Leash Aggression


(photo is Bailey - Lure-walking)

Leash Frustration or ‘Leash Aggression’ is a very aggressive-looking reaction to other dogs (or people) when on-leash. This comes from the feeling of frustration at not being able to freely investigate the other dog (or person). It doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to fight, but he does associate the frustrated feeling with the presence of other dogs (or people), so the aggressive behavior is directed at them. With intense frustration, there can be a loss of self control which can increase the likelihood of a bite, even if your dog is not normally aggressive.

From my perspective, as a behavior consultant and trainer, this is an indication that the dog is confused about how he should be acting. The confusion leads to frustration and manifests in the aggressive reaction: generally lunging, barking, snarling and whining. The key to stopping the aggressive response, is to train the dog what you want him to do when he sees another dog. If he has been practicing this behavior for some time, you may begin by creating a positive association with other dogs by sitting in a "safe" location (one that is far enough away for the dog to not react) and having neutral dogs pass by. Each time a dog comes into view, give LOTS of treats, at first for free and successively, and then for calm behavior with a second or two in between. The next step, if you can arrange it is to have neutral dogs remain stationary and walk your dog at a "safe" distance, frequently giving treats, every two or three steps. If he looks at one of the other dogs, that is fine, mark it ("YES!) and treat him for looking and not reacting, even at this safe distance. Periodically stop and have your dog sit for a few moments.

The next step is to have a neutral dog moving at the same time as you. You can walk parallel to each other and give frequent food rewards for remaining in "heel" position (at your side, attentive to you). You can be as far away from the neutral dog as necessary to achieve success! You will gradually move closer with each pass. You can also walk toward each other with the same process of gradually increasing the difficulty. This process can take several weeks, so don't move too quickly.

Of course, if you don't have access to a neutral dog, you will need to do this in safe locations where you know you will see dogs and try not to get too close. You can sit in your car for the first part and just give him treats when he sees other dogs, maybe in the PetCo parking lot or at a park. On your walks, stop and ask him to sit frequently when there are no dogs around, so when you ask him when there is a dog, he won't be surprised. Try to prevent the reactions by crossing the street or changing direction when you see a dog (or person) come into your path. Remain calm, your anxiety can make the reaction worse, as your dog may feel there is reason to be anxious, or that he needs to defend you. If you feel yourself getting nervous, try quietly singing a nursery rhyme.

Remember success is measured by good behavior or the lack of a reaction, it is NOT a measure of how close you can get before a reaction...avoid the reactions and PRACTICE SUCCESS!


Thank you for your comments on “leash aggression.” I agree that frustration is a large element of the problem. However I believe there may be other factors contributing to the behavior. Foremost among these is fear. Perhaps there are others.
I have been battling this problem with my dog, Trip, for as long as I’ve had him, almost three years now. In that time I’ve seen both tremendous improvements in some situations and serious escalations in others.
Trip is very well trained. He scored a 97 in his first Rally, competes at the open/elite level in agility, has won several “best trick” awards at local fairs and is very good with adults and children.
He is what most people (who have not seen one of his eruptions) consider the perfect dog.
At off leash dog parks, which we visit very often, he has never been in an altercation. He does however greet larger dogs that approach him head on with a low grrr, and shies away. I must add that two years ago, he was attacked by an off leash mastiff while he was on leash.
The improvements? On leash at competitions, training sessions and dog fairs, surrounded by dozens of dogs of all sizes, his behavior is exemplary. We often wait in line for our turn, with dogs ahead and behind. Even when a dog lunges at him, he doesn’t react, but shies away. This improvement was achieved using the techniques you espouse, primarily getting him to focus on me using treats and having him perform alternate behaviors such as sits, downs, spins, etc.
However, on leash he is very unpredictable in other situations. At PetCo, for example, if he spots a small dog at a distance, his reaction is to run and greet him. But thwarted by the leash, it escalates to a frenzy that ultimately seems to turn aggressive. Definitely frustration! This behavior is somewhat manageable by turning away and going down another aisle (distraction.)
Large dogs, on the other hand, seem to precipitate an immediate, explosive, snarling lunge.
I suspect this is fear, not frustration driven. It’s the old “offense is the best defense” mind set. Two recent events are particularly puzzling. On two separate occasions, he exploded while passing a Leonberger, notoriously mellow, docile, though somewhat lumbering giants. What makes this particularly puzzling is that he frequently plays with a Leonberger friend at the dog park.
What makes this behavior particularly difficult to manage is its explosiveness. There is little or no warning. And since it occurs on scattered, unpredictable occasions, it is easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency.
We will continue to work on the problem, but the feeling of frustration is not always in the dog.

I am working with a young lab with this issue and I agree that it is a combo of frustration, fear and overexcitement/anxiety. They are all linked chemically and behaviourally. I can SEE it in Flint before he starts the whining and escalation..he gets ridges around his mouth, his occipital ridge starts to stand out more from his head and he starts panting.
I used the above recommendations with great success to get him to "get the hang" of not being in his reactive/rear brained mode and then moved on to clicker and "look at that"...we are making good and steady progress.
This is a time consuming progress but is SO worth it.

Maggi Burtt
Tailspin Petworx

In hopes of keeping this discussion alive, I suggest the article titled "The Shy Dog Primer" by Julia McDonough. (http://www.fortunatek9.com/Articles/Shy_Dog_Primer_Julia_V_McDonough.pdf)It was referenced in a response by Robin Rubin to a Marie Finnegan blog titled "Fear in Dogs"(http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/fear-dogs). She attempts to portray fear-based aggressive behavior from the perspective of the dog.

Thank you for this blog. I am new to this site. I've finally decided that I need to seriously do something about the aggressive behaviors that my dog has while on leash. Starting today, I am ready to work on this problem. I can now see that some of the behaviors are feeding off my own body language, reactions and approach. Dog walking is a defensive manuever for Susie and I. I find times of the day to walk (early am or evening), certain low risk streets and even carry pepper spray to ward off situations with my dog. It's so frustrating. Today the typical scenerio again presented itself. The truck door swings open and out jumps the pit bull unleashed only to approach my dog (10 year old lab mix (lab/shepard). I, as usual, go into panic mode, pull Susie away, holler at the owner to get his dog away all the while I'm recanting, "My dog's not friendly. You need to get your dog on leash. My dog will fight with your dog!" Dog walking has turned into, at the least, a very unpredictable situation which is mainly about other dogs running up to us unleashed. Thank you for listening.


My dog does fine on a leash around other dogs, but does get the frustration etc. that i have been reading about on here. One thing she did yesterday (when offleash) was run up to a dog who WAS leashed at a park and because that dog was a little more excitable/scared My dog acted and overreacted and started with some aggression toward that dog. She did not bite down, but barked and snapped at the dog on the leash. Why do you think this happens? This is the second time i have noticed it...and it seems to be unpredictable because with most dogs on or off leash she is fine, it is just if the other dog starts in with some aggression she will join in and escalate it instead of shaking it off. What can i do to better help her with preventing this happening. (I have a 3 yr old Aussie and she loves kids and being at the park, but i will not unleash her knowing this may be a reaction of hers..)
thanks for any feedback

have a 15 month dog coming to see me with regards to his snarling with his food and snapping when owners walk pass. they have another dog that has to be seperated at feed time other wise war breaks out. i thought about starting to feed from my hand out of his bowl in the hope that we can progress to dropping a tasty morsel in as we walk past. not expecting this to be a quick fix. i have heard that eating as if out of his bowl can help? as i say have a few ideas but wondered if you might have some helpful advice. the owners are not to bright and do not walk the dog and it has never been trained at all poor devil. so i feel it will be an up hill task to re-educate them. thanks spirit

Thanks for all the comments!

Cindy: Have you tried acclimating your dog to wearing a muzzle. This is prevent your dog from biting another, but it will also be a visual warning to others...if another dog owner sees a dog wearing a muzzle, they may think twice about letting their dog run up to you and yours.

Roxmorg: Your dog could be responding to the body language of the other dogs, this is certainly not leash-aggression. I would probably recommend working on a good, solid recall so you can always call your dog back to you if she approaches another dog. You want to always have her at your beckon call!

Spirit: This is a topic perhaps for a different thread, so I will write a new blog-post about food aggression...stay tuned.

Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC
West Haven CT
Vice President
Association of Pet Dog Trainers

I have a two + year old female. She is well trained in obedience and is very socialized. She is a collie mix and is a very soft dog.She plays with most dogs in the park and wants to meet with many other dogs on the street. We have a small red cocker spaniel that lives down the block that is leash aggressive. For almost a year my dog made no response when we saw them. We would walk by the dog and owner with no reaction.

About a year ago she started to bark back, then she started to growl and now the minute she smells the dog on our walk without seeing her she is in on alert. When we do see this dog she goes beserk (for her its red zone) she cant hear me or see me. She now lunges and is uncontrollable when she sees this red dog from a block away, she howls. In the meantime that owner has finally trained his dog to not react but now my dog is having serious issues. I am trying to redirect and to change focus and give treats but its always unexpected and now she is reacting to other dogs when on leash which she never did before.

Now I'm not sure if I should let her sniff another dog or not in case she does start growling and lunging. So I have had to change how I walk her. I look for her body language if it changes and I look ahead and behind to figure out what has her so alert, sometimes its a dog friend and sometimes it's not. Can I recondition her to the point that she won't be bothered by this dog anymore and so defensive when on leash.

I should move to Missouri, as their state motto is also my dog training motto. When an owner describes an incredibly complex chain of behaviors they see in their dog, I say "Show me". When a dogmatic trainer who swears by the 100% effectiveness of their one chosen method comes-a-callin' to convert me away from my balanced approach, I say "Show me". When a new training technique or piece of equipment shows up on the radar screen, I pack up some dogs, go to its inventor/promoter and say "Show me". Where did I get this Doubting Thomas-like addiction to empirical evidence? ~dedicated server

Hi Minanina,

I apologize for not responding sooner, it seems I missed the notice about your message in June.  My short answer is Yes, of course you can recondition your dog to behave around the red cocker.  The easiest way to do this would be to work directly with the owner and dog themselves.  Perhaps you can share a few private lessons, or take a class together to work on creating a positive association with one another with some direct guidance from a trainer.

On your own, I would suggest working on gradual desensitization by walking toward the cocker's house to the precise point where your dog shows her first signals of being stressed.  Stop there and run through some basic exercises (sit, eye contact, lie down, sit up, manybe even a trick or two).  Generously reward this focused behavior (remember you're showing her what you want her to DO when she's stressed).  Then turn around and go back home or in a different direction.  Each day you will try to get a foot or two closer to the cocker's house to practice these skills.  Be sure to go at different times during the day as well.  Don't move closer until you have complete focus at each distance.  If you ever loose your dog's focus, move back a few feet and try again (until you have her attention).  Always end on a good note. 

Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC
West Haven CT Member APDT, IAABC
Vice President Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Hi ankhkare,

Thank you for responding to my post.  With owners, I don't *always* need them to show me the behavior in question to help them modify it.  We can train a dog to do something else in a given set of circumstances.  So, as long as the circumstances which trigger the inappropriate behavior are well-defined, I don't need to see the dog "lose it" in order to teach him to make a better choice. 

As far as trainers with claims of 100% effectiveness on any one method, I couldn't agree more.  I think that most trainer had their favorite methods of dealing with common behaviors, myself included!  The mark of a good trainer is one who approaches each dog (and owner) as an individual case and can adapt and tweak their technique to find what works best. 

Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC
West Haven CT Member APDT, IAABC
Vice President Association of Pet Dog Trainers

My 1 year old golden retriever is truely amazing---smart, friendly, and plays well with other dogs.  I started level 2, positive training behavior class &  he went crazy!  It is cold, so the class is in a room where he is only about 10-20 feet from other dogs that he has never had a chance to meet up close.  I have his attention only half the time.  Second class it was at least as bad as the 1st week.  He was lunging, growling, snarling at 2 other excitable dogs.  Then he kept trying to hide between my legs.  He even started lunging at other calm dogs.  Only with one very shy dog did he calm down and act like himself.

So my question is if I should go back or not.  Maybe I should work with him on my own and rejoin a class next spring when they are back outside.  He is so distressed and acting so differently than usually, it is breaking my heart!  The next day at home, he was even a bit jumpy and clingy.  It sounds like I am answering my own question.  The instructor suggested a head harness---I am using a gentle leader chest harness, which keeps him from pulling.  I'm uncomfortable with the head harness, especially since he is usually fine. 

Any ideas?


It sounds like you have great instincts!  If your dog is stressed out, perhaps working in a small room may not be teaching him to be calm around other dogs.  If you work on your own, you can keep a safe-distance and teach and reward calm behaviors and attention on you instead of the other dogs.  You can ask friends to walk their dogs at a certain time in a certain park or open area, and have them keep out of that critical distance (50 ft, 100 ft?).

Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC
West Haven CT
Vice President Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Working privates with a certified trainer is awesome (especially if you can have a friend video you and your dog) if you have a really good one in your area.  All fosters that stay with me have lack of emotional control in one form or another and if you mix that with being fearful or uncertain about a situation and letting their anxiety get the best of them...it's a recipe for disaster.  I believe it's high up on the list of reasons they're  bounced in and out of homes, if left untreated. 

All my fosters attend class in a classroom setting or finding a class that walks outside. The last foster Jake, beagle, we worked at an "out and about" class, where we were able to stay far behind..working subthreshold...until we (me and Jake beagle as a team) were ready to walk join the class.   If you can video you and your dog together, and review with a trainer...they have the keen eye and you can see first hand what they're talking about.

 It's crazy to see the mixed signals you give your dog without knowing. Flipside is you get to become aware of the pattern of behaviours your dog does well before he is pushed past his comfort zone.  It's a reality check.  Being aware of how your body, voice, reactions impact your dog speeds up their learning curve.  In the end you're a team.

There are a couple videos on this site in the meantime while you look for a trainer as well if you use the search tool.  

Control Unleashed dvd or book (Leslie McDevitt)

Fiesty Fido dvd or book (Patricia McConnell), are two of my favorites.    Pia Silvani's great, Kathy Sdao, Dr. Ian Dunbar...the list is endless on this site.

If you click on a link below, you can see an example of working a dog subthreshold and the baby steps involved, while Leslie McDevitt watches the dog like a hawk and walks the owner through the process.  I haven't found a video on this site yet, but I hope it's okay to reference it. Sometimes it's easier to visualize then it is to put into words.

1-learning emotional control with an object the dog is stupid crazy about (you'd use something lower value to begin with ofcourse, but it's a good example) http://www.cleanrun.com/images/productvideos/CU_LookAtThatGameSnitchExam...

2-upping the anti- dog/dog reaction (the beauty is you work and concentrate on what the dog is capable of handling, keeping the dog's emotional health in mind...no Hollywood edit which would set the dog back in his progress)  



best of luck!


happy-houndz.blogspot.com cheers, kate

Thank you both so much for your comments. As a test of his tolerance, I took him to one of those Pet Expo's that happened to be last weekend.  It was an indoor location filled with people and dogs (and goats, llamas, pigs!).  Anyway, he was great!  We did name attention, watch me, sits, stays, and downs.  He was pretty good with all of that and friendly with the other dogs as well.  It just confirmed that there is something about the group at class.

I appreciate the confirmation that I should not force him into an uncomfortable position, but find his tolerance and build from there.  The second video clip you posted, Kate, was an excellent illustration of noticing your dog's comfort level.  Thanks!

I have tried some of the steps you have suggested.  I live in the city and scheduling a dog class with another dog owners is not happening anytime soon (There are now 15 dogs that my dog is not able to walk past on the street with out reacting badly, to standing on her hind legs and even howling at from 20 ft). I have discussed this with her trainer and we have been working on some of the focus and redirection with some success.  I have needed to do more avoidance and moving my dog when she does get into her alert state into a motion state (running). It gets her to focus on me gives some distance and gets her energy level down. Otherwise when we stop even to do a sit she gets more frustrated and keeps bouncing out of a placed sit and twirling, standing.

Im working on the transferring of her aggression to all the other dogs that we see all the time. She recently did something similar to what roxmorg mentioned in her post.

Late night (10:00 pm off leash running with another dog in the park and a walker comes into the park with three dogs on leash, which my dog has had good and bad interactions with. She bounded over to them and started to growl and show her teeth when I ran over calling her back with a strict no she ran back to where she was and sat down?? Did I mention she has never bitten or attacked another dog and she has excellent bite inhibition since she was in an infant household as a puppy.

What was she doing? territorial? warning? I cant tell.




Hi Minanina,

Late at night, romping with a friend, and three dogs come onto the scene...She could've just been saying "hey, this is my friend and we're playing a game here."  I really can't say exactly.  One thought that I had though, have you ever had her vision checked?  I generally recommend a vision/eye exam for any aggressive behavior, and if this was out-of-character for her, since it was nighttime, it may be worth a conversation with your vet.

Michelle Douglas CPDT CDBC
West Haven CT
Vice President Association of Pet Dog Trainers

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