Jekyll and Hyde – On lead dog aggression

“Our dog plays so well with other dogs at the park but she goes crazy at other dogs on lead” ….. sound familiar?

We hear this often. A happy well mannered dog that becomes reactive around other dogs when on the lead. Dogs that are calm and pleasant when frolicking freely suddenly turn in ‘Cujo’ once the lead goes on. Why is this?

The answer is stress. Stress induced from having the lead on that is significant enough to adrenalise your dog beyond it’s comfort zone.

So what could cause this stress? There are a number of causes for stress, here are four to consider.

Owner – Dog Stress Cycle

As an owner of a dog that displays on lead dog reaction you become concerned and stressed yourself when another dog comes into sight. You tighten your grip on the lead transferring pressure and stress signals to your dog that pick up on these. ‘Mum or Dad are worried, about what, another dog, okay better go on alert’. You see your dogs body language change and go tighter on the lead unknowingly escalating the situation. Your dog’s body language changes again, the other dog sees this and on the cycle goes. A self fulfilling prophesy.

Lack of ability to Socialise Normally

Dogs communicate significantly through body language and posture. Watch dogs off lead at the dog park meet for the first time. They advance, stop, wait, advance, circle, sniff, retreat, bow, circle, sniff again, bound away, come back. All the time these dogs are picking up on visual cues from each other, are you a threat, are you friendly, do you want to play etc. If one of these dogs is less inclined to socialise with the other it can retreat to a distance where it feels safe and is more comfortable.

The lead prevents this normal dog communication from happening in an organic manner. Their body language is forced and inhibited. As the dogs move to circle or sniff the owners are working against the dog to prevent leads getting tangled, keeping the dog upright, preventing the play bow or stopping the nervous dog from moving away. Imagine trying to explain something to another person when you can only use one word out of three in every sentence, things would get confusing and misunderstood quickly. Suddenly as confusion increases and body language is misinterpreted there is a growl, a lunge, a snap as both dogs feel insecure and try in increase the space between them.

This leads to our dog now not wanting to be placed in this stressful close quarter situation again. It starts lunging, snapping and growling at an ever increasing distance from the other on lead dog. The owner moves away to reduce the anxiety and the dog recognises that an aggressive posture results in it having more comfortable space. The cycle is reinforced and continues.

Negative Association

Dogs learn by association, that means that if they have experienced something they remember it and the events associated with the event. So if your dog has been attacked by another dog while on lead, it will remember the attack and potentially associated the lead with that event. Sometime even the type of dog that attacked it, often our clients will point out that their dog only ever reacts to a breed or type of dog, whilst calm and friendly around other dogs.


Ever wanted to do something, like spend the day at the beach, but can’t because of other commitments. Your mood and demeanour reflect that frustration. The same thing happens to normal friendly dogs that love to play with every dog they see when the other dog and owner clearly communicate that the interaction is not welcome. Suddenly what was a nice loose lead walk and interaction becomes a quick reversal, leads go tight, your dog is restrained and you drag it away from an unwanted greeting.

Like a child throwing a tantrum in a toy shop after being told no, your dog becomes frustrated and adrenalised. It starts to lunge toward the other dog sometime snapping at the lead. People watching say to each other “What an out of control aggressive dog”. When in fact your dog is just disappointed at not being able to say high.

Reduce the Triggers

If what I have outlined above describes your dog then the good news is that each of these stresses, as well as the other underlying causes of lead aggression can be addressed. The first step is to contact one of our Bark Busters Dog Behaviour Therapist & Training professionals, we cover all Perth Northern, Southern and metro areas, along with the Peel region and South West. Hugh, Heather, Glen, Cat and Emma look forward to hearing from and helping you identify the root cause of your dogs on lead aggression plus understand what event or set of stimuli set off the trigger.

Once the trigger is identified your Bark Buster Dog Behaviour Therapist will work with you to explain the stimuli and develop a management plan including a personalised training schedule to enable you and your dog to reduce the occurrence of on lead aggression. No more walking in fear of seeing another dog, being embarrassed by your normally wonderful friend, suddenly walking your dog is fun, as it should be.

 by Hugh & Heather – Bark Busters Perth West and Perth South