The Old Trainer: Short leashes lead to short tempers

April 12, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: Your column on dogs growling at people who try to pet them reminded me of when I was taking care of a Malamute. He was friendly, but he didn't care to have strangers pet him. He liked it even less when he was on a leash. Just wanted to pass it on.

-- Linda-Anne, Merced

Answer: Good point, Linda-Anne. Most dogs become more aggressive when they are on a leash. The next question explains why.

Dear Old Trainer: My Standard Poodle, Ben, is 2. He gets along with other dogs at the dog park, but when I walk him on a leash he lunges and barks at every dog we meet. What causes this and how do I stop it?

-- Tyler, Shamrock, Texas

A: The leash is the cause.

A short leash alters a dog's body language, making him feel trapped when relating to other dogs.

Dogs are pack animals and always go meet any dog they see. If the dog is jerked to a stop before he engages in normal canine activity he shows his frustration by barking at the other dog.

Ben reacts to any change in your body language or breathing, no matter how slight. He looks for the cause, spots the approaching dog, and barks and lunges.

It is easy to solve this problem, but only if Ben has basic training. Basic training means the sit-stay-come sequence of commands. I've emailed training instructions to you. Teach them to Ben before you begin leash training. An added benefit of the training is that it gives you voice control over Ben.

Poodles are powerful dogs and you control a strong dog by voice, not pitting your strength against his.

Next, buy an expandable leash and throw the short one away. Merely having more room on the leash will calm Ben. The name of the command is, "Easy, Ben." It means just what it says -- take it easy and relax.

After Ben burns off a little energy on your walk, give a gentle pull on the leash, say the command, then pet and praise if he slows and relaxes. If Ben's attitude is, in the words of Pink Floyd, "your lips move, but I cannot hear what you're saying" slap your thigh with a rolled up newspaper, repeat the command when he looks back at the source of the sound, and pull on the leash.

If Ben relaxes and slows down, pet him and praise him. If he does not, reach down and touch him on the side of the neck to make him look at you. If he still does not respond take him to the side of the path, order him to sit, give him a lecture and take him through the basic training sequence.

Be relentless. Practice every day and every walk. Make sure Ben is relaxed and you are the same. As you approach other dogs give the command and touch him on the neck. Interrupt his focus on the other dog and make sure it is on you and the problem will disappear.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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