These leads are meant for walking!

You can tell a dog owner who regularly keeps their dog on a lead when they go for a walk because they generally have one arm longer than the other and are constantly rubbing at a shoulder that is threatening to dislocate the next time it is wrenched by an overzealous canine. It is very tempting to let dogs run off the lead at all times – they definitely enjoy themselves more and saves a ton of time and money on physio!

However, there have been several incidences in the locality in the past few months where dogs which are off a lead, and not under control, have caused problems. The most common problem is fighting with other dogs and we have been required to treat several “victims” at Hawthorn Vets recently as a result of this. Generally speaking, if you are going to let your dog off the lead in a public place, you must be confident that he or she is under control – ie a good recall and not aggressive. If your dog is very friendly but runs up to another dog which is on a lead and the result is a scrap, you cannot lay the blame at the door of the dog on the lead because it was yours who was out of control. It is worth remembering that if you see a dog on a lead, you should prevent contact with your own hound until you have established that it is safe to do so!

It is beyond the scope of this article to write in detail about canine aggression towards other dogs, but if you do have a potentially aggressive dog, here are a couple of pointers: (that’s not a joke by the way!)

·         The use of a head collar is very helpful if you have a medium-large breed dog. They allow much better control, cannot be “slipped” like a neck collar and prevent dogs from pulling which has the added benefit of shoulder preservation! I am not a fan of harnesses where the lead attaches over the shoulder area – they do not give any head control, and are only really helpful in controlling forward motion.

·         Look out for the warning signs! Growling and barking is obvious, but sometimes dogs will exhibit more subtle behaviour prior to displaying aggression. These vary depending on whether the aggression is fear or dominance based. Fearful dogs often have a hunched posture with a tucked in tail and will hang back behind their owner. If pushed, this can quickly turn to aggression. Dominant dogs show body postures such as a high tail, stiff legs and direct eye contact.

·         If your dog is aggressive, how you react is very important. Calming an aggressive dog rather than discouraging it can reinforce aggression by inadvertently signalling that the aggression is appropriate. On the other hand, anxiety and defensiveness by an owner around other dogs (because they are aware that their own dog can be aggressive) can be picked up by their own dog and cause it to be more aggressive towards others to keep them away. It is best to be confident and relaxed with your dog and maintain good control with the appropriate restraint.

·         Use a muzzle. No one likes muzzles, but sometimes they are necessary if you cannot be confident of controlling your dog or they are particularly aggressive. Use a muzzle that allows the dog to open their mouth to pant and drink, such as a “Baskerville” muzzle.

Aggression towards other dogs can be complex and multifactorial. Rarely the condition can be due to a physical problem such as pain. If you are concerned, then best thing is get your dog checked over at the practice. Most aggression is behavioural and once this is established, it is often best to consult with an animal behaviourist – they will often come to your house or go on a walk with you in order to assess the problem, quite literally, in the field! Contact us at the practice and we have a list of reputable animal behaviourists. At the end of the day, if you are in any doubt, keep your dog on the lead!!