Dear Old Trainer: Lexie, my 3-year old corgi-beagle mix, plays with all the dogs at the dog park, but when I walk her on a leash she gets aggressive with every dog we meet, even though I keep her right next to me. What is the problem?
A: You answered your own question, Dean. Lexie gets along fine with other dogs, but is aggressive on the leash. Therefore, the leash is the problem.
Dogs on a short leash are not free to engage in normal canine activity. If two dogs meet off-leash they sniff each other and become friends, just like they do at the dog park. Lexie can't do that when held next to you. If people at the dog park kept their dogs on short leashes, every dog would be barking and lunging instead of running around having a good time.
In addition, your anxiety is transmitted to her through tension on the leash. She looks around to see the cause, spots the approaching dog, decides that must be the problem and acts to protect herself.
Aggression on the leash has become a habit. Your job it to break that habit. First, switch from a short leash to an expandable leash.
After she plays half an hour at the dog park put it on her. Let it out to maximum length. Follow her and let her move at will anywhere she wants in the park. Show her a leash does not restrict her ability to interact with other dogs.
Every few minutes, as she moves around the park, give a quick, gentle pull on the leash and say, "easy, Lexie." Pet her and praise her when she is friendly with dogs while on the leash. Teach her the command and the leash mean fun.
Next, show her she has the same freedom on walks. After she learns her lesson at the dog park take her on a walk with the new leash. Let it out to maximum length so she can explore as you walk.
Forget the idea she has to be right next to you. It makes no sense for a dog to be forced to walk at a human's pace. A dog on a short leash is as frustrated as a human stuck in a stop-and-go freeway jam. You can shorten the leash in an instant if you need to, so let her burn up energy and have fun. That's the point of a walk.
Use the command throughout the walk and the same soft tug on the leash as you do. Pet her and praise her for being relaxed. Make sure you are also relaxed. Be as calm as you are at the dog park.
When you meet a dog on the walk give the command. Allow her to approach the other dog. If she shows any sign of aggression touch her on the neck to break her train of though and make her focus on you. Order her to sit and give her a lecture.
The important part is to stop the aggression before it begins. Go back to the dog park and start over if you need to.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.