Dogs: Unleashed!

I had a pretty unique experience at work this week regarding a new dog we evaluated for our daycare playgroup.

Murray is a 5 yr. old border collie. When we first received Murray’s application, I immediately noticed that his mom mentioned his “severe leash aggression.”  Because she is a vet with a ton of animal experience, I knew that this lady meant what she wrote.  Sometimes owners will put a similar phrase, but we soon realize the dog is more of a barker/lunger/showoff.  But Murray?  Oh no, he’s the real deal.

I had a foster dog (pictures below) that really challenged me when it came to her leash reactivity.  Whenever we were within 20 feet of another dog, she would plant herself firmly in place (all 40 lbs. of muscle), waiting for the dog to get closer.  No matter how much I tried to get her to “watch me” or pull her the other way, she would not budge.  This girl was absolutely FIXATED on the other dog, and as soon as that dog invaded her personal bubble of 10 feet, she became a screaming banshee. It was horrifying to say the least. Nowadays, her adoptive parents (and our good friends) do a lot of crossing the street and dangling string cheese in her face.  Gotta love that little gremlin. 


A perfect angel, duh.

When Murray arrived for his evaluation, he seemed friendly enough.  He had to wait up front for just a few minutes while his mom finished up some paperwork.  Shortly after, one of our regulars showed up for playgroup.  You guys.  When Murray saw that there was another dog in the room with him, he became completely enraged.  He started wailing, growling, and snapping at the air.  No matter what his mom did, she could not calm him down. At one point, he referred his anger to his leash, biting and chewing in frustration.  While the display probably only lasted 20-30 seconds, it felt like an eternity.  

Understandably, my manager was nervous about even trying him in daycare and explained her concerns to the owner.  His mom was so embarrassed, swearing that it was only because of his leash.  Because of the owner’s background in animal care and behavior, my manager agreed to try him out.  And guess what?  The dude was amazing.

As soon as Murray got off of his leash and into our “safety” gated area, he immediately calmed down.  We start off the evaluation behind a howdy gate to see if the dog has fence aggression.  Surprisingly, he was totally fine.  He seemed interested and calm inside the gated area.  This alone is very rare when it comes to barrier aggression, but I was so pleased to see him settle down so easily.  Slowly, we introduced him to our super awesome social pups (the mellow, submissive ones are always our “testers.”).  One by one, he play-bowed and sniffed every single member of our pack, even our bossy briard.  Within 45 minutes, he was fully integrated and flourishing.  It was pretty damn eye-opening.

Because I have a dog who often becomes leash reactive in tense situations, I am totally aware that leash reactivity does NOT equal dog aggression.  However, this situation made me realize just how true that is.  I mean…if I had seen that dog on the street, I would have been convinced that he wanted to rip my dog’s head off.  In fact, poor Murray may feel that way in those situations.  But off-leash and in control of his situation?  He is such a wonderful addition to our crew.

I guess the bottom line is this: if you have a dog that exhibits any frustration or “aggression” during your daily walks or quick greetings on-leash, make sure you take the time to assess the situation and what it really means.  Of course you should always go slow and be responsible when introducing two strange dogs to each other (here’s a great article on how to do just that), but do your homework and see if your dog may enjoy the company and socialization that comes with small play dates, pack walks or daycare. It makes me sad to think of the dogs out there who are labeled “aggressive” simply because of one or two moments of panic at the end of a leash.  You know what I’m saying?  I bet you do, my fellow dog people.


Still leashed, but happy and calm after a proper introduction to her dog friends. Also, how much do you love my dog? Photobomber extraordinaire.

Does your dog have leash reactivity?  If so, how do you deal with it and do they like the company of other dogs in other situations? 

Sidenote: sorry for the lack of border collie photos – it really wasn’t the time or place to start snapping pictures, but trust me when I say that he is one handsome dude and has that typical, mischievous border collie smile. 


18 thoughts on “Dogs: Unleashed!

  1. Whoa, thanks for sharing this! One of mine is borderline leash reactive and I’m mortified when she does it bc she is a pit bull and people always assume the worst, even though is the best dog even as soon as she is off the leash. Thanks for sharing and Rufus’ photobomb is the best!

    • I know, it’s so frustrating when you feel extra pressure due to your dog’s size/breed. I have a neighbor who has an extremely leash reactive tiny terrier, but they just laugh it off simply because he’s small enough to manage. So frustrating.

  2. Very much appreciated this post; great insight and observation. Pyrrha may fit into this border collie’s category, though thankfully her reactivity is not as extreme. She is very friendly and playful and submissive off leash… but on leash, she looks like she wants to straight up eat other dogs. Something we are actively working on, but this is a great reminder.

    • Yes, and shepherds have such a big bark! I know that they size of the dog can make it worse for everyone involved, unfortunately. Even though Rufus is smaller in stature, he has the bark of a much bigger dog – especially when he’s trying to get a scary situation to disappear. Fun stuff, huh? 😉

  3. Sigh – boy do we know leash aggression. His is the product of fear of strange people and what I think is known as frustrated greeting with dogs on leash (because he does just fine with on leash dogs when they get a sniff of each other but at this point we don’t get close enough to do that with new dogs/people because we are still working out the stranger danger issues – priority #1). However, he too is a champ at daycare and dog parks. My hypothesis is he feels more he can remove himself from an uncomfortable situation with a stranger instead of having to react when he’s in those areas.

    We’re making good progress out on walks but when he wigs out at one of my neighbors it’s admittedly rather mortifying. But I gotta remember that for as embarrassing as it is for me, whatever those interactions are for him equates to terror, so my job is to convince him it’s all okay and that I’ve got his back by giving him the space he needs when he’s on on that leash while we change the association.

    • Absolutely agree! Dogs feel “trapped” on a leash, which makes them react a lot differently than they would off-leash. Rufus mostly reacts the same to people on or off leash. He can be nervous and bark-y but is totally fine as long as they don’t rush him.

      I have had moments with Rufus where I get totally embarrassed about his behavior, but try to remind myself of exactly what you said – my embarrassment was their discomfort/fear coming out, and that’s a much more important emotion to deal with.

  4. Love this post! I have problems with Boomer and Dottie both when they are on a leash but for different reasons. Dottie gets scared when other dogs approach because she’s been attacked while out on a walk. Boomer on the other hand turns into a screaming banshee when he sees another dog and can’t go over to say hello.

    • Ah yes, I can imagine both being super frustrating. Leashes are such a form of frustration/threatening restriction for dogs that they can exhibit a ton of behaviors they wouldn’t in other situations.

  5. Hello 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this story, I’ve been thinking alot about lead reactive dogs this week actually. Reading up on it and things. What is it that you do with the dogs at work? I set up a dog walking, sitting and puppy visit service a few months ago myself 🙂
    I visited family last week, and we walked the dogs around our favourite lake. One of the dogs is a rescue, and presents us with a couple of challenges shall we say! I wouldn’t say she was severely lead reactive, but she does lack self control sometimes. But also on walks, she lays down when another dog approaches, much like you would see in a Border Collie. Nothing else happens, but I was just wondering what your experience is with dogs that do this, if any? From what I’ve learnt it’s a case of ‘look i’m low to the ground, friendly, no threat to you’. It’s just always great to know other peoples thoughts on the matter, as although i’ve heard it’s quite common, i’ve never walked another dog myself that does this. I must admit, many many dog walkers often avoid her whilst she is doing this, even when I explain, and will walk around her rather than past her.
    Katie 🙂

    • Isn’t that an interesting behavior? I have actually seen dogs do this and it has meant two very different things: First, Rufus used to do this when my friends’ dogs would run towards him during a playdate. Basically Rufus was saying “oh gosh, here they come!” He was showing that he was calm and submissive while they approached him a little more chaotically, haha.

      Crouching down can also be a step before a pounce! Usually a pounce in a playful way, of course. HAve you ever had the chance to see what she does when a dog gets close enough to greet after she crouches??

      oh, and I actually work at a dog retail boutique/daycare/training/boarding center. It’s my second position in this field and I really love it. I’m hoping to own my own business someday!

      • I think in this case it is likely to be ‘look i’m no trouble!’ If a dog does approach her (which as I said, most owners will avoid her, and keep their dog close to themselves) she will quickly stand, sniff and greet.

        It’s just interesting to learn about other peoples experiences 🙂

        Oh I love my job too! I’m hoping to expand to training, starting with puppy classes by the end of the year/early 2014. Good Luck with your own business!

  6. My guess is that 50% of Melvin’s (and 20%) of Jake’s reactivity, is me. Melvin is so much better but Jake’s barrier aggression is a work in progress. That dog above, is ADORABLE!!!

  7. One of the BEST photobombs I’ve ever seen!!!
    I write often about Hades’ reactivity which can be pretty embarrassing, (whining, running in places, extreme fixating,) and even Braylon will do it on occasion. All I know is when I see a dog do the same things it almost makes me feel happy (not really a nice thing to admit,) because I think, okay I’m not alone.
    Hades doesn’t have a barrier problem either, he typically meets dogs at our house through a fence and won’t even react if the other dog snaps at him.

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