Dreaded Walkies

While exercising your dog on the street is a joy for most dogs and their owners, for some dog owners it is more like an ‘exercise in hostility’. This is certainly so if your dog is uncontrollable or aggressive when it meets other dogs or pedestrians, especially active children.

However, walking your dog doesn’t need to be a turmoil and, in many cases, problems with ‘walkies’ can be resolved.

What are the risks when dogs are aggressive on the street? If your dog is aggressive when you walk it, the risks are more serious than you might realise.

Naturally if your dog lunges and bites a pedestrian while you are on the street, the council will justifiably take action. Your dog could be declared dangerous and this can potentially lead to it being seized, with destruction as the consequence, unless you appeal successfully.

However there is also another risk – that of litigation. It is becoming more common for the victims of dog attacks to implement damage claims from the owners of the dogs. In a Brisbane case not that long ago, a victim was awarded over $150,000 damages when bitten by a dog.

When it comes to a dog being declared dangerous, this commonly occurs when a person is bitten by the dog when it is being walked in a public place. However many owners are not aware that the dog can be declared dangerous even if the victim feels threatened by the dog’s action, with no contact being made.

A dog can also be declared dangerous when it attacks or threatens another dog or for that matter, if it attacks any animal. I know of cases where dogs have been declared dangerous for attacking cats, guinea pigs, wild birds, poultry or livestock.

Calming the Savage Beast

If you are seeking a solution, there are five scenarios that can occur, each with its own risk and ‘therapeutic value’.

1. When your dog is off-lead in a park

The most risky and uncontrolled scenario is when your dog is off-lead. This is even more dangerous when you are near other off-lead dogs or when many active people, especially children, are congregating. Typically, this could be in a dog exercise area or in a local, crowded park.

Therapy in such a situation is difficult. When your dog is off-lead, aggression is very difficult to control and trying to train a dog to be responsive in such a situation, while possible, is also very difficult. You have no knowledge of how controllable the other dogs will be or what the nearby children or other people will do. This is not a good scenario.

Of course, when in a public place such as a park, it is against council laws to allow your dog to be off-lead, and for obvious and good reason.

More information – dogs in dog parks

2. When your dog is on-lead close to people or roaming dogs

Next is the scenario where your dog is on-lead but reacts to nearby children, to other people or to another dog which is roaming free. The lead will give you some ability to control your dog but the other dog and the nearby people are ‘loose cannons’. Will they advance or keep their distance?

Therapy is possible in this scenario but it is rarely a good beginning.

3. When on-lead on a street

The next is the most common scenario and this is when your dog is on a lead and is approaching a pedestrian or another on-lead dog. Many dogs are declared dangerous as a consequence of such interactions because life on the street is so unpredictable.

Therapeutically, the outcomes here can be managed but not always with expedience. This is where the U-turn Technique is an ideal form of therapy.

4. When approaching a dog behind a fence

While walking your dog, you will often come across another dog behind a secure fence. Provided that the dog doesn’t escape, the outcomes can be managed by walking away or by taking a wide berth around the dog.

Therapeutically, if you regularly have altercations with a dog-behind-a-fence, it is best to take another route for the sake of both dogs.

5. When on-lead in a quiet park

The most controllable scenario is where your dog is on-lead in a large, non-crowded park or reserve.

If you and your dog are away from other dogs or people, it gives you an opportunity to exercise your dog and to be not too worried about its aggression. Obviously you need to be cautious at all times.

Therapeutically, if the park includes a walking track along which other dogs or pedestrians travel, then this track can be used as a ‘point of therapy’.

This is quite a controllable scenario because you can choose how close you will get to these arousing stimuli on the walking track. This is where the Perpendicular Pooch Technique shines.

Collaring the Problem

To start to improve the behaviour of dogs that are aggressive or boisterous when being walked, it is important that you start by using the most appropriate lead and collar.

Leather, fabric or nylon leads are ideal but chain leads or extendable leads are too dangerous.

The wrong type of harness allows dogs to pull but harness such as the Easy Walker are very good.

The best collars for controlling boisterous dogs are those referred to as head-collars. Brands include the Halti, the Australian-made Black Dog Collar and the Gentle Leader.

Provided that the head collar is fitted properly, it will make your dog much easier to control.

The principle behind using a head collar is much the same as the principle used when a small person controls a huge bull in a show ring. To control a bull easily, the bull is lead by a nose ring. To control a dog, you lead them by a head collar.

Your dog can’t pull effectively when on a head collar and the collar allows you to easily deflect the head if your dog is looking at another dog or a person. With a head collar, there are no more tugs of war!!!

Solving the Problem – the Perpendicular Pooch Technique

With the head-collar installed, you can now start to solve the problem.

However, firstly, let me give you a word of warning. If your dog is aggressive when you are with it in a public area you must ensure you never endanger others. Don’t venture into a public place with your dog if you feel you can’t control it. If you do decide to take your dog out in public, keep it away from others until you are sure the dog is controllable, but even then be very vigilant.

One routine I use is called the Perpendicular Pooch Technique.

To start the therapy, it is essential to realise that you will not progress quickly if you allow your dog to get out of control and then try to heal the problem. When dogs are ’emotional’ they learn very slowly.

However, calm dogs learn quickly. The goal is thus to create calmness and to reward your dog when you get that calmness.

Pre-teach the Routine

To do this, your dog needs to learn the sequence of commands you expect it to follow before the problem arises. This is done at home, not on the street.

I coach my clients to follow the ‘leave routine’ but there are other methods. Simply, you repeatedly teach your dog to ‘leave’ a food treat alone and then to ‘come’ to you and to ‘sit’ still for five seconds before the pooch is enthusiastically rewarded and receives that food treat. This is repeated until the dog is perfect in its response.

More information on the Circle of Rewards

Getting Perpendicular

When your dog is responding to the command LEAVE in your home, then it’s time to test its response in the real word.

  1. With its Gentle Leader installed, take your dog to a local park where there is a known, regularly-used walking track.
  2. Now choose a location that is, say, twenty-five metres at right-angles from the walking track and where other dogs and pedestrians are unlikely to approach.
  3. As this location, take your dog through the routine you taught it at home to make sure it is responding.
  4. As soon as the first challenge appears, such as another person or dog walking past, command your dog to ‘leave’ that stimulus alone but at the same time you turn and walk away from the track for five paces. Then command the pooch to SIT. There are only two outcomes – the dog responds and sits – or it doesn’t.
  5. If your dog responds then praise it liberally with pats, hugs and food and return to your starting point to repeat the process with the next stimulus.
  6. If it does not respond, issue another ‘leave’ command and continue to walk away from the walking path. Finish with a SIT but this time tap your dog on its rump to ensure it gets the message.
  7. If your dog still does not respond, then you were both too close to the walking track. Leave the park but return another day and start at a greater distance.
  8. If, over a few days, you can always win at twenty-five metres, then come closer – say to twenty metres.
  9. Continue until, eventually, you are able to win the confrontations while walking along the track and are approaching other dogs head-to-head rather than at right angles.

The combination of the Gentle Leader and the Perpendicular Pooch Routine is an ideal one. It is a planned program that allows you to see clearly if your dog is responding or not.

Most importantly, however, remember that there are definite risks involved when walking an aggressive dog on the street. If you are unsure of what to do, contact your veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviour therapist rather that trying to deal with the problem on your own. Some dogs should never go to dog parks (particularly off-leash ones) and are best exercised at off-peak times or in quieter places.