by Bren Axon, Woofers One to One Dog Training –
A lot of people have a similar behaviour issue with their dog: he/she is happy and friendly with other dogs off leash, but on-leash it lunges and barks.
People assume that the lunging and barking is caused by their dog showing aggression towards other dogs, or that their dog is being protective and guarding them. Most of the time, this is not the case. It might be true for some dogs, but usually, neither is the reason for the behaviour.
For the most part, dogs bark and lunge when on leash because they are frustrated and/or afraid. Dogs may lunge and bark to say “stay away from me!” and it normally works, so the dog learns to do it again. The behaviour may also occur if your dog has been attacked by another dog while on leash. Some dogs may bark and lunge because they are simply frustrated that they can’t get close enough to greet another dog. Sometimes it could be because the owner has involuntarily tightened the leash when they see another dog coming, which can cause their dog to become tense.
When dogs meet on leash head-on, they can’t exhibit their natural greeting behaviour. This makes some dogs quite nervous. The dog is also restricted by the leash and understands that if the other dog should aggress towards him, he won’t be able to escape.
Normal dog greeting behaviour is to approach each other in a wide arc, moving around to sniff each other’s rear ends, before moving on to sniff further towards the head, and then muzzles. This can’t happen on leash. Some dogs don’t follow doggy etiquette and off leash, they run towards another dog head on. You’ll notice that this usually doesn’t go down too well with the other dog and things can go wrong. Puppies will often do this until they have learned some manners.
Some people may try to stop the unwanted behaviour by using a choke or prong collar. Unfortunately, this will often make the behaviour worse. Dogs learn by association and if, when another dog approaches, your dog pulls towards it and experiences a choking sensation or pain, then he will begin to associate other dogs with that feeling, and this can make the lunging and barking even worse. He’ll want the other dogs to stay away to avoid the pain.
There are ways to deal with this behaviour.
I usually advise using a front connection harness (the leash clips on to the chest) instead of a collar for these dogs. This avoids the choking sensation and can make a difference to the dog’s behaviour. In some cases, the dog may stop the lunging altogether.
I also advise consulting a positive reinforcement trainer who will show you how to teach your dog that other dogs approaching is not frightening and that good things happen instead. This is called “counter conditioning” and is the best way to change your dog’s emotional response to a scary thing – in this case another dog. It is not a “quick fix” but with consistency, patience and kindness, your dog can learn to feel much better about the approach of other dogs and not feel the need to lunge and bark.
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