AGGRESSION VS REACTIVITY
When dogs greet in a natural setting (not in today’s urban living) they greet in a “C” shape curve or side by side to smell each other’s rear ends. They don’t go up to each other face-to-face and stare. This is considered rude and offensive behavior.
Today, most dogs are on leashes. It is the law (and safer for all concerned), but it means that dogs can’t just go up and perform their normal greeting behavior. When a dog does see another dog from a distance, across the street, usually on a walk, it is normal for him to look over and see who it is. He can’t interact with the dog normally (such as smelling to get to know him, etc.). He can only SEE the other dog. The other dog may look at him, too. This can potentially create a staring situation across the street. This may cause your dog to feel insecure about the other dog. When he sees the other dog “staring” at him, he may see it as the rude, offensive staring behavior mentioned above. He pulls forward and feels the restraint of the leash. Frustration ensues, and after a number of times he begins to feel frustrated seeing other dogs while on a leash at a distance. This is what is called conditioned frustration or leash reactivity.
This can happen with any breed, and it is common in today’s style of living. It does not mean that your dog is necessarily dog-aggressive or less tolerant of other dogs, especially if your dog is fine playing with his select, properly-introduced friends off-leash.
The way to curb and/or prevent this behavior is to reinforce a different behavior. This means that you teach your dog to focus on something else instead of the dog over there. This can be a “sit” and “watch me” or you can also have your dog perform a down-stay and a look at you at the same time. Continuing to walk with your dog and having him look at you while passing the other dog is also very successful at keeping your dog from even locking into a stare-down with the other dog.
Bring food on walks! Treats create happy feelings, and by pairing "strange dog" with "delicious treat" you can not only stave off a reaction but begin to associate the strange dog with good things.
These distraction techniques will prevent frustration from building up while on-leash around other dogs. A good leash manners class can help you learn these very simple techniques. Then you can take these techniques outside the class and use them in life in many different situations.
Written by Marthina McClay, CPDT of Our Pack Inc., reproduced and adapted with permission.