The Root of the Behavior
When dogs become excited, it is quite common for them to jump up and mouth things. You may have experienced an over-aroused dog playfully nipping at your hands. Since a dog walk is one of the most rewarding things your dog experiences, your dog can easily become highly stimulated when he sees evidence you are getting ready to head out on an outdoor adventure with him. This enthusiasm can be expressed in many different ways, but one of the most frequently seen behaviors is leash grabbing. At times of high arousal, dogs can work themselves into a state where it is difficult for them to manage their own enthusiasm. It's kind of like a kid on a sugar high after a trip to a candy store. The child knows that shrieking, running through the store, and knocking things off shelves is wrong, yet he feels powerless to settle himself. It's much the same with a dog who is overstimulated. Your dog is so excited that he just doesn't know what to do with all of his joy! In an attempt to communicate and provide a healthy form of release, dogs will often tug or bite on or even chew their lead. What we must remember is that stress in our dogs can be both positive and negative. Though a dog walk is extremely rewarding, the zeal our dogs experience when anticipating one is a form of positive stress, and it can easily lead to overarousal.
Encouraging the Behavior
While positive stress isn't necessarily something to be concerned about; if leash tugging is a behavior you want to eliminate, there are steps you can take to assist you with your goal. The best approach is training an alternate behavior. Since leash grabbing finds its source in overarousal, it is important to teach your dog that calm behavior is always rewarded. Dogs are often triggered by sights and sounds that they have become familiar with, so it is key to target precisely what it is that your dog is reacting to in order to solve the problem. For most dogs, it is the leash. To reduce leash tugging behavior, you can begin by rewarding your dog when he approaches the leash calmly. You must be careful never to reward the behavior you are trying to change, but you must also find a balance between happiness and calmness. It is not fair to your dog to expect them to show no reaction at all in the face of their absolute favorite thing, but you do want to see a reduction in over the top behavior. Determining ahead of time what response is acceptable will be a great help to you and your dog.
Other Solutions and Considerations
As you work on training the new behavior, reward your dog with his favorite treat when he offers the calm behavior you are seeking from him.Using a verbal reinforcer can also be helpful such as "good" or "calm." It will take several training sessions for your dog to understand that only calm behavior gets him closer to his goal of getting that leash clipped on and the two of you out the door. When outside, continue your training by only allowing the walk to progress when your dog is not jumping up and biting the leash. Choose a "default" position for your dog. That default position is the position you want your dog to assume before the walk can recommence. If Fido starts jumping up and biting while on your walk, stop dead. Do not look at Fido and do not move. When Fido assumes the calm default position, give him a treat, praise him richly, and continue the walk. You may have to repeat this ten, fifteen, or even twenty times before Fido understands what is expected of him, but he will get it! Since dogs do tend to regress in training, make certain you always carry treats with you on walks, so you can reinforce all that you and your dog have been learning.