We have the most wonderful little dog who is going on 6 yrs old, weighs a whopping 6 pounds, has a wonderful personality around all family and friends, but WOW a very aggressive alpha personality when we walk her in the neighborhood and we meet up with other dogs. We have tried spanking her with a very small piece of newspaper, scolding, walking the other way, and anything else you can think of, but we can't seem to break her of her snappy, growling, and barking nonstop at any other dog - oh and yes she is on a leash.
There are three assumptions here that I think are getting in the way of progress with this dog. Let's go over them:
Assumption #1: That the dog is a “very aggressive alpha.”
This is a common thought when we have a dog barking at the end of the leash and the “alpha” label is certainly promoted in some media these days but this dog sounds anything but "alpha."
Why do I doubt it here? Two reasons. First, she’s a toy dog and toy dogs are often terrified of larger dogs and for good reason. Imagine how you might act if a giant 10-20 times your weight and 5+ times your height came barreling up to you, got in your space, and pushed you around. Might you start getting scared when you saw them? Even at a distance?
Now imagine that you cannot run away, as a dog on a leash cannot. Imagine that you are forced toward them, as a dog on a leash often is.
Can you imagine screaming at them to stay back? I can. So can your dog.
The other reason is that she is reported to be great at home; described as having a “wonderful personality.” The extremely rare true “dominant” type dog isn’t usually described that way. They are classically aloof, distant, and do things when they want the way they want. “Wonderful personality” isn’t their label.
Try replacing the words: "a very alpha personality" with "she is so frightened." ...has a wonderful personality around all family and friends, but WOW she is so frightened when we walk her in the neighborhood and we meet up with other dogs.
Does getting upset with her seem like the right approach now?
Assumption #2: The dog knows a better option.
When we tell a dog “No!” we are assuming that they know what else to they should be doing. Nope. They have no clue. All a dog has are their genetics + their experience to draw on. A tiny toy dog? Their answer to almost everything scary is often to bark until you give them a better idea.
Better ideas would include: Rewarding attention; working on loose lead walking; teaching her to turn back to you when she feels pressure on the leash; at home practice of foundation behaviors so you can draw on that teamwork when out and about. That last one is important. If you haven’t got your dog’s attention and mental participation at home, you have no hope around distractions.
Another big help? Not allowing other dogs to get close. Your dog needs to trust you to keep her safe if she’s going to start to relax. Not all dogs like to interact with other dogs. That’s normal; just honor the dog you own.
Assumption #3: When one level of correction doesn’t work, more correction is needed.
This is another common reaction. When scolding doesn’t work, many (many) people then try more along that spectrum. Stop! When something doesn’t work; pause. Step back. Ask yourself what your dog needs to learn to succeed? What can you reward that would change this situation?
In this case, the dog needs to learn how to look away from distraction and how to focus on a happy, rewarding human.
Get those pieces in place and I bet this team will make progress!
Other dog training tips that might help:
by Sarah Wilson