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Dog has started growling on lead - advice?(6 Posts)
We have a lovely male cockapoo who is approx 16 months old.
We find him to have a lovely temperament, sociable with dogs off lead, not overly bothered with people, maybe a little bit skittish but responds to us well and is largely obedient, if a bit excitable at times!
He has always walked well on a lead and generally likes to have a quick sniff at a dog as he passes but happy to walk on. However in recent weeks he has started to show more aggression towards other dogs while he is on the lead. It began with other dogs growling at him, he started to growl bag, which he hadn’t done previously. He is completely fine off the lead and potters about as normal.
However. I’ve noticed him recently starting to growl at dogs off his own bat. At first this seemed to be at larger dogs but now I can’t predict what dogs he will growl at. It’s not every dog though and not every walk. But I think it’s increasing.
My husband says he does not find this problem when he walks him. Although I would counter he does not walk the dog as often on the lead. He’s going to try taking him out more often to see if the dog is the same with him. (Our dog probably does see my husband as his master but we’ve never felt a big difference in how the dog treats us, he’s very obedient to me and I do not think he sees himself as above me in the pecking order).
I have tried to distract him with treats (which has worked) although not sure it’s dealing with the problem. I also try to regain his attention when he starts growling and put myself in front of him and make him sit. But this often takes long enough that’s he got a good growl in before he gives me his full attention and the sit the. feels like an after thought. But I will keep trying.
Is there anything else we should be doing?
My inclination is that he’s now becoming a bit macho and this is perhaps some attempt at him showing dominance with other dogs. I do not think he is scared of these dogs.
I hate to bring up neutering, we had never considered it as we have never felt he had any traits that required it, and I’m not sure if it’s always helpful. But if it is him trying to be more macho then maybe it’s something we should consider?
Sorry for such a long rambling message, but I’m starting to get quite upset about it. And I really try to remain calm but I can tell I’m getting more tense the more it happens.
So any advice would really be appreciated as I’m not happy to let this continue.
Please look up leash reactivity. It's very common and has nothing to do with dominance or acting "macho".
Lots of dogs do not like being on lead around other dogs - it's an unnatural environment for them. If dogs are playing/socialising off-lead, they both have the opportunity to get away - on lead, that's taken away from them and a lot of dogs feel "trapped" by the lead.
From what you've said - your dog was growled at on lead and now does the same to other dogs. It sounds like he didn't like being growled at and is now growling himself as a pre-emptive strike - to get the other dog away, or so you take him out of the situation. A growl is a warning - it's your dogs way of saying "I'm not happy with this".
If your dog has the chance to growl at others, they're already uncomfortable and are already too close. You may need to start distancing your dog from others - crossing the street etc. to avoid them for now, until you can solve the reactivity. Basically, don't give him the chance to practise the behaviour.
However I would really recommend getting hold of a proper behaviourist - they can see your dogs behaviour in person and help you accordingly. Make sure they're accredited too - you can ask your vet for recommendations and behaviourists are often covered by insurance too.
Until the behaviour is dealt with I would not go down the route of neutering as there is a fairly strong school of thought that says dogs need testosterone to mature and by neutering too early, you can trap them in a "fearful stage" forever.
Agree with the above. I'd also consider his age - he's becoming an adult male, and his character may change from the "love everyone waggy puppy" one.
Thanks @vanillandhoney and @TerpsichoreanMuse even just from a quick google of leash reactivity, it makes a lot of sense! And have found some more tips on what we can do to help him.
Above pp is bang on. Tips are good but ime, leash reactivity is not something that gets better with just a few tips, and can get worse. Don't delay if your tips don't look like they are working. Get help to understand exactly how you need to behave to help him.
Also this "I can tell I’m getting more tense the more it happens" is why it's good to work with someone such as an accredited trainer - a significant part of the solution is getting you back to a relaxed frame of mind because your tenseness will be adding to his fear. Plus, when you tense you likely tighten the lead etc and this also will act as a trigger for the behaviour.
It's also a great reason to give you both a break and walk in isolated spots where there are no other dogs. Plan walks for quiet places with lots of options to 'get away' if you do come across someone. E.g. open woodland where you can dive off into the trees easily if someone with a dog comes towards you. This is not cheating. He will never "get used to" other dogs by being made to walk near them, so it's not making anything worse by giving you both several metres (20m, 30m) of distance.
However, if you are distracting with food please take care that the food is delivered/shown AFTER he has seen another dog, not before.
After: the sight of other dogs becomes an indicator that food is coming and so he may start to like the sight of dogs
Before: the food becomes an indicator that other dogs are coming and he starts to mistrust food as a result
Finally, it's worth adjusting your expectation. For many dogs and owners this is something they live with and manage for the rest of the dog's life. He may never be a 'relaxed in a crowd' kind of dog...
Get professional help. You will get a personalised plan and immediately be on the right path to helping this.
It will not go away on its own.
Lead reactivity is a big subject and it is impossible to give reasons and cure unless this can be seen in rl.