem behavior. Contact us and we can discuss which option is right for you and your dog.
Greta Kaplan says
What a nice breakdown on leash reactivity. Some leash reactivity is real aggression, some is characterized mainly by information seeking (“anxious woo-hoo’ers”) and some is driven by frustrated friendliness. We can work all three types in the same class, but they will be handled differently, especially when close to each other. I always enjoy seeing my Feisty Fido students perform appropriate greetings for the first time, once they know how, and know they are safe!
Greta Kaplan, CDBC, CPDT
Companion Animal Solutions
Christine Hibbard says
My class in Seattle is called Reactive Rover and it is in large part modeled after Greta’s class called Feisty Fido. I encourage everyone in the Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR area with a dog reactive dog to check out Greta’s classes: https://www.dogdaysnw.com/classdetails.html
As a CAS client for the last year, I can tell you, my dog is exponentially improved as a result of what we’ve learned from Miles & Christine!! My dog is an “Anxious Woo Hoo’er”, and had built up barrier frustration and fear, as a result of being an exuberant puppy who wanted to jump & kiss and greet everyone (dogs & people) he met. In my not knowing how to channel all that love, he learned to be fearful, instead of learning he didn’t need to *LOVE!* everyone up close. 🙁
Thanks to CAS, I am learning to recondition these fear factors, and as a result, my dog has earned much more freedom in his daily life and I am able to relax and enjoy our time together without stressing out over every little thing we see that might have caused a reaction in the past. Christine’s Reactive Rover class, by being outside and allowing closely monitored / student appropriate proximity practice, is *much* better suited to our needs and learning style than traditional classroom training. I HIGHLY recommend it!
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Nancy in WI says
Vanya is some of everything, I’m beginning to think! Although the Anxious Woo Hoo’er category is a new one for me, and seems to describe him well. He gets along with dogs he knows; he loves to greet little dogs, but overwhelms them a bit; he screams with intense frustration if he’s blocked from greeting a dog (and screams exactly the same way if he’s blocked from greeting a person, but he can sit and then meet the person and be utterly adorable and adoring); and the few times he’s gotten to greet off leash, he’s been a brat after a few seconds. Distance work is entertaining, but it’s not really leading to steady improvements. We just keep plugging along, now with the help of prozac and l-theamine.
I wish Greta and Christine could come to the midwest. We do have amazing trainers in Madison WI (Dogs Best Friend and Blue Dog), but we don’t have a class where Vanya can stay under threshold and yet still have a chance to learn to be calm in the proximity of other dogs.
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