Dear Cathy: I have a 3-year-old terrier mix that loves to go for walks. She is usually friendly with other dogs, but not when she is on a leash. When she meets a dog face-to-face on a leash, there is usually some ugly growling exchanged. Her ears go back and her hackles go up. How can I make these encounters go better? – Robyn
Dear Robyn: If she is good with other dogs normally, then this first-impression canine aggression may be the result of one of two things. First, she may be a little protective/territorial of you and doesn’t want another dog or person approaching. I am having this problem with my 7-month-old puppy, Archie, right now. My dog trainer recommended I tether Archie to the door, stand next to him, and have friends and neighbors approach me. If he growls, I am to ignore him and leave the room immediately. If he doesn’t growl, I am to reward and praise him. The trainer says once he gets used to people coming toward me, then he should adjust to the dogs approaching, too. I will keep you posted.
The second reason for this aggression may actually be caused by you (or the person walking the other dog). If you are apprehensive about these encounters, your dog may sense your tension through the leash. When another dog approaches, you probably unconsciously gather the leash close to you or tug on the leash to pull her back. Pulling on the leash often inadvertently lifts the dog’s head and upper body into a more aggressive position from the approaching dog’s point of view and can lead to a bad first encounter. Let the leash hang loose and low to the ground. Giving your dog some extra slack may enable her to make a better first impression.
Send your pet stories and questions to Cathy M. Rosenthal, c/o Features Department, San Antonio Express-News, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Cathy’s advice column runs every Sunday. She also writes another blog, Animals Matter, for the San Antonio Express News.