When we walk our dogs, we all want them to behave perfectly while on the leash. Some individuals will growl, bark or lunge at other dogs while out leash walking. It is important to recognize the triggers for your dog, in order to improve the behavior. Some dogs will only react to dogs that are bigger than they are, others respond to specific breeds. Some dogs are better when off lead and worse when on a leash. Some dogs are well behaved beyond a specific distance from the other dog. The first step in modifying and controlling this behavior is to recognize the triggers and also the frequency of the behavior. It is a good idea to keep a log of the episodes and specifically what happened: distance/breed/provocation. This is also helpful to monitor the success of treatment strategies. Another very helpful thing is to record an episode to show your veterinarian. At Sudbury Animal Hospital, we can look at the behavior and help to determine whether it is normal or abnormal.
The treatment involves behavioral modification. You need to teach your dog to be calm in this situation. We also need to temper our expectations. Pets that do this are unlikely to ever be able to go to dog parks with dozens of other dogs. Our goal is to be able to walk them without triggering an aggressive episode. The first thing to do is to train them to sit and stay and be calm doing it. Practice repeatedly in your home. Use a treat to train your dog to look at you and also follow your hand. The dog should be calm and alert. Once accomplished, try training with the TV on and dog noises in the background (i.e. Animal Planet). When your dog calmly tolerates this, then take him outside. Always bring treats and be generous with praise. When you see a dog from a distance, have your pet sit and stay and be calm. As the other dog gets closer get your pet to follow your hand to avoid confronting the other dog. You will likely need to turn in another direction initially, but with training you can make the distance between dogs shorter and shorter until hopefully you can walk by without incident. Be aware that giving a small growl and proceeding on, is often a normal behavior and should not be corrected.
If your dog has just started behaving this way, he may have a medical problem that has him feeling out of sorts. It is a good idea to have a physical exam done before behavioral modification begins. Also, if you tense up when you see another dog, that tension can travel down the leash to your own pet. Try to be calm yourself and send a calming signal to your pet. Feel free to contact us at Sudbury Animal Hospital to discuss this behavior or any other questions that you may have. 978-443-2639