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 frequently 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. This usually occurs when our dog sees a person, squirrel, cat, or some other trigger. Instinctually, he wants to chase the squirrel and cat, or interact with the person. When our dog is prevented from chasing, all that excited energy must still go somewhere, so it may get 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 usually 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 the intensity and source of the behavior. 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 some dogs may want to lie down, and just play with the toy or stick.
2. Play the Find-it game.
A fun game that I play with my dog during walks, is the Find-it game.
- First, I get my dog’s attention by calling his name.
- I reward him for giving me his attention.
- Then, I say Find-it and throw him a treat a short distance away.
- When he finds it, I praise him well, treat him, and repeat.
Once he is accustomed to finding it, I may combine the exercise with other obedience commands, e.g. Come. As his skills improve, I make the game more challenging by throwing the treat under bushes or in tall grass, but only if it is safe to do so.
Most importantly, I 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.
I walk my dog on a loose leash, stop often, and let him smell the roses. I only shorten the leash and move my dog 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, my dog would ignore the toy and continue 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. Redirection works best with Sephy, when I am calm and confident.
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. Command redirection will only work, if we catch our dog before he gets too excited or frustrated.
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, become even more anxious and fearful, or redirect his crazy energy onto our hands and feet, instead of on the leash.
For the Out of Control Leash Biter
In this situation, it is very important that we stay calm and use management equipment, as necessary, to keep everyone safe. With Sephy, I also have a plan ready, so that I can respond quickly and decisively.
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 hard on 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. I only used regular water on my dog.
5. Leash correction.
Leash corrections did not work well for Sephy. It only caused him to fight back and escalate his leash biting behavior. Leash corrections are difficult to implement and can be risky, especially 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.
Desensitization and counter-conditioning exercises helped a lot with my Shiba Inu.
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 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 may sometimes snap him out of his frenzy, but I found that to be unreliable. Most of the time, when a dog goes rear-brained/reactive, he will be totally disinterested in food and other rewards.
At that point, it is no longer possible to redirect the dog’s attention away from the squirrel or cat. Instead, I take Sephy to a quiet, low stimulus area, away from the trigger object, so that he can calm down.
In general, 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).
Forcing a dog to walk close to us, with eyes ahead, can help to discourage distractions and over-excitement instances. However, 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.
In general, I walk my dog on a loose-leash. At the same time, 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. I usually redirect my dog’s attention onto me (by calling his name), and move him away from the trigger area.
Retraining behaviors will take time, effort, and repetition. However, if we are consistent and fair, our dog will quickly learn which behaviors are positive and rewarding, and which behaviors are not.
I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT, whenever I take him for a walks we have problems. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!
We have had our 3 year old rescue for almost a year and we are considering finding a new home for her. I am so glad that I have found this website. After looking at these photos and reading I am convinced my “lab-mix” is more Shibu Inu then anything else.
I have experienced everything written with our dog Joy (ironic that someone named her that). She is squirrel and prey crazy. She leash bites to get to her prey and ignores me. I am going to try some methods suggested but to be honest it seems like so much work. I already walk her 6 miles a day (3 walks per day) and I am exhausted. She gets away from me to chase whatever she desires at least 2x a week and then I feel like a failure that all my efforts to exercise her are still not enough. I fear that if I pay to fence my wooded back yard she will be overstimulated by squirrel and just stand below trees barking and jumping.
I am impressed with how much work put forth the author and readers have put forth with their pets too. I am hopeful that some of this energy may slow down as she ages but don’t know if I can keep up.
Again, thank you!
I have a 6 month old bulldog…..as soon as he sees the leash he jumps and goes crazy…..I’ve tried everything….nothing calms him….I put the leash on and he continues to bite and jump at the leash…..I try treats, he just eats the treat and goes straight back to attacking the leash…..please help
I found a short nice video where they say that a chain leash will help to keep the dog from chewing on it when it can’t reach the rest of the leash:
It helped quite well with my puppy =)
I saw something like that on YouTube.
Hey, I found your blog and I already have written down some usefull tips which I’m going to try. My in-laws have a girl pup of 5 months ( lab) and she is VERY high energetic. She listen very well to my mother in law since she is 24h home with her. She always walks him and does the simple training with her. But because she has a prosthetic knee, my bf does the puppy training with her (some excersises are impossible with her knee) Thus my bf and I train the pup as well, but recently puppy is very stubborn with us. Normally she is very sweet, she listen well and is very smart.
She is a leash biter ( mostly out of frustration) and we tried several methods to get her out of her zone and redirect her into a submissive state. We put her on her back, we pinch her neck, we correct with the leash, nothing works with us. If she bites the leash when my mother in law walks her, she gets out of the zone almost inmediatly with every method she will use at that time. It would not be such a problem if puppy would leave it at biting the lease but she bites us too! She has always been a playful biter and we already trained her not to bite, but with her new teeth and greater strength it starts to het a lot more painful and very annoying. When she gets in the zone; she bites the leash, then gets my ankle/other part of my leg, tries to bite my hands, even lunges for my face! She sees every punishment as ”fun” and an invitation to play… that way, no correction will work. It becomes a real pain in the ass to train her.
She is sweet at home most of the time, but she gets overexcited easily at home too. At those times its more difficult to correct because there is no leash or collar. She gets overexcited of everything, and it is hard to prevent it. If we don’t have a solution, I think she may become an aggressive dog because WE lack the tools. 🙁 I already tried the, ”if you act out we go home inmediately”, but even that does not work! Because we go home she wil act out even more and bites harder.
She does not act out this extreme with my mother in law, only to us and my father in law. I guess she sees her more as a dominant boss. There is no reason to see us not as her leaders, we are careful about that too.
We want to enjoy our walks with her too, and we never stopped walking with her , but after the walk nobody has a happy face. >.< I hope you have some sort of ideas on whatever part of this story. At this moment I don't even care what kind of tips I get from people, I'm open to try everything…
Clearly I want her to have a pleasant walk too.. but if I have to avoid everything that interests her, because everything that interests her gets her in the extreme mood, her walks will be just a plain boring walk and she wont learn from other dogs, people and natures things. Like flying leaves and big sticks 🙂
I hope this one gets answered as this describes our dog almost exactly. I need the exercise as much as she does but the leash biting and growling is so frustrating.
I deal with puppy biting by doing three things-
1. Bite inhibition training.
2. No-bite conditioning.
3. Structure and teaching my puppy self control.
More on how I deal with puppy biting.
More on how I set structure and teach my puppy self-control.
Forcing my dog onto his back (alpha rolls) and other pain based aversive techniques worsened his behavior and made him more reactive. I no longer use such techniques and would *not* recommend them to others. I establish positive leadership by controlling my dog’s resources and following the Nothing in Life is Free program.
More on how I trained my puppy.
More on how dogs learn.
More on dog dominance.
Dominance and bad dog behavior.
ASPCA article on puppy socialization.
More on dog socialization.
However, dog behavior is very context dependent, so the routine, past experiences, temperament, and environment of the dog will all play a big role. When I had problems with my Shiba Inu, we consulted with several professional trainers. The best were those who had good practical experience, as well as a solid understanding of operant conditioning principles, desensitization techniques, and the current science of dog psychology. A good trainer can help me to read my dog’s body language, help me better understand the source of my dog’s bad behavior, help with timing and technique, as well as help develop a good, positive plan for changing behavior.
Hello, I have read several of your articles and have enjoyed them very much. We have a 1 year old puppy and a 6 year old who is very mellow and does not want to play. The puppy will take toys to her and try to play and she wants none of it. This has now turned into her snapping at the pup and the occasional dog scuffle which sounds terrible but neither dog has been hurt. When I put the older dog in another room so she has a calm place to be she wants to be back where we are and I can’t put the pup in a separate room because he needs to be supervised. This is a constant thing. Anytime they are in a room together he wants to play and she doesn’t want anything to do with it. Specifically how did you teach your dogs the rules for play or how can I teach the pup to leave her alone? I appreciate any help.
During the training period with my puppy, I put a light lead on her (Only with supervision, and only with a regular collar or harness. No aversive colllars). I can use the lead to easily control my puppy and keep her from going to my other dogs when they do not want to be bothered. When I cannot supervise, I separate puppy from my other dogs.
I establish a mark and a no-mark with my puppy to indicate good behaviors and undesirable behaviors. In this way, I can communicate with my puppy and help teach her the rules. More on how I teach my puppy the mark and no-mark.
I teach my puppy the Leave-It and Come commands. I can then also use these commands to redirect my puppy away from my other dogs.
At the same time, I try to create as many positive and rewarding together experiences as I can between my new puppy and my existing dogs. In this way, my puppy will know how to behave with my other dogs, and my other dogs will learn to see the puppy as a positive addition to their life. The key is not only to maximize positive and calm experiences together, but also to minimize negative experiences. More on how I introduce a new dog.
Big hugs to your furry gang and Happy New Year to you all! 😀
Thanks for your blog. I agree with your aversive-free training methods and enjoy hearing about the trials and errors you’ve experienced. I’m currently going through that type of experience with my latest foster dog, a 2-year old Lab/Rottweiler who has not had good, consistent training or structure until coming to me almost 2 weeks ago.
He was highly collar reactive when I got him due to overuse of a prong collar by his previous foster. He would mouth my wrist every time I went anywhere near his collar with my hands. We worked on that by pairing a reward with a touch of his collar, and he quickly improved.
His biggest issue remains becoming overly excited and going into what you call “rear brain” behavior. He will suddenly chase one of my cats or begin biting his lead outside. (We keep him on a very long drag lead outside since he jumped the rear fence in the dark one night.) The lead biting usually follows an attempt at play with one of my dogs (he doesn’t have much experience with play as he was kept away from other dogs) or resource guarding of a stick (we don’t allow toys outside).
I’m usually able to distract him from my cats with a toy, but I haven’t yet found something that works with the lead biting. He’s not good in general with a “drop” command, so anytime you attempt to remove something from his mouth, he clamps down tight. Any ideas?
Yeah, my dogs are also very attuned to motion, so when the lead moves around, it can get them excited and they may pounce or play with it. A long lead will be especially tempting, because there is a lot of visible movement.
What things have you tried in terms of leash biting? Bitter Apple, find-it game? Does he guard resources with people? Has he shown any aggressive behavior towards people? What is his daily routine like?
Some things that helped with Sephy-
1. More structured daily exercise, walks, structured games with me, obedience sessions, etc.
2. Sephy really likes chasing games, so they are helpful both as a positive outlet for his excited energy, and as a way to teach him to control his level of excitement.
3. I play the object exchange game with my dogs, which helps to get them used to giving things to me. It also helps with Drop training.
4. In general, I prefer not to remove things from my dog’s mouth physically, unless I absolutely have to. I used to keep going into my Shiba’s mouth, and as a result, he started to guard his things.
5. I set up clear dog-to-dog interaction rules and dog-to-people interaction rules. An important rule is the “no-stealing” rule. In this way, Sephy knows exactly what to expect from the Husky girls, what to expect from me, and what I expect from him. Certainty over “his stuff” helps to reduce stress and makes it unnecessary to guard his resources.
As you know, dog behavior is very context dependent, so we will need to craft our training to suit our individual dog and situation.
Hope this helps. Big hugs to your furry gang!
Please someone tell me how to stop my 16 month old jack Russell from jumping up and biting the lead. She is ok when we just go for a walk but, when we are near the park , on our way back from the park, or she sees another dog she just jumps and growls when I try and make him let go.
What things have you tried? What is her daily routine like? What are her house rules and how is she at following them? What type of training is she used to?
I talk in great detail about all the things I tried with my Shiba Inu in the article above. However, dog behavior is very context dependent, so we will need to adjust our training to suit our particular dog and particular situation. For this reason, getting help from a good professional trainer can also be helpful.
Hi I have a corgi/jack Russell/Chihuahua/lab/pitbull mix (dna test to prove it:) who weights at 40 pounds. She is a great dog to walk until we come across another dog. Every time she gets excited and pulls to try to get at the other dog and when she hits the end of the leash and she will either bite and pull the leash or if I make her heel she will bite my pants and pull what should I do? She is a dog aggressive dog; she has actually killed 2 other dogs in her lifetime.
My Shiba Inu, Sephy, was somewhat reactive to other dogs when he was young. Here are some things that I do with him during walks. However, he was mostly over-excited, and while he did leash bite, he has never gotten into a fight with another dog. The most he has done is sat on another dog.
For more serious cases of aggression, it is probably best to get help from a good professional trainer.
Wow! I’m not sure that I would attempt to walk a dog that had killed two other dogs previously, not without serious training intervention and a muzzle anyway.