So here you are on a beautiful day, and all you want to do is take your dog out for a nice little walk, breathe in some fresh air, relax a little, and then get on with your day. And then, BAM!!! Little Joey sees someone across the street walking their dog, and he turns into Cujo, barking and lunging like a mad idiot, and all you can think of is to hold on tight and yell across the road, “I’m sorry! He’s actually really friendly!!!” You feel horrible that that person just gave you this disgusted look, your blood pressure rises, your face turns red, and you pray that no one else goes walking in the neighborhood before you and Little Joey get home.
Little Joey is actually a nice dog. He plays well with other dogs. He greets people who come over to the house with tail wags and kisses.
So what the hell is wrong with him when he’s on a leash?!
The behavior is called leash aggression, or leash-reactivity. This happens when leashed dogs react, or over-react to other dogs (and sometimes people) who approach them while they’re out and about. This includes, but is not limited to excessive barking, lunging, or growling at the other dog(s).
Dog lunging on leash
So how do we fix this?!
Patience. Lots and lots of patience, because this is not an easy fix (especially if it has been happening for a long time).
If leash walking is part of your normal routine, and you want to make it a better experience for both of you (instead of just giving up leash walks altogether), the following best practices will help:
Start Over. Treat your dog like he’s an 8-week old puppy again, and go back to basics. Here, you have two options:
- Master the art of loose leashing walking on a prong collar
- Pros: This is a very calm and safe method to walk your dog
- Cons: The collar must be used correctly to work
- Master the art of loose leash walking on a flat collar
- Pros: No prong collar is used
- Cons: This takes longer
Personally, I believe that Weimaraners respond very well to prong collars when their owners are taught how to use them correctly. Moving on…
Commit to a Process. Dogs are creatures of habit, and classical conditioning creates associations over time (remember Pavlov’s dogs who salivated at the sound of the bell?). Unfortunately, by the time you’re having leash-walking difficulties with your dog, he/she has already been conditioned to leash reactivity. So now, we have to counter-condition the behavior to change the response. There’s no short-cut, you just have to commit to the process. This is also called de-sensitization; you’re de-sensitizing your dog to other dogs going by and not behaving badly.
Be the Alpha. When you’re about and about, think about who’s in charge, and if it’s not you, make it you. The best way to do this is to find a way to get your dog to respond to YOU instead of the other dog across the street. This leads us to…
Use High Value Treats. While you’re working through this process, your dog’s walk has to be the best! part! of! his! day! When the dog across the street approaches, and you see that your dog’s arousal level is going up, and you know he’s about to do his usual bark/lunge thing, redirect his behavior by turning to you for a treat that’s better than anything he’ll get at home. This needs to be a piece of steak or grilled chicken. Or whatever lights his pants.
Maintain Control. In other words, keep the leash short. If you have 10′-0″ of distance between you and your dog, he’s gonna drag you across the street, and you’ll have to start over at the “be the alpha” step.
Short leash walking
Best of luck, and please contact us if you need additional troubleshooting.
- ASPCA – Dogs who are Reactive to Leash
- Paws 4 U – On Leash Aggression
- Suzanne Clothier – Handling Lead Aggression
- Positively – Working with a Leash Reactive Dog
- When Hounds Fly – On Leash Aggression Towards Dogs
- Three Dogs Training – Manage Leash Aggression
- The Whole Dog Journal – Teaching an Aggressive Dog How to Be Social Around Other Dogs
- The Whole Dog Journal – Frustrated On Leash
- Loving Paws, LLC – Reactive v. Aggressive Dogs
- Mutt About Town – Leash Reactivity is Trainable
- Pawsitive Feedback – What is a Leash Reactive Dog
- Paw Rescue – Aggression to Approaching Dogs and People
Last updated: May 2021