Your dog is super calm. He never barks, jumps up, or tries to bite when he is off the leash. But it is like he becomes a different dog the moment you put a leash around his neck. He tries to attack and pull, and that’s unlike him.
“Leash aggression” or “leash reactivity” is typical behavior that can happen because of anxiety, discomfort, overexcitement, past abuse, or age-related issues. You can control this behavior with training, proper socialization, and patience.
In this guide, I’ll discuss leash aggression and how to walk a leash aggressive dog. This advice can help to make walks a lot more pleasurable for both you and your leash reactive dog.
What Is Leash Aggression?
Leash aggression is when your dog only gets aggressive or overstimulated when he is on the leash. To be classified as “leash aggression,” that behavior must never happen in other situations.
A study found that dogs are twice as likely to be aggressive to an approaching dog when on a leash than not.
There’s a possibility that your pup is feeling anxious about being outside. Because of it, he associates the leash with having to go out. Many things could trigger this reaction, but the best thing you can do is understand what your dog is trying to tell you.
Here’s what you as a dog owner can do:
- Try walking your fearful dog off the leash if possible. If he still misbehaves or gets aggressive, you can assume that it is not the dog’s leash triggering his anxiety.
- Expose him to a different environment. You can change the route you take during walks. If he remains calm, maybe what triggers his anxiety was a specific place during the walk.
Anxiety is common in dogs. Knowing what triggers your dog’s anxiety is the best way to deal with it. Once you know what triggers it, you can avoid exposing him to it and prevent the reactive behavior.
Another reason why your pup might become aggressive when using the dog leash is that it is uncomfortable for him. Some dogs have sensitive skin, and that can produce irritation and pain.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to take your dog to the vet. He may recommend changing your dog’s collar or vest for one made of hypoallergenic materials. You may also like to invest in a hypoallergenic dog bed.
Another option may be to use a loose leash or gentle leader to reduce the pressure on your dog’s neck. This may be enough to stop your dog’s barking and lunging on its own.
One more reason for your dog to become aggressive during walks on the leash is overexcitement. The mere fact that your dog knows he is going for a walk can trigger barking, lunging and other aggressive behavior.
To deal with an overexcited dog, you can tire him a little before going out. You can do this by giving your reactive dog a puzzle toy or a bone.
If your dog is a rescue, you probably don’t know anything about his life before the shelter. That’s a big problem for many owners because you don’t know what your dog is afraid of. There’s the possibility that your dog has been abused, and he links the leash to that experience.
Start a positive reinforcement training with him. Help him understand that the leash is not something he should be afraid of.
Here’s what you as a pet parent can do:
- Use treats to help your dog link having the leash on with receiving treats.
- If your dog is not food-motivated, you can use a toy or attention to get the same result.
- Take your pup to see a veterinary behaviorist. An expert who specializes in behavior modification may be able to correct your dog’s leash aggression as well.
Your dog may struggle with dementia or other symptoms of old age. For instance, if your dog loses his sense of smell or vision, he will fear leaving the house. He won’t feel secure enough outside, and that can trigger aggressive behavior.
In this situation, the best thing you can do is seek the help of a veterinarian. Once you know what’s causing your dog’s leash aggression, you can help him with dog training.
For instance, if he is afraid of being outside because he cannot see well anymore, you could start walking him in the yard. That way, he will feel that it is a place he knows and that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
How To Walk A Leash Aggressive Puppy
Training a puppy tends to be a lot easier because there is not much your puppy knows about the world. You can teach him to believe that the leash is something good and that it means he is about to go out on an adventure with you.
The first thing you should do with your puppy is to teach him how to sit on command. It is the easiest way to make him calm even under distressing circumstances. Once he knows how to sit, you can train other commands to make the leash walk a lot easier and faster.
Suppose your puppy is walking, and he sees another leashed dog. He might try to lunge so that he can meet the puppy, or he might get territorial and start barking. Either way, if he knows how to sit on command, you can train him to sit whenever he wants to get something.
If he wants to meet someone, he will have to sit and remain calm. That way, he won’t be pulling every time he sees something or someone he wants to interact with.
Training a dog requires a lot of patience, especially if it is a puppy. Dogs cannot concentrate on something for long, and puppies have a shorter attention span. So, do not lose hope and keep repeating the training.
Eventually, your puppy will learn what’s the correct behavior to get what he wants. The key is repetition and patience.
Socialize Your Leash Aggressive Dog
One of the best ways to avoid aggressive behavior is to expose your dog to as many different people and other dogs as possible. If you do it within the first few months of your puppy’s life, you may be able to avoid any aggression in your dog.
Here’s what you should try:
- Expose your dog to other dogs. For instance, get another puppy to come home for a playdate. You can also take them both to the dog park while on the leash.
- Expose your dog to different people of different ages and sizes. If possible, try to get him to play around with kids and the elderly. That can help him understand how to behave with each type of person.
- Expose your puppy to different people and dogs in different situations. Try to get him to play with other dogs in the park, on the beach, in the house, or walk him with another puppy.
The more situations, dogs, and people your puppy meets, the more social he will be. A well-socialized dog will not become aggressive that easily and will be calm in many different situations.
How to Walk A Leash Aggressive Dog
Training a puppy is a lot easier than training a grown dog, especially if your dog is rescued from the streets or a shelter. Rescued dogs are more challenging to train because you don’t know if they have past trauma with the leash. However, there are things you can do to calm your dog whenever you go out.
Suppose you rescued your dog from a shelter. In that case, it is imperative to get as much information about him as possible.
Here’s what you need to know about your newly adopted dog:
- The background of your dog’s puppy stage. For instance, how old he is, whether or not he has had his vaccinations and his breed.
- You need to know if there’s been any history of aggression. If that’s the case, then it is not a new problem, and you’ll need to train him to stop. On the other hand, if he has not shown aggression before, you need to identify what’s changed.
- It is essential to know how social your dog is. For instance, dogs that did not learn how to socialize during the puppy stage tend to develop aggression towards other dogs and humans.
- If there has been a history of aggression, it is crucial to know the details. You need to know if the incident was with a human or a dog and how it started. It can also help understand how far away the other dog or human was and what the response was.
This information is not always easy to get, but if it is possible, get it. The more you know about your dog’s past, the easier it will be for you to help him.
Training Your Leash Aggressive Dog
When training a “leash aggressive dog,” you should start by training him. The best thing you can do is to train your dog to sit on command. Once your dog knows how to sit, you can start training him to remain calm while on the leash.
Don’t rush your dog or the training because that could lead to him not learning what you want him to learn.
Here’s what you can do:
- Find a park or a route without many people and dogs around. The fewer distractions, the better for you and your dog.
- Identify what triggers your dog’s aggressive reaction. If it is dogs, then avoid dogs at the beginning. If it is humans, avoid humans as much as possible. If it is a specific noise or place, avoid them.
- Once you’ve identified the problem, it is time to correct the behavior. Make your dog sit every time he tries to pull or whenever he barks at other dogs, humans, or objects.
- Repeat the process for as long as necessary, and be patient. It might take some time, depending on your dog’s personality and breed.
If you want to see an in-depth training session for leash aggression, you can check out this video.
Always Carry Treats
One thing that can help you is always to carry treats when you walk your dog. If he knows that he has to sit for the treat, just showing it to him can help you if he is trying to pull or fight with another dog.
For better results, you should carry your dog’s absolute favorite treats. The more he wants the treats, the more he’ll want to obey to get them.
If your dog has had a bad experience with the leash, you can train him to accept it by using treats.
Here’s what you can do:
- Give him a treat right before putting the collar on him. That way, he’ll associate the collar and the leash with getting a treat.
- Give him a treat right after putting him on the leash. It has to be right after, or he won’t connect the leash with the treat.
- Do this every time you walk him on the leash.
The treats will only work if your dog knows what he has to do to get them. Training him to sit before trying this is one of the best options you have.
Train Him Away From The Neighborhood
Chances are your dog already knows every other dog and person that lives around the neighborhood. If that’s the case, trying to train him in the same environment will be almost impossible.
In that situation, you can take him to a different place as far away as possible. Ensure the area you are taking your dog has few distractions like other dogs, kids, and loud noises.
Seek The Help Of An Expert
You’ve trained your dog to sit on command. You’ve tried to train him to remain calm when walking on the leash. You’ve been patient and keep repeating, but sadly, your dog is not calming down. In that case, we recommend seeking the help of a professional dog trainer.
Dog trainers have a lot of experience with aggressive dogs, and they can have some tricks that can work in your particular case. However, dog trainers tend to be a bit expensive, and they may take more than a few weeks to help your dog. So, it is better to first try yourself before contacting them if you are on a budget.
It is challenging to train your dog not to be aggressive while on the leash, but it is not impossible. You must remember that it might take a while and you shouldn’t lose your patience when training him.
Use treats and positive reinforcement, and keep repeating the process. If your dog does not seem to improve, you should contact a professional. Leash aggressive dogs can be dangerous, so a bit of help can be beneficial for you and your dog.
All content has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Megan Teiber, DVM.