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Dog Leash Aggression: What You Need To Know

Updated: Oct 7


Leash aggression is a common canine behavior.

Below, we’ll examine what’s behind leash aggression

and how to effectively address this potentially dangerous issue.


Leash aggression is a negative emotional and behavioral reaction. It’s often associated with an insecure, frustrated, anxious and fearful dog who does not possess adequate social skills to properly meet and greet another canine. Coming face-to-face with leash aggression can be frightening if you don’t understand what is really going on.


What is Leash Aggression?


1. Canine leash aggression, as mentioned earlier, is a common canine behavior although not a desirable behavior to be encouraged or tolerated.

Leash aggression is also known as:

Leash lunging; and

Leash reactivity.


2.Leash aggression is exhibited through lunging, barking and snapping at even the sight of another dog or perceived threat.


3. Leash aggression is not socially acceptable as polite dog behavior. It should never be encouraged (it’s not “cute” when a 10-pound dog exhibits leash aggression to a 180-pound mastiff) and it should never be allowed to continue to avoid deadly consequences.



4. A leash-aggressive dog does not automatically mean the aggressive dog wants to avoid interacting with other dogs. It’s more about the leash-aggressive dog not knowing - and using - proper social skills and signals for a polite canine greeting.


5. So why are some dogs leash-aggressive? Some dogs feel uncomfortable and restrained when leashed because they cannot easily put distance between themselves and a perceived threat. These threats include not only other dogs but also people, things and places.


Without being able to easily remove themselves from an undesirable situation, these dogs resort to reacting in an aggressive and defensive manner to protect themselves and ward off the threat. This explains why this same dog may react completely differently when off-leash because they can easily avoid an uncomfortable situation.


Should You Pull a Leash-Aggressive Dog Away?

While it seems logical to forcefully pull an aggressive dog away from the situation, this reaction does little to correct and replace this negative behavior with socially proper introductions and interactions. In fact, if the dog is pulled away, it reinforces his natural need for distance and encourages him to repeat the behavior for the same result (greater distance).


Effectively Addressing Leash Aggression

Since a leash-aggressive dog usually creates tension (and even fear) on the part of the owner or walker, a professional dog behaviorist should be brought in immediately to effectively address and replace this potentially explosive and dangerous behavior. 



In order to reinforce proper K9 interactions, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the causes behind the leash-aggressive dog’s behavior in order to create solutions for redirecting the negative behavior.


Avoiding all canine interactions is neither a good or viable solution for your dog especially as it further ingrains and aggravates the unwanted behavior.


To effectively address and manage leash aggression, the following steps need to be taken:


  • Identify what is causing the initial fear, anxiety or frustration behind the aggressive reaction; and

  • Desensitize the dog to the underlying cause with positive reinforcement training.


6 Steps in Addressing Leash Aggression


1. NEVER punish your dog for leash aggression. It only makes the unwanted behavior worse, the dog more insecure and reinforces a stronger emotional reaction to what he already fears.


2. TEACH a leash-aggressive dog that lunging will not get him what he wants. Calm and polite behavior on a loose leash will get him what he wants.


3.AVOID face-to-face greetings with a leash-aggressive K9.


4.DISTRACT your dog from the perceived threat (before they lunge or bark) by having him look at you instead. Once you have his focus, reward with positive reinforcements (food, treats, praise or a favorite toy). This practice will help desensitize the perceived threat and slowly re-condition your dog to be comfortable and calm despite the threat.


5. Each dog is different and learns new behaviors in their own way and pace. Never force your dog to learn faster. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, end the training session.


6. Leash aggression can become further reinforced and ingrained. If you do not have personal experience in dealing with leash-aggressive canines, call in a recommended professional to avoid making your dog’s behavior worse.




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Additional Reading:

AKC: How to Deal with Leash Aggression 

Victoria Stillwell: Leash Aggression

Animal Humane Society: Managing a Leash-Reactive Dog

Victoria Stillwell: Teaching a Leash Reactive Dog to Make the Right Choices

Victoria Stillwell: Pulling on the Leash

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