Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Behavior Problems,  All Articles

Leash Grabbing

How many of you have pooches who love to play tug of war with their leashes, much to your dismay? This seems to be a common complaint of many new puppy owners, especially of the larger breed dogs. And some dogs never outgrow it. My 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Gizzy, is one of them. This game can be very dangerous, especially as winter comes upon us with snow and ice. A very consistent approach to resolving this issue is required by everyone who walks your dog. I work with Gizzy every time he’s on leash and every time we’re out for a walk he tests me. Unfortunately for me, he never has a chance to unlearn this behavior because his pet sitter loves to encourage it! As much as I’ve asked my pet sitter to stop playing this game with him, she won’t stop because she loves playing with Gizzy like this. How do you discourage this potentially dangerous behavior?

Several factors are required in remedying leash grabbing. First, never, never, ever use the leash as a tug toy. As fun and tempting as it may be to have a play session with the leash, squelch that desire for yours and your dog’s benefit. Your dog cannot make the distinction that the leash isn’t a toy if you use it as one. Second (and this will require enormous patience), when your dog begins to tug on the leash, completely ignore him. Shorten the leash as much as possible so that you’re holding it almost at the dog’s collar. Keep the slack away from the dog’s reach. Then, do not talk to him, look at him or touch him – no contact at all. Any contact only rewards the dog for the behavior. Give the dog plenty of time for his adrenaline to calm down because much of the leashing tugging behavior is fueled by adrenaline. If your dog stops tugging, give him lots of calm praise (an excited, happy voice will only fuel the adrenaline again!) and resume your walk. Practice this every time the dog tugs. Hopefully, he will learn that he gets attention when he’s not tugging.

If the tugging continues, drop the leash and walk away, still giving him no verbal or physical contact. (Only do this if you are in a place where your dog cannot run away – a fenced in yard, inside your home, etc.) Walking away from your dog when he tugs is a very effective tactic. He learns that he doesn’t have a playmate if he behaves this way.

Finally, everyone who walks your dog must practice these techniques. Like my Gizzy, if just one person encourages the leash tugging, your dog will never understand not to do it.

This process may take a very long time with some dogs; some are much more persistent than others. Once a dog learns how to get our attention, it takes time, patience and consistency to get the dog to un-learn the behavior.


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