TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
Our 1 1/2-year-old dog, Bullet, is absolutely crazy on a leash. He constantly bites and tugs at it and nothing we’ve ever tried gets him to stop. We bought some Bitter Apple and soaked the leash, but I think he actually liked it! We do walk him off leash, but there are times when he can’t be loose. Please help.
The Jensen Family
Dear Jensen Family,
I’ve walked many dogs like Bullet and it is extremely frustrating. The first thing you must do is get him daily off-leash exercise. He needs to release as much energy as possible every single day.
Currently, everything you do to counteract his biting and tugging is likely encouraging him. When a dog tugs on a leash we naturally tug back in a futile attempt to get him to release it and this is exactly what he wants. You need tools to disengage instead of encourage him.
1. Make the chewing less fun
Use 12-inch pieces of chain and small clips to attach the chain to his harness or collar, then hook the leash to the end of the chain. Chewing on chain is less fun that chewing on a soft leash. Old choke chains are perfect for this since they are of no use in training.
2: Use two leashes
Put a harness on in addition to his collar. Either a back clip or front clip harness will work. The leashes need to be attached at different locations so if you are using a back clip harness, clip one leash there and the other leash to his collar. If you are using a front clip harness, clip one in the front and turn his collar around so you can attach the other leash behind his neck. The instant he starts to bite and tug on one leash, drop it and hold onto the other leash. Continue rotating the leashes until he realizes you aren’t going to play his games.
3: Avoid using your hands
When he starts to bite and tug on the leash, immediately put the leash under your foot and continue to hold onto the handle end. You are creating a kind of lever. The leash will be tight between his collar or harness and your foot. Just stand still until he calms down then try to walk. If he starts up again, repeat. You are telling him that his behavior will not pay in any way.
4: Teach him “Drop it” and “Leave it” cues
Drop it means “open your mouth and release whatever you have.” Leave it means “don’t touch whatever you are about to go for.” Once he learns these cues, you can give him instructions instead of physically interacting with him when he starts his leash games.
With any of these methods, you will need to be 100 percent consistent so he learns this behavior does not work. When he does walk nicely on a leash, don’t forget to reward him. Dogs repeat behaviors for which they are rewarded.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.