Convincing your dog that it’s time to go outside for a bathroom break is hard enough, but getting tugged throughout a stroll is another battle entirely. This behavior is common, but it’s understandably very frustrating to many dog owners. Leash biting and tugging is a phase that many puppies go through and usually grow out of, but it can also develop at any time in a dog’s life.
It may seem like just a bad behavior, but leash biting is often a symptom of a dog being frustrated or not fully understanding leash walking. It’s especially common amongst young, playful, and excitable dogs, but with training, it can be prevented or eliminated.
Why Dogs Bite or Mouth Leashes
To stop your dog from biting on the leash while walking, it’s important to first understand why dogs are doing this to begin with. Some dogs mouth at their leash because they are bored and the walk they are on isn’t providing enough enrichment. These dogs are often trying to get their owner’s attention and engage you in play.
Another common reason that dogs bite at the leash is because they don’t yet understand what being on a leash means, let alone what loose leash walking is. In this case, your expectations are too high for how you want your dog to respond on the walk. Other dogs bite or tug on the leash out of frustration when they are in an overly arousing environment and become upset about being restrained.
Reward Behavior You Want
The first step to teaching your dog to stop biting the leash is to teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash by rewarding the behavior that you want. To do this, anytime you are putting your dog on a leash be sure to also be prepared with lots of high-value treats. When your dog has their leash on, praise and reward any behavior that you do want from them.
This might be giving your dog a treat when they stay close to you or looks in your direction. You may even choose to reward your dog for appropriately engaging in the environment by stopping to sniff. Sniffing is rewarding and naturally calming for dogs, so it should be encouraged when teaching leash walking. Frequent rewards for on-leash behavior you like is the foundation for teaching loose leash walking and helps prevent leash biting.
Behavior that is reinforced is more likely to be repeated, so we want to be sure to reward our dogs for doing anything positive while leashed before they start mouthing on their leash.
Offering Alternative Behaviors
Some individual dogs and dog breeds are mouthier than others. These dogs often naturally seek out having things in their mouths, which may turn into a dog habitually mouthing or tugging the leash. For these dogs, a simple way to shift your dog from trying to bite their leash is to give the dog something to hold while walking like a ball or other toy. For dogs who love to tug, carrying a tug toy can be an effective way to eliminate leash biting.
Use the tug toy and use stopping to tug while walking before your dog begins biting the leash. This serves as a reward for walking without biting the leash and gives your dog an alternate behavior to do that can channel that drive to tug in a productive way.
Another way to help reduce conflict between you and your dog on a walk is to focus on your leash handling skills. When walking your dog try to keep the leash loose and behind your dog. For many dogs, if the leash gets tight, they are more likely to get frustrated and spin around to tug at it. Similarly, if the leash gets in their way or dangles in front of their face dogs might try to tug or bite on the leash because it seems like a toy.
Remember we know leashes aren’t toys, but our dogs don’t come pre-programmed knowing that. Set your dog up for success by not dangling the leash in front of them like a toy. Then, by rewarding your dog frequently for loose leash walking, checking in with you, and appropriate engagement with the environment, your dog is much less likely to get frustrated.
Instead of punishing your dog for mouthing or tugging on the leash, it’s more effective to get out ahead of the issue and proactively engage your dog as you walk. If you have noticed there are places or situations where your dog is more likely to turn and bite at the leash, either avoid them or try to keep your dog engaged with treats and play. With consistent practice, your dog will quickly learn that walking next to you is far more rewarding than mouthing at the leash.
Courtesy of American Kennel Club