Why Do Dogs Leash Bite?
There are a variety of reasons why dogs bite on the leash. Sometimes, they may be bored of leash training exercises. More often, they are redirecting their excitement or frustration, onto the lead.
Walking outdoors is often a high energy, high stimulus, extravaganza of scents, movement, sound, and sights, for a dog. Therefore, they are more likely to lose control and act out, than when they are at home. Usually, this occurs when a dog sees a squirrel, cat, or another dog. Instinctually, the dog wants to chase the squirrel or cat. When the dog is prevented from chasing, all that excited energy must still go somewhere, so it frequently gets redirected onto the leash.
My dog was ultimately leash biting, because he was picking up on my weak, tense, and fearful energy. This increased his stress level, and would frequently trigger his crazy leash dance. For shy dogs, unbalanced human energy may also cause fear aggression.
Which technique we use to prevent biting on the leash, will depend on why we think our dog is doing it, in the first place. If our dog has a bite history, it is best to hire a professional trainer.
For the Bored and Playful Leash Biter.
1. Let our dog carry a stick or toy during leash training.
A problem with this technique, is that our dog may just want to lie down, and play with the toy or stick.
2. Play the Find-it game.
A good game to play with our dog during walks, is the Find-it game.
- First, get our dog’s attention by calling his name.
- Treat him for giving us his attention.
- Then, say Find-it, and throw him a treat a short distance away.
- When he finds it, praise him well, treat him, and repeat.
Once he is accustomed to finding it, we can throw in a recall, before issuing the Find-it command. We can also make the game more challenging, by throwing the treat under bushes or in tall grass. Keep sessions short, fun, and rewarding. The Find-It game is a big favorite with all of my dogs.
3. Make leash training more interesting.
Leash training and walking will be a lot more interesting, if we change direction, change speed, and throw in some fun foot-work commands, such as Jump, Up, Weave, and Spin.
4. Walk our dog on a loose leash.
Walk our dog on a loose leash, stop often, and let him smell the roses. Only shorten the leash and move him into a heel position, when there are excitement triggers around, such as squirrels, cats, other dogs, and loud people.
5. Take our dog to interesting environments.
Visit nearby parks and empty school fields. These places have interesting smells and interesting objects that will keep our pooch happy, while he exercises his scent muscles.
For the Mildly Frustrated or Excited Leash Biter.
1. Redirect our dog onto a toy.
Redirection worked initially, but after a time, the toy was no longer sufficient to contain my dog’s frustration. Essentially, he would just ignore it, and continue with biting on the leash.
This technique is most effective when we catch the biting behavior early, so that our dog is not too frenzied to redirect his energy onto another object. I have also observed that object redirection becomes less effectual, when I am tense and fearful. To calm my dog down, it is crucial that I stay calm as well.
2. Issue an alternative command.
Once I notice that my dog is starting to lose control, I quickly get him to refocus on me, and get him engaged in doing obedience commands. I only use simple commands, which my dog knows so well that it is almost a reflex, for example Sit. Obedience training will only work, if we catch our dog before he gets too excited or frustrated.
Once a dog loses control, he is no longer able to listen to us, and anything that we say will fall on deaf ears. A very high priority treat can sometimes snap him out of his frenzy, but I found that to be unreliable. Most of the time, when a dog goes rear brain, he will be totally disinterested in food.
3. Touch the dog’s body with our foot.
We can touch our dog, to try and refocus him back onto us. Do not kick him, or apply excessive force to our ‘touch‘. This refocus method worked for me initially. However, after a few touches, my dog got habituated to it, and just ignored it.
Note that this technique may also be risky, if we accidentally apply too much force, if our dog is easily spooked, or if he is really sensitive to handling. Any of these conditions, may cause him to lose trust in us, run away, or become aggressive and fight back.
For the Out of Control Leash Biter.
In this situation, it is very important that we stay calm and assertive, and not be fearful of our dog.
1. Step on the leash and ignore our dog.
This technique is similar to a time-out, but it is not as effective. We take away our attention, and our dog’s freedom to explore. However, there are still interesting things happening around him, and fascinating smells.
When I use this technique, my dog will settle down after a short time. As soon as I step away from the leash though, he will start his biting behavior again. I have tried lengthening the duration for up to about 15 minutes, but he still resumed his bad behavior.
2. Get our dog into a brisk walk home.
Forcing my dog to focus on an alternative physical activity, for example a brisk walk home, is the only thing that works for us. I also ignore him, while we are walking home. I hold the leash really close to his collar, so I have good control of him, and just go. I do not look at him, talk to him, or touch him, for the entire trip.
Once my dog realized that leash biting only ends the walk and gets him a quick trip home, he stopped the behavior. He still gets excited when he sees a moving deer, but is able to calm himself down once we move a certain distance away from temptation.
Note – I only do this because my dog has good bite inhibition and will not bite my hand which is now near to his rather large teeth.
There are several advantages with this leash biting technique:
- Engaging my dog in a physical activity, gives him an outlet for his frustrated and excited energy.
- The brisk walk, quickly removes him from the object or event that caused him to lose control. It also ends his enjoyable neighborhood outing.
- Since he is busy walking, he does not have the opportunity to do anything else, including leash bite.
- Finally, I can get home quickly, and put him in a full time-out, if he continues to act out.
If my dog leash bites in the house, then I put him directly into a time-out area. This allows him to calm down, and shows him that extreme behavior will get his freedoms revoked.
Dogs are smart, and will quickly stop a behavior that gets them nowhere.
4. Spray water on our dog’s muzzle.
This is an aversive method, albeit a mild one. Nevertheless, it still comes with some of the dangers, of applying an aversive stimulus. When I tried this technique, my dog just attacked the spray bottle. In addition, it will not be effectual if our dog likes, or is not bothered by water.
Some trainers suggest adding some vinegar or using mouthwash. If we do this, however, we must be very careful with our aim, so that the added chemicals do not hit our dog’s eyes.
5. Leash correction.
Leash corrections did not work well on my dog. It only caused him to fight back, and escalate his leash biting behavior. Leash corrections are difficult to implement, and can be risky when not properly applied.
6. Desensitization exercises.
Another good way to reduce leash biting is to desensitize our dog to the triggers that get him over-excited. For example, we can do controlled desensitization training with people, other dogs, and even cats.
Reactive Dogs and Leash Biting
Some dogs get excited more quickly than others. My Shiba Inu is a very reactive dog and like a super sports car, he can go from 0 to 60 mph in under 5 seconds. Once a dog has crossed his reactivity threshold, he goes into a rear-brained state where he is no longer able to listen to commands, or respond to food and other rewards.
Once in such a state, it is no longer possible to redirect the dog’s attention away from the squirrel or cat. I just remove Sephy from the area and take him to a quiet place where he can calm down.
Therefore, we want to catch the behavior early and prevent our dog from obsessing over the trigger object (squirrel, cat, dog), before he gets into a reactive state. This is one of the reasons why some trainers suggest walking a dog in a perpetual heel-like position (without the more stringent demands of precision heeling).
While forcing a dog to walk close to us, with eyes always ahead helps to discourage these over-excitement instances, it also makes for a more boring walk that does not fulfill a dog’s need to smell and explore.
Precision heeling demands constant attention from both dog and handler and is not appropriate for long periods of time, like for your daily walks around the block or to the park.
Instead, I stay vigilant and redirect my dog’s attention back to me as soon as I spot a squirrel or cat. In these cases, distance is our greatest friend. Moving our dog away from the trigger object will help to reduce its potency. Therefore, I redirect my dog’s attention onto me (by calling his name) and move him away from the trigger area.