Dear Daisy Dog
Star, our 3-year-old spayed female cockapoo, is very affectionate with our family and visitors to the house. But when we walk her outside on her harness and another person or dog comes near, she snarls, growls and barks fiercely. Star weighs only 14 pounds, but when she goes ballistic, it’s hard to hold her back. What do you suggest?
Start by walking Star at times and locations you’re unlikely to encounter people or dogs, particularly unleashed dogs. Every time she’s leash aggressive, that behavior is reinforced, so until the problem is under control, you’ll need to keep away from people and dogs during her walks.
Replace her harness with a head collar, such as the Gentle Leader or Halti, which will give you much better control than a harness.
At home, teach Star to “sit” and “stay” and to “leave it.” For instructions, visit our Web site at www.askthevetspets.com/d2008-18.asp.
Once Star can reliably perform these skills at home, incorporate the concepts into your walks.
As soon as you see someone approaching, veer off the sidewalk, turn away from the person and ask Star to sit and stay. Praise her and reward her with especially yummy treats when she sits quietly while the person walks by.
As her behavior improves, you’ll be able to remain on the sidewalk and sit/stay while facing the oncoming person and dog. Eventually, Star should respond to your “leave it” cue and simply walk by the pair quietly.
Remember to make the reward for remaining silent more fun than barking and to move very gradually through the training stages. Don’t punish Star for barking, or she may associate your negativity with the approaching person and dog.
Finally, join a small obedience training class so Star learns to pay attention to you despite the other people and dogs in the room.