Dog aggression, particularly on leash, is an unfortunately common problem in today’s world, where dogs often suffer from lack of socialization with their own species. Some dogs who have forgotten how to speak dog well, decide on a “the best defense is a good offense” strategy when dealing with other dogs, just because they don’t know what else to do. They need to learn leave it as a coping strategy. Others truly are dog aggressive, so for them, leave it is both a safety measure and a mutually exclusive behavior to challenging other dogs.
Teach Your Dog What to Do Instead
In order for leave it to be an effective measure for reducing dog aggression, it is absolutely imperative that you time your “Leave it” so you’re giving the command when your dog indicates that he has seen another dog, not when he’s lunging at the end of his leash, barking, snapping, and snarling his head off. As your dog gets really good at leaving other dogs at a distance, turning his attention away from them and onto you, you can gradually work on your training closer to them. When you first start working on aggression issues, reward your dog the moment he gives you his attention, but don’t stop there. Keep his attention on you by giving him specific tasks to do. Turn around and move away if necessary to give your dog the space he needs to be in his body and functional, rather than “over there” with the other dog mentally.
Building a Habit
Dog aggression is an issue that isn’t going to go away overnight. The more practice your dog has had at his habit of unsociable behavior with other dogs, the more he’ll need to practice his new behavior of looking at you instead of at other canines. While he’s building his new habit, it’s very important to avoid setting your training back by allowing him to get in altercations with other dogs.
Inter-dog aggression can be an extremely serious and dangerous issue. If your dog makes ugly faces and noises at other dogs, but hasn’t actually been involved in a serious fight or attacked another dog to the point of injury, proceed with the leave it training described below, along with getting your relationship with your dog in order. If your dog has ever seriously fought with or injured another dog, or you don’t feel physically capable of controlling your dog, consult a professional trainer or behaviorist to help.
You’ll know you’re doing well when your dog automatically looks at you when he sees another dog, even before you’ve seen it yourself, or had the chance to tell him to “leave it.” Along with being a coping strategy for dealing with other dogs, this method can actually teach your dog to welcome the presence of other dogs, because he knows good things happen for him when they’re around.
Most dogs aren’t truly dog aggressive; they’re just poorly socialized, and so they lack the proper canine communication skills. Well-meaning but overprotective owners who mistake normal communication between dogs for aggression can cause their dogs to behave aggressively with their own behavior, by either isolating their dogs from others or by reacting nervously around other dogs. An obedience class can help resolve both owner and dog socialization and confidence issues.