One of the main challenges that any pet owner may face is teaching their dog to walk on a leash. It will likely be even worse if your dog has been rescued from a shelter, as they have probably been cooped up for long enough by this point. If we consider that your dog may previously have been stray, and thus enjoyed the freedom of their town or city, you really have a challenge!
Walking, and training your dog to not pull on the leash, is just part of the challenge. Some dogs are prone to lunging at their fellow canines while on a leash. How can you stop leash aggression from your dog, or stop your dog from lunging while on a leash? Read on to find out!
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Why Does My Dog Dislike Being on a Leash?
Some dogs are utterly indifferent to the idea of being on a leash, and some even prefer it if they are of an otherwise nervous disposition. On the other hand, the idea of being restrained and kept on a leash is a nightmare for other dogs, and they will do whatever they can to ensure that you know about this issue.
If strapping a leash onto your dog sparks a personality change that has you flicking through the Yellow Pages for an exorcist, it’s only fair to your pet that you investigate why this is happening. Here are some possible reasons why your dog dislikes being clipped to a leash.
Your Dog Has Never Used a Leash Before
This is extremely likely if you have adopted a rescue dog that has never been trained properly, even if it’s just a puppy. Much like with human beings, the earliest days of a dog’s life are critical. This is where behaviors that will shape the dog’s entire future are learned and molded.
Some rescue dogs enjoy being placed on a leash if they have been mistreated in the past, as it makes them feel safer and closer to their owner. On these rare occasions, embrace your dog’s willingness to walk on a leash as it will only strengthen your bond! It’s more likely that such a dog will consider a leash to be restrictive, however, and maybe even some kind of punishment.
Your Dog Has Been Mistreated in the Past
This isn’t something that anybody wants even to consider but, unfortunately, it’s a fact of life – some dogs have been severely mistreated by previous owners (we hesitate to call such people humans).
Perhaps your dog was left outside for hours on end, tied to a short leash and not provided with any entertainment or exercise. Maybe a previous owner was not gentle or attentive on walks, continually tugging the dog by the throat and not allowing them to stop and sniff as they went. The very idea is sickening, but perhaps your dog was beaten or whipped with a leash.
Your Dog is Only Leashed Ahead of Something Scary
Some dogs are left to wander free the vast majority of the time, especially if they are working dogs based on a farm or somewhere similar. These dogs are usually exceptionally well trained and will walk side-by-side with their humans without fuss, and thus there is typically no need to clip them to a leash when its time to get some exercise.
Every now and again, however, all dogs need to be walked on a lead. This may be ahead of a visit to the vet, for example, or when they are being taken to the dog groomer. These are far from any dog’s favorite activities, and they may begin to associate the leash with physical discomfort, or being forced to take a bath. The horror. They are also reasons why some dogs are suddenly afraid to go outside.
This fear-based response may also be linked to a previous experience while out walking on a leash. If a dog is in the early stages of leash training and another dog attack them in the park, for example, or they take a fall and hurt themselves, they may associate this experience with the leash and blame it upon the equipment.
Don’t judge your dog harshly for this misconception. After all, it’s not really any different to the human aversion to walking under a ladder or avoiding a particular restaurant that left us feeling unwell (it was definitely the chicken and not two bottles of wine.)
Your Dog is Spoiled
Sorry to say it, but it’s possible that your dog is just a brat!
Some small dogs, particularly ‘designer pups’ such as Chihuahuas, are used to being babied, carried in a tote bag and catered for. The very idea of having to walk on their own four legs like peasants is alien to them, especially in such undignified circumstances as being leashed and led by a human.
If this is the case, you’ll need to undergo a great deal of training. All dogs need to learn how to walk on a leash, and you’ll need to be very patient. Brace yourself for a few bumps along the road, as you will potentially be attempting to undo years of learned behavior.
If your dog displays any kind of action that suggests they cannot bear the idea of being on a leash – whether that’s whimpering and cowering, running away, barking and snarling or just about any other form of adverse behavior – work out why this is. That’s the first step into the wider world of training your dog to walk on a leash, and safely interacting with the rest of the doggy world.
Practice Walking Your Dog on a Leash
If you plan on turning your dog from a leash-loather to a leash-lover, you’re going to need to engage in some serious training. It’s important to remember to focus on one thing at a time, and there are three real phases to lease training.
- Step 1 – Teach your dog to wear their leash without a fuss, and allow you to clip it into them.
- Step 2 – Teach your dog to walk to heel while clipped to a leash, without pulling or attempting to escape.
- Step 3 – Teach your dog to walk on the leash without lunging, snarling, snapping or displaying aggressive behavior to other dogs.
Step 3 is arguably the most critical, but you won’t be able to get there without mastering the first two!
Teach Your Dog to Wear Their Leash
Start small. Just convincing Fido to allow you to clip his leash on is the first step on your journey. Don’t walk before you can run – attach your dog’s leash, and allow him or her run around the house with it clipped on without holding onto it. This is a chance for your dog to learn that the leash itself is not the problem. Allow your dog to give the leash a good sniff first, too.
It will also be helpful if you use rewards at this point. Soothe your dog and offer a treat every time they allow you to clip on their leash, as this is all part of the training process. Remember that, if your dog is afraid of their leash for whatever reason, it flies in the face of every instinct they have to let you attach it.
If you are afraid of needles you will not enjoy having blood taken at the doctor’s, or if you have a phobia of the dentist a trip to that famously intimidating building will fill you with dread. It’s the same for your poor pooch when it comes to hooking up their leash.
You might also want to try a dog harness instead of a standard collar.
Make Your Dog’s Leash into a Game
Once your dog allows you to clip on their leash, gently start to hold the other end. Again, don’t jump in feet-first here and attempt an hour-long walk. Very gently lead your dog into the garden and do a couple of laps.
Make it into a game – chase your dog, and let them chase you too. Toss a ball or frisbee around a short distance, allowing your dog to fetch it without being unclipped from the confines of their leash. This is all teaching your dog that it’s still possible to have fun while on a leash and that it is not a punishment designed to make their lives miserable.
What’s most important is that you let your dog retain control at this point. As tempting as it may be to do so, do not attempt to take the lead and direct your dog’s energy in one direction or another. That’s Step 2, where the training really starts.
Right now we’re still at Step 1, and we’re embracing the fun and allowing your dog to get a feel for wearing a leash. The longer we can keep things enjoyable and relaxed, the more likely your dog is to forget all about their leash aversion and allow you to move onto training them to walk without pulling or lunging.
Is a Dog Pulling on Their Leash Really Such a Problem?
In a word, yes. There are four main reasons for this problem:
- Dogs need to know who is in charge. Dogs are pack animals, and every pack has an alpha. Dogs are like human children – if you give them an inch, they’ll take several miles and leave you in the dust. It’s vital that your dog realizes that you call the shots, and that means walking at your heel and allowing you to choose the direction and pace at which you walk.
- Dogs sometimes struggle with impulse control. Dogs live exclusively in the moment – they’re like little Buddha’s. A dog isn’t thinking about the consequences of their actions when they go charging off in all kinds of different directions, and they may not pay sufficient attention to their surroundings. This means that a dog that’s left to pull and charge off on the leash may wander into traffic, or approach another, unfriendly canine.
- A dog that pulls is likely to lunge. As per the above, a dog that is not under complete control on their leash may end up lunging at another canine. This doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to act with aggression – they may just be trying to say hello, or initiate a playtime. There is no way of knowing how the other dog will react though, and if your dog is prone to leash aggression, you’ll need to ensure you are close enough to put a stop to it.
- Pulling on a leash can cause a dog injury. When a dog starts to pull on their leash, they’re basically fighting against your control. If your dog is wearing a collar around their neck and they start to pull they’ll only get so far before they run the risk of strangling themselves or bruising their throats at best. Likewise, if you need to suddenly pull your dog away from oncoming traffic or another animal, it could hurt them if they are pulling too far ahead.
How to Stop a Dog Pulling on Their Leash
When you’re ready to start training your dog to walk on the lead without pulling – or worse – you’re going to need plenty of treats to reward good behavior, a lot of time on your hands, and a whole bunch of patience.
Also, remember the three steps that we previously discussed. Don’t begin the process of training your dog to walk on the leash unless they are used to wearing it without kicking up a stink. Forcing Fido into a situation that he’s not comfortable with will escalate any behavioral issues, including pulling and aggression.
When you’re ready to start walkies training on a leash, follow these steps:
- Find a quiet area where you’ll be able to walk in a straight line, ideally without encountering other people or dogs. This means that you may need to do start very early in the morning or late at night.
- Walk forward in a straight line, continually praising your dog as he or she walks with you. If your dog tries to pull ahead, stop walking at once and remain still until they trot back to your side. Once they’ve done so, start walking again.
- After a while, making a sharp turn and start walking back the way you came. If your dog follows you and makes the turn without any fuss, make an immediate fuss of them and offer a treat. Reinforce this good behavior!
- Repeat this process a few times – but, and this is pivotal, stop and go home before your dog gets bored! If it seems that your dog is having a good time on the leash, then keep going, but at the first sign of boredom or frustration head for home and start again another day.
Leash Aggression in Dogs
Of course, once your dog has mastered walking on a leash that’s only half the battle. If your dog is prone to bouts of aggression on the leash, this will also need to be trained out of them.
Many dogs are more aggressive on their leash than they are when left to be free range. In some rare cases, this may stem from illness, according to Pet Place. If your dog behaves impeccably when running free but turns into Cujo-on-steroids once strapped to a leash, however, the chances are this antagonism stems from frustration and tension.
What Causes Leash Aggression in Dogs?
Maybe your dog still isn’t keen on wearing a leash, and this places them under a great deal of stress – meaning that it won’t take much to push your dog over the edge. Maybe your dog is desperate for a run and is finding the leash to be restrictive and prohibitive. This frustration can quickly boil over into aggression, aimed at the wrong person or dog.
Alternatively, here are some potential causes of leash aggression in your dog:
- Territory Protection – it could be that your dog feels that they need to guard what they consider to be ‘their’ territory, with the leash adding an extra layer of frustration to this behavior.
- Inability to React – if another canine runs up to your dog while they are on a leash and starts to play, your dog may need to send an immediate and unmistakable reaction – “back off, I can’t run around right now.”
- Not Knowing Any Better – remember, if you have adopted a rescue dog they may not have been socialized with other dogs or humans from a young age. This may lead to them snarling and barking on a leash by default until they learn something different.
Is Your Dog Aggressive on the Leash?
The first thing that any dog owner needs to ask themselves is whether their dog is actually aggressive while on the leash – it’s quite possible that they are just excited. Also, some dogs become unsettled by bad weather, particularly heavy rain and thunder.
As we have just explained, being on a leash can get some dogs a little wound up – and if they see what they consider to be a friendly face, be it a fellow dog or a recognized human – they may start barking up a storm in their desperation to say hello.
This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to prevent a dog from pulling on their leash. If they are too far ahead of you, they could approach somebody that doesn’t want to be social. If it happens to be another dog that does suffer from leash aggression, the fur may start flying.
Will My Dog Bite as a Result of Leash Aggression?
The good news is that leash aggression is for show – it’s very rare that a canine will follow through with a bite after threatening to do so. If you do get bitten, here some advice to follow on cleaning up dog bite wounds.
All the same, it can be frightening for the human or dog that is on the other end of the threatening behavior, as well as embarrassing for you as a dog owner.
It’s no fun having to apologize to every other dog walker that you pass, and it’s highly advisable that you train your pooch out of this behavior.
How to Stop Leash Aggression
Putting a stop to leash aggression in dogs is much the same as training your dog out of any unwanted behavior; distracting, treating and training.
You may need to call in professional help, or you may want to discuss your dog’s antics with a vet to ensure that no medical complaints are at the root of the problem.
Overall, however, you will need to continually train your dog to tolerate – and eventually love – their time on the leash. Remember that any aggression stems from fear or frustration connected to this essential part of any dog’s routine.
Never Punish a Dog for Leash Aggression
It’s not their fault, and your dog is not acting this way to be a big bully. This means not using aversion tactics, such as shock collars, and it certainly means that you shouldn’t strike your dog or use any other kind of physical deterrent.
Pull your dog away from a situation if necessary, but try to do so gently. Avoid shouting, too. This will just raise your dog’s heckles and get them more wound up.
Distract Your Dog Before They Become Aggressive on the Leash
Learn the warning signals of when your dog is going to react to a situation aggressively, and distract them as quickly as possible. This could mean simply turning away and walking in a different direction, or it could mean offering a treat.
If you’re going to take the latter path, you should do so before your dog starts to show signs of aggression though – otherwise, they’ll think they’re being rewarded for growling and snarling.
Prevent Your Dog from Becoming Aggressive
Of course, prevention is always better than cure. It can take a very long time and a great deal of training to overcome leash aggression, so it may pay to learn what triggers your canine and prevent them from reaching the limits of their patience before they arise.
This may mean walking your dog at antisocial times, or it may mean avoiding some previously preferred destinations. Don’t lose hope or patience, and do whatever it takes to keep your dog comfortable.
As we’ve just said, it can take a long time to coach leash aggression out of a dog. You may understandably grow frustrated during this period – don’t take it out on your dog. They don’t know any better, and they won’t be able to change their behavior without your help.