Handling other peoples' leash-aggressive dogs
“Leash aggression” is very common--that’s when a dog gets aggressive when he’s on a leash, or to another dog on a leash, or when they’re both on leashes.
An important part of dog communication for avoiding conflict is dog #1 moving away from dog #2 when dog #2 is acting like a tool. Your job is to allow this conversation to happen even if it makes you feel feelings.
Let us paint you a picture: You're walking your dog, off leash, somewhere where this is safe and legal. You go get your dog and clip on the leash. You and your dog smile lovingly at each other as you guide him gently toward the gate. Then, because you’re paying attention, you see dog #2, off-leash, approaching. You try to put your body between the dogs--what Dr. Patricia McConnell calls a "body block"--but dog #2 doesn’t get the message. If you’re lucky, you can call to the owner and get them to recall their dog. Good luck with that, because they’re texting somebody about 50 meters away with their back to you.
Before you can react, dog #2 enters what we like to call the “strike zone” around your dog. This, friends, is the moment when you have lost control. You might hear a snarl or see teeth. You’ll get the urge to pull the leash because all you can think about is increasing the space between the dogs. But stop yourself--you can’t stop a dog fight or attack by dragging your leashed dog away from an unleashed dog. Instead, slack the leash to allow the tense circling and sniffing, and take this moment to reflect on the lesson of the Chinese finger trap.
Suddenly, dog #2 attacks your dog!
Trust your teammate: let go of the leash. If you’re using a 4-6 foot regular leash--not a retractable leash--this will allow your dog to move, run away, correct, or do whatever he needs to do to manage dog #2. Often dog #2 will immediately abort his dumb plan to harass your dog because he’s only a tough guy when his victim is choked by a freaked-out owner. There might be a chase, but that's okay. Let it happen. He might get hurt, but it would have been much worse if you had prevented him from defending himself by restricting his movement. When you can, go get your dog and gently lead him back to the gate.
People who don't know better might imply that you did something wrong. You might feel like you failed because your dog was scared or now is really eager to leave. But you did the best possible thing for your dog, and he'll be okay, we promise. Your dog will never be leash-reactive, because he can trust you not to eliminate "flight" from the "fight or flight" equation.
Do you have any experience with leash reactivity? What zen thought processes guide you in dog training? Tell us in the comments!