Is leash agression a myth?

It's a known fact that many dogs are more aggressive when on the leash than they are when off leash. This is generally blamed on the restriction of being leashed. However, I suspect the problem has more to do with how humans act when dogs are on leash than the restriction of the leash. Over time, this may result in superstitious behavior on a dog's part when leashed, but only because humans have trained this behavior. When a dog is leashed, humans usually expect them (and train or force them) to behave politely according to human standards - these standards are often aggressive by dog standards. For instance, humans consider walking in a straight line to be polite and usually insist on it, dogs view doing so in the territory or presence of another dog as rude.  Dog standards call for arching. Humans usually want to walk through an area briskly - particularly if another dog is barking at them; dogs consider sniffing to be the polite, and non-aggressive, response. People often encourage leashed dogs to greet each other by touching noses, again this can be a signal of aggression - a polite dog greeting is a quick tail sniff. Finally, I've often seen dogs who feel threatened attempt to hide behind their owner, only to have the leash shortened so they are forced to come stand beside their owner.

By forcing dogs to act in an aggressive manner and discouraging retreat behavior when on leash, you are ruling out the option to appease or submit to another dog and limiting dogs' options to escalating the aggression. So, what can we do to not teach leash aggression? We can encourage our dogs to sit perpendicular to the path or arch ourselves when passing another dog. We can allow - and even encourage - sniffing in the presence of other dogs, particularly dogs who appear threatened or aggravated by our presence. We can be our dogs' advocates and protect them from other dogs. We can encourage polite dog greetings and remove our dog from situations with rising aggression. Of course, if you have already trained your dog to be leash aggressive, it will take longer to turn things around than if you start from the beginning encouraging non-aggressive behavior even, and especially, on-leash.

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