Monday, November 12, 2012

What Causes Leash Aggression in Dogs

By Linda Cole

We've all seen the dog that's pulling on his leash, lunging and barking at other dogs as they walk by. His owner appears to be just as frustrated as the dog. Leash aggression is a common behavior problem created by us when we don't understand why our normally friendly dog is acting in an aggressive way.

The cause of leash aggression

Leash aggression is a behavior problem that should not be overlooked. When a dog exhibits any kind of aggression, it's not something they'll grow out of, and ignoring the problem only makes it worse. The dog's aggression is created when he becomes excited, frustrated or fearful, and all three are reasons for his behavior. Lack of socialization or proper training can also contribute to leash aggression.

Excitement and frustration

Some dogs become so excited when they see another dog, they try to pull their owner towards the other dog. Off leash, he's one of the friendliest dogs around, but put him on a leash and he lunges and frantically barks at other dogs or people. What he wants to do is have a “meet and greet” with the other dog, but his leash is making him frustrated. Leash corrections to try and rein the dog in and control him will only add to his frustration. Because he can't get to the other dog, he becomes aggressive when he hits the end of the leash that's restraining him from doing what he wants to do.


A dog that is fearful may show signs of leash aggression if they are forced to be closer to other dogs or people when they would otherwise avoid them if they were off leash. Not all dogs enjoy meeting other canines or people they don't know. Fear can cause a dog to lunge at another dog in an attempt to keep him at bay, and his snarling bark shouldn't be ignored. In his mind, the fearful dog is trapped by his leash, which causes his aggression.

How to stop leash aggression

Dogs that react negatively while on leash are not doing so because of a lack of exercise; the leash is the source of their frustration. Punishing your dog or yelling at him won't change his behavior. You need to redirect his focus from what's causing him to be excited or fearful, which is an approaching dog or person. The best way to deal with leash aggression is to first teach him how to watch you, work on counter conditioning, and then desensitize him to other dogs.

Watch me

The command to “Watch Me” isn't difficult to teach and it's a good command for canines to know for those times when you need to get and keep your dog's attention. Start in a quiet room where there are no distractions. Have plenty of CANIDAE TidNips treats on hand, and have your dog sit or stand in front of you. Pick a phrase or single word such as “watch me,” “look” or “here,” and stick with that one word or phrase. Hold a treat up next to your face, call your dog's name and wait for him to look up and make eye contact with you. Give him the treat as soon as he does and give lots of praise. You want eye contact because that's how you will distract him in the next phase of his training.

Practice the “watch me” command every day until your dog makes eye contact as soon as you call his name. The next step is to take him outside where there are more distractions and continue practicing the command. You're ready to move on to desensitizing your dog when he doesn't hesitate to look at you, even with distractions going on around him.

How to desensitize

To desensitize your dog, start at a point when he's calm and another dog is in the distance. As you walk, before your dog starts to get excited or scared of an approaching dog, give him the “watch me” command. Have treats with you so you can reward him and keep walking. Don't rush this process. Desensitize slowly and close the distance gap a little bit at a time. What you want is to have the other dog walk past you and your dog while he's making eye contact with you and not worrying about the other dog passing by. Instead of you reacting to your dog's aggression, you've taught him how to behave in a positive and nonaggressive way.

The other option you have if your dog does display leash aggression is to simply turn around and walk away from an approaching dog. However, with proper training, patience, dedication and staying consistent, you can have a dog that walks on a leash without being frustrated or overly excited when meeting another dog. It puts you in control and not your dog.

Top photo by Quinn Dombrowski
Bottom photo by OCVA

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Excellent idea! Finn's a bit of a puller. I am going to try this.

  2. That is why I so strongly recommend doggie school for puppies.


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