Help! My On-Leash Dog Barks and Lunges
at Other Dogs!

A Simple Guide to Understanding Your Dog in Canine Social Situations
by Kim Moeller

A high percentage of dogs tend to bark and/or lunge at other dogs while they are on leash. This is common for most dogs because they are very social animals and they want to approach and investigate other dogs. However, on a leash, they often do not have the freedom to approach and sniff. This can result in ON-LEASH FRUSTRATION, also known as BARRIER FRUSTRATION. Barrier frustration leads to excitement and agitation, which is displayed by barking, lunging, or growling.

Barking, Lunging, or  growling is the canine equivalent of shouting, “AHHH! THIS LEASH IS SO TIGHT AND MY OWNER WON’T LET ME GO SEE MY DOGGY BUDDY!” Unfortunately, this reaction from a dog usually alarms his or her human companion, who may not let the dogs meet, and may become tense and angry at the dog. Dogs are very sensitive to their owner’s tension, frustration, and especially to any punishment they might receive from their owner. The dog then starts associating even the sight of other dogs with their human companion’s negative reactions, and eventually views other dogs as evil beings.

On-leash dogs may also bark at other dogs because they are under-socialized and therefore afraid of other dogs. To make matters worse, oftentimes when a dog barks at another dog, the other dog’s owner will lead his or her dog away, thereby reinforcing that if the dog barks, the other dog will go away.

In either case, barking, growling and lunging is not acceptable to the owner, or to the other dog’s owner. The following suggestions will help your on-leash dog be less frustrated:

Remain Calm and remember to use a happy tone when approaching other on-leash dogs even though you are on guard and aware. Be prepared to move away, even across the street, form the other dog. Keep the leash loose. If you seem tense or uneasy and yank on the leash, the dog will usually respond by barking.

Use a human training collar. A head collar like the “Gentle Leader” or “Halti” makes on-leash management much easier on the dog and human companion. Choke collars, pinch collars, and shock collars are designed to stop dogs from barking by causing pain. The dog might stop barking because it hurts, but this won’t decrease the dog’s frustration. In fact, the association with pain can cause the dog to DISLIKE other dogs and ultimately behave AGGRESSIVELY toward other dogs.

Play the “FIND IT!” game. Have a handful of yummy treats, tell your dog “Find it!” and throw a treat in front of the dog. Continue to say, “Find it!” and throw treats until you are safely past the other dog. This exercise distracts your dog from the other dogs by keeping him focused on treats. Instead of staring at the other dog, your dog’s eyes will be searching for treats. Eventually your dog will associate the sight of other dogs with yummy treats!

Make mealtime at night, after you and your dog retire for the evening. If you don’t feed your dog before leash walks, you’ll have a hungry dog who will be much more motivated to focus on you and the goodies in your treat bag!

Remember: Daily off-leash play helps reduce on-leash frustration (if your dog is friendly/social off-leash).

Find a class or private trainer that uses Positive Reward Based Training to work with your dog. The San Francisco SPCA offers a range of classes and offers a special "Growly Dog" class series for dogs that are reactive on-leash. To find a trainer in your area check out the SF/SPCA referral list.

For more information on dog training Email MoellerDog or call (415) 518-5379.

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