Aggressive on Leash in Dogs

Why is my dog aggressive on leash?

What is Aggressive on Leash?

When you are walking your dog, it sometimes may feel like he is walking you, particularly when he encounters another dog; he may whine, bark, growl or lunge when he is on his leash. This problem is common and can be due to multiple reasons to include:

  • Barrier frustration
  • Pain
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Confusion
  • Dog-to-dog aggression

In order to help your dog overcome his aggressive behavior when he is on his leash, it is important to figure out why it is occurring. Once that has been determined, you can work with him on decreasing the behavior.

Why Aggressive on Leash Occurs in Dogs

Your dog may be aggressive on a leash due to: 

Barrier Frustration

Instinctually, dogs have motivation to greet each other; when on a leash they cannot always do so. This may frustrate your dog as he is unable to do what instinct is telling him to do.  


If your dog is hurting for any reason, he will understandably not want to experience any more pain, leading to his reaction should a child or another dog approach him. If your dog has previously done well on a leash, pain may be causing this change in behavior. Another sign that pain may be causing his reaction is if your dog does well with dogs that are calm but reacts strongly to the more energetic ones. 


Perhaps your dog has had a bad experience when on leash and his fear is causing him to be “proactive”. He may be afraid of another dog due to a size difference, having experienced an attack or not having been socialized well when young. If your dog is very small or if his behavior has changed after having been attacked, it is likely fear causing his aggression.


Your dog may be excited at seeing another dog; listen for rapid, high pitched barking. Usually if aggression is the result of excitement, your dog’s teeth won’t be bared and he will be wagging his tail.


While rare, confusion can result in your dog being aggressive on his leash. This can occur, for example, when a dog that he is close to visits the groomers and your dog does not recognize him at first.

Dog-to-Dog Aggression

This is rare but is very serious, occurring when your dog wants to hurt another dog. He will bark at them and flash his teeth. His tail will be stiff behind him or raised straight up.

What to do if your Dog is Aggressive on Leash

Should you notice that your dog is aggressive on his leash, you will want to determine why this is occurring. Fortunately, there are things to look out for that will help you to figure out what is leading to your dog’s behavior. For example, your dog may be in pain if:

  • This is a new problem for your dog
  • If he does better with dogs that are lower in energy than those who are more energetic
  • He does better at the beginning of a walk

If any of these seem to be the case, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian, who can examine your dog to see if he is experiencing a condition that is causing him pain. While looking into your dog’s health, you can take a break from heavier activity. Once your dog is receiving treatment for pain relief, note whether his behavior improves.

Signs that your dog’s behavior may be due to fear include:

  • Your dog is small in size
  • He was less aggressive when on his leash prior to training or an attack
  • A history of minimal socialization
  • A history of living in isolation or in a hoarding situation

If your dog’s behavior is the result of fear, you can work with your dog on walking next to you on a slack leash and gaining trust going forward.

If excitement is causing your dog’s behavior you may observe:

  • Your dog appears to “lose it” when encountering another dog
  • Your dog leaps up and down, trying anything possible to get to the dog.

Should this occur, you can work with your dog on developing his self-control “muscles”, teaching him that self-control will give him the chance to say hi to the other dog, which being out of control will not. 

Should your dog’s behavior be the result of confusion you may notice:

  • Your dog usually does well with other dogs but reacts to one who appears new to him
  • There is a major variation in size between your dog and the dog he is reacting to
  • Your dog knows the other dog; however, the other dog has recently been groomed

Signs that dog-to-dog aggression is the cause of the behavior include:

  • A ferocious bark where your dog stands his ground or leans forward, his teeth flashing as he barks
  • Your dog rises up as tall as possible
  • Your dog scares you and/or others
  • Your dog has hurt another dog

If you think that your dog is experiencing this behavior, you will want to seek help right away as he can be a danger. You will want to avoid walking him in public while you seek professional assistance. Your dog will need to learn to focus on you and not attack others. A head halter can be helpful as it will give you control over your dog’s head. It is important you don’t try and socialize your dog on your own if you feel he may be experiencing dog-to-dog aggression as it can make things worse for your dog and he can frighten or hurt someone else’s dog.

Prevention of Aggressive on Leash

Preventing your dog from being aggressive when on his leash can be challenging. Regular check-ups are helpful to ensure that any potential problems that can cause your dog to experience pain are caught as soon as possible.

Socialization is important to avoid your dog being aggressive when on his leash. If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs when on his leash, in order to prevent the behavior from occurring you can do your best to avoid other dogs. A specialist in animal behavior or a trainer can assist you in working with your dog to overcome his aggression.

Cost of Aggressive on Leash

The cost of your dog being aggressive on his leash will depend on whether the behavior is the result of pain, and if so, what is causing the pain. Should pain be the culprit, the treatment cost can vary widely. If pain is eliminated as the cause of your dog’s behavior, you may be able to work with your dog on overcoming his aggression on your own, at minimal to no cost. Should your dog be displaying dog-to-dog aggression, you may need the help of a specialist in animal behavior or a trainer and the cost will be dependent upon their rate and how long their services are necessary. The average cost for therapy and training for an aggressive dog is $500.

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