Dog chewing leash

Q: Sometimes my dog gets really excited about going on a walk and he will jump and chew at the leash. How can I teach him to stop?

A: One way canines release excess energy or built-up stress is by mouthing, tugging and jumping. When your dog is excited, the leash becomes a portable tug toy of sorts. High-energy, playful dogs with a difficult time soothing themselves when overwhelmed are most likely to exhibit this behavior, but it can become an ingrained habit in any dog.

There are a variety of reasons dogs jump, chew and pull the leash with their teeth. Let’s look at the most common reasons — and at some strategies for putting a stop to this behavior.

Why Your Dog Chews His Leash

Some dogs chew on the leash as a way to get attention. When your dog is walking calmly on a loose leash, no one pays attention to him, but when he acts out, the focus shifts directly to him. For many dogs, negative attention is better than no attention at all.

Other dogs are over-aroused, and the easiest way to release tension is to bite on the leash. In the shelter situation, dogs frequently grab and chew on the leash, often when first taken out of the kennel and led with other dogs. The more intense the situation and the more wound up a dog is, the more likely that leash biting will occur.

Then there are dogs who simply prefer to carry something in their mouths; for these dogs, the leash serves as a sort of pacifier.

How to Stop the Chewing

There are a variety of ways to teach your dog to walk politely on leash without biting or jumping, but I have a few favorites that have been successful in helping clients put an end to the chewing.

In most situations, dogs chew at the leash because they haven’t been shown a better alternative. Rather than reprimanding your dog for tugging and mouthing, teach him to relax at the sight of the leash. Begin by touching the leash while it’s hanging on the wall, without picking it up. Be ready to reward your pooch for calm behavior. Mark with a “good” or a click any resting behavior, such as standing still, sitting or lying down while you are touching the leash. As your dog stays relaxed, touch and move the leash while continuing to reward his calm behavior. Then practice moving the leash around your dog while rewarding relaxation.

Once your dog is able to remain relaxed at the sight of the leash, clip the leash on his collar or harness while he remains in a sit. This teaches your dog to see the leash as a cue for relaxation, rather than as a trigger for excitable mouthing.

Next, teach your dog to walk calmly at your side in a heel position while off leash. Practice in a low-distraction area, such as inside the house or a fenced yard. Once your dog heels when asked, introduce the leash. Begin by rewarding the previously trained behavior of relaxing at the sight of the leash and sitting for the leash clipping. Once the leash is clipped on, immediately cue the heel. If your dog starts mouthing or tugging at the leash, freeze in place and ignore him; this stops both the walk and the reward of your interaction. Once your dog lets go of the leash, recue and reward for the heel.

While treats often work best as rewards, some dogs will respond favorably to the reward of play, specifically structured tug. For playful dogs, vary treat rewards by occasionally rewarding a heel with a designated tug toy.

Another training option is to put an end to the possibility of the leash as a tug toy. Leash tug requires your participation; when your dog tugs, you tug back, often automatically. Take the fun out of the pull by giving your dog a drag line to wear on walks in addition to his regular leash. When he mouths and pulls at the leash, grab the drag line and let go of the leash (be sure to tie knots in the drag line so you have a firm grip, in order to prevent an escape). If your dog pulls on the drag line, grab the leash and let go of the drag line. Each time you let go, the game of tug is stopped.

For particularly mouthy dogs, offer a toy to carry on walks; this is a simple solution for a dog who chews the leash primarily because he enjoys carrying something in his mouth.

Rewarding wanted behavior, ignoring unwanted behavior and using the right walking equipment make all the difference in teaching your pooch calm leash manners. And, of course, if you have concerns about your safety, or your dog’s, when walking him on leash, talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a qualified professional.