To Fight or Not to Fight

The Other End of the Leash

A common situation of visual miscommunication between people and dogs is when owners let their leashed dogs meet each other for the first time. The humans are often anxious about how the dogs will get along, and if you watch them instead of the dogs, you'll often notice that the humans will hold their breath and round their eyes and mouths in an "on alert" expression. Since these behaviors are expressions of offensive aggression in canine culture, I suspect that the humans are unwittingly signaling tension. If you exaggerate this by tightening the leash, as many owners do, you can actually cause the dogs to attack each other. Think of it: the dogs are in a tense social encounter, surrounded by support from their own pack, with the humans forming a tense, staring, breathless circle around them. I don?t know how many times I've seen dogs shift their eyes toward their owners' frozen faces and then launch growling at the other dog. You can avoid a lot of dogfights by relaxing the muscles in your face, smiling with your eyes, breathing slowly, and turning away from the dogs rather than leaning forward and adding more tension.

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Patricia McConnell Ph.D., is an adjunct assistant professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Her company, Dog's Best Friend Ltd., specializes in family dog training and treating aggression in dogs.

Excerpted from The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Copyright 2002 by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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