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.
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.
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.