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Samson, my five-month-old German Shepherd, has started to bark at other dogs when he is on a lead. It is really embarrassing, as he looks really aggressive! I don’t understand it, as he is really friendly with other dogs when off the lead. Why is he doing this and how do I stop it?

Sue Williams advises…

Dogs will bark when they see other dogs while on-lead, but are friendly when off-lead due to two main reasons. The first is something termed as ‘nervous aggression’. This describes a dog who is nervous or fearful of other dogs while they are restricted on a lead. A nervously aggressive dog does not want to fight – indeed, when off the lead and free to make a choice, many will flee and avoid confrontation. In essence, these are dogs who are uncertain and who feel stressed and intimidated when on-lead due to feeling restricted.

The usual scenario is that they see a dog coming towards them, bark, and the other dog passes while on a walk with his owner. The dog believes his action of barking has caused the other dog to move away, and so learns that barking and faking looking tough can drive another dog away. The result has a positive outcome for the dog, so the behaviour of barking is reinforced, thus making the unwanted behaviour stronger and more likely to occur. These dogs quickly start to bark every time they see a dog while they are on lead.

The second common reason is frustration. These are dogs who are extremely motivated by other dogs. As a consequence of their excitement, they quickly become frustrated due to being restricted and unable to get to the other dog. The result is that they bark – a behaviour that quickly becomes a habit.

As you can appreciate, although both reasons result in the same outcome, each is a result of a different emotion being felt by the dog – fear or excitement. It is therefore vital that the dog is assessed by a professional dog trainer who can determine what is causing the problem.

Samson is only young, so the prognosis is good if you get the right help, and I recommend you do this as soon as possible to ensure the behaviour doesn’t intensify.

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