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Dealing with dog who exhibits leash aggression

Leash reactivity can be a fear-based reaction to

Leash reactivity can be a fear-based reaction to perceived threats to keep other dogs and people away. Credit: Dreamstime

Q I have a 5-year-old mixed breed dog. Most of the time, he's a lovable smooch. When I take him to the dog park, he plays with the other dogs and runs and really has a good time.

But whenever I have him on a leash, if he sees another dog on a leash or a human in our vicinity, he goes nuts with an aggressive stance, barking and pulling. What can I do about it?

— Dennis, Las Vegas

A Leash reactivity describes aggressive behaviors seen while a dog is on a leash when passing by or being introduced to another person or dog. While it looks like aggression, and sometimes it is, it can also be a fear-based reaction to perceived threats to keep other dogs and people away. It works, too. No one wants to approach a leash-reactive dog.

Watch how your dog meets other dogs at the dog park. They circle and sniff and move in and out of each other's spaces until they know the other is safe. They don't meet eye to eye, which is what happens with leash walking and what causes body language cues to get murky.

We can't let our dogs run loose when meeting other dogs, so what do you do? Stop leash introductions for now and practice passing other dogs on a leash. Get high-value treats, like cutup hot dogs or chicken, and reward his relaxed behaviors during your walks. When no dogs are around, say his name and use his reward word (like "bingo") or use a clicker to mark the relaxed behavior, then give him a treat.

When you do see another leashed dog, walk to the other side of the street and keep his attention with the instructions above until the other dog has passed. If he responds positively, it will only take a few weeks to train him.

If he reacts aggressively, stop once you reach the other side of the street, pull him behind you and hold the leash tightly so he can't peek around your legs to see the other dog. You're telling him you've got this (because you're in front) and he needs to settle down. When the other dog passes, turn and walk in the other direction, and work to keep his attention again. Continue rewarding him for any relaxed behaviors on the walk, so he learns what you want. It could take a few months, but in the end, these techniques should result in more pleasant walks.

Q I have a 3-year-old old male cat that has been inside since he was neutered in 2016. About a year ago, he started to sneeze occasionally. Gradually, he sneezed more often and rapidly. Sometimes 15 times in a row. He is healthy otherwise, at a good weight and eats well.

I did take him to the vet twice. He was given an antibiotic. It really didn't help, and he still sneezes on and off multiple times in a row. Sometimes, his sneeze is clear or with discharge. He also sometimes seems like his nose is stuffed up. He can go for a week and he's fine, but then it comes back. Blood work also was done, which came back normal. I feel so bad when he sneezes like that and I'm wondering if you or any of your readers have ever heard of this.

— Janice, Eastport

A As with people, cats can be different in what they react to in their environment. Irritants and allergens may range from perfume, candles, cigarette smoke, dusty cat litter and whatever pollens might be in the air at the time. But the main reason cat's sneeze is an upper respiratory infection.

You should head back to the veterinarian, but this time, give your vet a little more to go on. Keep a journal of when your cat sneezes, where he is when he sneezes (in the kitchen, by a window), and what just occurred right before the sneezing. This may help your vet determine and/or rule out irritants/allergens.

My concern though, is that this sneezing started last year and has gotten worse, not better. If your vet did blood work, he or she probably ruled out several feline diseases, but if not then it's time to get those things ruled out. If your cat otherwise tests healthy, then your vet may recommend another round of antibiotics.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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