Leash Aggression

Leash aggression and the reasons for it:

  • Fear – Due to a lack of early socialization and/or a personality component. It can also be due to a bad encounter with another dog.
  • Frustration – Can cause arousal  and excitement. When the arousal is unfulfilled and stopped by a tight leash on a neck or head collar, it makes the frustration go from wanting to play to being down right mad.
  • Keep in mind that when a dog is pulling to get to another dog that there is a lot of pressure on his trachea, which can cause pain. He may then associate the pain in his neck to seeing other dogs. Therefore he blames dogs that he is trying to get to as the reason for his pain!

The Plan: Desensitization and counter-conditioning

Equipment needed: Dogs have what is called an oppositional reflex – so when you pull tightly on a neck collar they will actually want to pull harder and will in fact get more aroused. Lets change the dogs equipment first!

Front-clip harnesses such as the  Easy Walk Harness, the Sensation and the Freedom No-Pull Harness are the tools to choose.  This takes the oppositional reflex out of the problem.  Head-halters can add to a dog’s frustration and are not good for physically moving a dog if we get stuck, so we prefer the harness

We need to change how the dog feels about the approach of another dog and change the default (conditioned) behavior when they approach.  This means that we take a primary reinforcer (treats) and we pair them with the appearance of the other dog.

It has to be a primary reinforcer of high valuen because the thing that has the higher reward will get the behavior we want.  In other words the primary reinforcer needs to more valuable than the appearance of another dog.

Desensitize/counter-condition for EVERY dog

This needs to be done for each and every dog you see because we don’t know which one will set him off and if we aren’t proactively working our program on each and every dog the dog could have an outburst which would be self-reinforcing and the reactivity would continue.

Another reason this needs to be done for each and every dog is because although our dog may not be having an outburst he may still be cranking himself up inside.

Stay sub-threshold


Your timing has to catch him before he explodes. This means that he is not over-the-top reacting and can actually focus on the treats.

Distance is critical

You may not think your dog has spotted the other dog because he is not over-the-top, but canine senses are so acute that if you see the dog you can be certain that your dog knows full well there is another dog nearby. So always work at a greater distance where your dog is sub-threshold then slowly close up the distance over time.


This is what breaks most humans down. Remember, dogs don’t generalize the same way humans do. It does take a while for new pathways to be really well-formed in the brain. Also, please remember that we are also asking him to learn a new behavior in the face of his old trigger – the other dog – so this can take a lot of repetitions.

Have an escape plan


This means that if your dog is reacting you would move him a bit away from the other dog using some tension on the harness, then take a handful of those high value treats and rest them for a moment right on his nose so he can smell them, and then gently toss the snacks from his nose into the opposite direction of the trigger dog.

Aunt Penny offers a Reactive Dogs Class for leash reactive dogs. You can attend this six week class with or without your dog – or just attend the first night seminar. For more information, call 724-515-7790 or email info@myauntpenny.com

Aunt Penny

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