Why Do Dogs Grab Their Leash



Have you ever found that your dog likes to participate a little too much in walk time? Ever taken your pooch out for a stroll only to find him jumping up and trying to snag the leash? Most dog owners have seen this behavior at one time or another. Since walk time is generally the ultimate treat when it comes to our dogs' favorite pastimes, it is not unusual for us to wonder, "What in the world is that about?" It is possible it could just be a cute little quirk, but in general, there is always an explanation for common behaviors we see in our dogs. What is Fido trying to tell us with his playful little leash tugs? Taking the time to examine the action a little more closely can give us great insights into what our canine companions are trying to express through this interesting behavior. Is leash tugging harmless or harmful, or maybe somewhere in between?

The Root of the Behavior

You are quite familiar with the scene. After a busy day at work, you're now gearing up to take Fido for a walk. You've no sooner slipped your shoes on and gathered the leash when Fido starts his special "walkies" dance. His exuberance is impossible to contain. You clip the leash on and head out the door, but once you hit the pavement, the walk isn't going quite as smoothly as you'd like. Fido keeps jumping up and grabbing the leash with his teeth, and you just can't get him to stop! Most dog owners can relate to the above scenario. It is a behavior that is adorable and perplexing at the same time, and it definitely adds an element of complication to the simple act of walking your dog. When we trace the behavior back to its origins, we realize that dogs explore their world and communicate with others through their mouths. They can't tell us what they are thinking or what they need via speech, but they can do so through barking, mouthing, and nipping. How does this translate to leash tugging?

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

Whether stress finds its roots in a positive or negative basis, it cannot be denied that it has an impact on the body. Positive stress plays an important role in our dogs' emotional growth and is an important part of adaptability and change. However, because our dogs often don't understand what is happening within their bodies or how to cope with it, we see it being played out in a variety of different behaviors such as leash tugging. Stress affects our dogs on a physical and an emotional scale. Experts agree that whether a dog is undergoing stress from a positive or negative source, the effects on the body are very similar. When your dog catches wind that a walk is in his future and becomes aroused, his body experiences several different reactions. These reactions include energetic and confident behavior, increased environmental sensitivity, and overwhelming enthusiasm. As with all stress-motivated reactions, they find expression in various behaviors. These activities can be helpful or harmful, and it is up to the owners to assist their dogs in learning to cope well with the effects of stress on their bodies. 

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.  


Love your walks with your dog but not a huge fan of the leash tugging? Positive stress might be getting the best of Fido. But do not despair, all is not lost. By following the few simple tips in this article, you can help get your dog's focus back on walking and off jumping and leash biting.