Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

I love to walk in the hills, but I’m afraid to let my dog off his leash in case we run into another dog. I’m worried he might be aggressive.

There isn’t really enough information here for me to address your specific issues, however there are things I can address. If we were meeting in person, the first thing I’d want to know is why you think your dog might be aggressive. The “might be” leads me to believe that you’ve never actually had an aggressive incident with your dog. Therefore, what is he doing to make you suspect he’ll be aggressive?

If you have never had an actual incident with your dog, you might consider desensitizing him to a basket muzzle and introducing him to another, well-socialized dog and see what happens. I would recommend you work with a professional trainer if you decide to do this, as a professional should be able to see signs of aggression before you do.

It may be that the dog is reactive on lease (see my previous column on October 28, 2019). The main thing to remember is that this issue is often a Catch 22. Often dogs are reactive on leash, but perfectly fine if not on leash. So, if someone’s dog is reactive on leash, they reasonably assume that the dog is aggressive to other dogs, in general. Then, because the owner is afraid of a fight, they never let their dog around other dogs, which can lead to poor social behavior.

I don’t recommend introducing a potentially aggressive dog to another dog without a muzzle and someone who does know what they’re doing – and that doesn’t mean your brother-in-law, it means a professional trainer!

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to:

Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at:

Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.