How To Stop My Rottie From Pulling on Lead And
Being Aggressive To Some Other Dogs
Earlier this year, I believe it was around May, we rescued a beautiful male Rottweiler (Rottie) from a kennel. His name is Jazz and we think he's about two years old (a PDSA vet confirmed this). We also think he's full Rottie, but they think he's mixed with another breed.
We know nothing about his past, except that we do know he wasn't treated right - he didn't even know how to play with toys!
Anyway, we've taught him to sit, lie down and all the rest, but he still pulls on his lead. We put him on the lead when other dogs are coming and this is when he can get aggressive. But, if we're down by the river playing and other dogs come over, he is fine.
I want my boy to be happy as he deserves it!!
We have another dog called Ruby and she's a mixture of Collie and we think Retriever.
Jazz and Ruby love each other and play together. Of course, like all dogs, they fall out sometimes - Ruby has to put Jazz in his place, but other than that, they're brill.
I hope this is enough for you to help me with my beautiful boy.
Answer From the Editors at Dog-Spoiling
First of all let me commend you for rescuing Jazz from a kennel. It is a wonderful way for dog lovers to get a pet and by the tone of your message you certainly sound like a committed dog lover! Now on to your question.
Since you don't have any knowledge of your dog's early life, except that you think it wasn't ideal, it's probably safe to assume that Jazz didn't get an extensive amount of socialization with other dogs, places, things etc., which is such an important influence on future behavior. Without sufficient socialization, dogs can become afraid of other dogs, especially while they are on-leash.
Add to that the fact that if your dog barks while on his lead and the other dog owner responds by leading his dog away from yours, the message your dog gets is that barking or acting aggressive will get the other dog to go away!
Leash aggression is often associated with fear. Fear can be the result of some previous traumatic experience while on leash, that has left an imprint. This may be the case with Jazz, in that you say he is not afraid of other dogs when he is off-leash, but that his behavior changes noticeably when he is restrained.
It is also entirely possible that when you've been out walking with him, you may have inadvertently sent some signals, through your body language, that has reinforced his fear. Perhaps your have tightened the leash as the other dog approaches, changed the pitch of your voice, or conveyed tension in some other physical movement. Believe it or not, canines are capable of detecting the slightest change in your demeanor!
Jazz might well respond to this by being more fearful or even feeling the need to defend himself, while at the same time experiencing frustration that he is restrained from taking action.
While the solution to this problem is not a quick and easy one, it most likely lies in developing a very strong foundation of obedience training using positive reinforcement techniques. This will gradually enable him to view you as the trusted leader and himself as the follower. At this point, you will be able to successfully use methods that will re-direct his behavior when you are out for a walk and ultimately desensitize him to the presence of other dogs passing by.
Here's one thing you could start right away: Take regular walks with Jazz - always on a leash - with the goal of reinforcing obedience commands such as heel, sit, stay, stand-stay etc. At the beginning, choose a variety of routes where you are not likely to encounter other dogs - such as industrial or office plazas.
Keep the walks brisk to use up energy and only allow minimal stops - on your command. This will help to strengthen his trust in your leadership, as well as his focus.
Side Note: The reason for varying the routes you take is that dogs can develop territorial issues when they go on the same walk all the time - which can trigger aggression.
Whenever Jazz gets distracted on his walks, try to re-focus his attention by stopping to work on a training exercise, dropping a treat for him to find, or you can just change the pace to a jog for several minutes. Reward his efforts with praise, a pat on the head or even with another treat - treats work best if he has not been fed prior to a walk! When it comes to the type of reinforcement you select, observe what seems to motivate Jazz the best and use this information to your advantage.
Side note: Build on your obedience training for even greater reinforcement by also working on it in the classroom (your back yard) or some place where there are few distractions.
After a while the walking drills should be come routine and firmly established. At this point you can then start to take paths where other dogs are likely to be about, but initially keep a good distance away from them as you gradually work to desensitize your dog to their presence. You really want to avoid putting him in a position early on that tests his limits or that will set him up to fail.
During the times when Jazz starts to pull on the leash or show aggression, stay calm and relaxed while implementing the techniques you've been working on during the weeks of training, to divert his attention. Reward when he cooperates.
Over a period of time this should gradually change his response in these situations to a less agitated state, but you need to stick with it - it may take a while.
One thing to keep in mind about training a dog, is that some people try to communicate with a dog as if he were human, not realizing that some of the signals we give to our pets can be adversely misinterpreted by them and cause behavior problems rather than solve them.
To help dog owners avoid this pitfall, I highly recommend that they read The Other End of the Leash
. This book provides fascinating insights into dog behavior and explanations of the differences between human and canine communication. With this knowledge, owners are much more able to communicate in ways that canines will understand, and thereby greatly improve training results.
Both this book, along with Feisty Fido: Help for the Leash-Reactive Dog
are two of the best books to acquire.
A footnote to Joan: Dog aggression problems are serious matters, especially in powerful dogs such as Rottweilers. In addition to what I have already said, we do also recommend that you consult with an experienced dog behavior specialist to get expert advice. No doubt the kennel from which Jazz came can put you in touch with one - in fact they should have a strong interest in helping you.