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Ask the experts

Why is my dog aggressive on-leash?


Q. When my dog was a puppy we enjoyed neighborhood walks. About one year of age she started barking at approaching dogs and pulled so hard we could barely hold her. It was frustrating and embarrassing so we stopped walking her, but I know she needs exercise. What should we do?

A. Fortunately you know the necessity of exercising your dog! A walk is a good way to keep dogs' bones and joints healthy and provides mental stimulation by using all their senses, even if it doesn't offer much aerobic exercise.

Many dog behavior problems are alleviated with off-property walks along with regular aerobic exercise achieved by off-leash play in a contained area.

Many dogs become aggressive to other dogs on-leash. When dogs are nervous or frightened, they deal with it in several ways – fight, flight, freeze, or fool-around. A dog on-leash hasn't the option of "flight," so will often resort to threatening approaching dogs with a "fight" if they move one step closer.

Your dog may be naturally shy, even though she doesn't appear this way when she's putting on a threatening show. The truth is she's only trying to keep other dogs at a safe distance. If she hasn't a history of social interaction with many dogs, she may lack "dogspeak" skills and not know how to communicate politely with them. Perhaps another dog traumatized her during a vulnerable period of her development.

If your dog loves to play with other dogs off-leash, she could be reacting due to frustration. She tries to get to the other dog to play, but the leash prevents her. She then experiences canine "road rage" which eventually can become true learned aggression.

We often exacerbate our dogs' fears by reacting violently to their threatening overtures. It's fairly common to see a growling dog given a severe verbal reprimand or collar jerk when she was only warning the approaching dog to keep his distance. Now, instead of being nervous, she understands approaching dogs cause her owner to hurt her: she associates the other dog with the pain rather than her growl.

It's unlikely you will ever know what caused your dog's on-leash aggression, but patience and practice will have you enjoying neighborhood walks again. Our next article will explain how to get started.

Tip of the week: A growl is a symptom that something is wrong. Punishing a dog for growling may leave him no alternative to biting.

Bark questions to: Canine Companion, 11652 North - 825 West, Huntington, IN 46750 or email

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the trainers are all graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.