Biting the Leash

Biting the Leash

One often sees a new dog at the club with what looks like a fairly new and expensive leash that has been damaged by teeth marks. If your dog grabs the leash when you want to take him for a walk it is an indication that he actually likes to hold things in his mouth and wants to play Tuggy. The problem is that it is happening at the wrong time and can become so annoying that it puts the relationship between owner and dog on the wrong footing.

Puppies in particular, with their teething problems are culprits here and may be injured when the handler jerks on the leash to get the pup to let go or stop biting. It could also be dangerous because a strong young dog can pull the leash out of your hands and cause you to fall or worse that the dog can run into traffic.

Why jerks and reprimands do not work

Dogs do not know the difference between negative and positive attention. To them it’s all attention! When owners play with their dogs they give them attention by pushing and pulling and talking to them in an excited voice. So the pup sees the owner’s attention to his biting the leash as the start of a game.  When he walks nicely he gets no attention but when he bites the leash he gets attention. Trying to prise the leash out of the dog’s mouth can also become a game.

What can be done?

Reward attention to you

When you start walks reward all attention to you with tasty treats to avoid leash grabs. Talk in a happy excited voice and with ongoing praise try to maintain the dog’s attention on you and away from the leash. “Watch me” or “Look” are useful commands all dogs should know.

Voice control over your dog should always be the aim.

Time spent on the “Leave” command is a must.

Take a tasty tidbit between your fingers and sit down near the dog while holding it about the height of the dog’s head. Play with the food so that he can see it. As soon as the dog tries to get it, close the food in your fist and firmly say, “Leave it!”  (This is my bone). The dog is likely to ignore you, lick your fist or even nibble at it, so you stare at him and repeat, “Leave it!” When the dog realises that you are not going to release the food and backs off, open your hand and say, “Take it.” Do not give the treat to the dog. Let him come forward and take it from your open palm.

Repeat as often as needed until the dog understands what “Leave it!” and “Take it” means. What you are aiming to achieve is for the dog to immediately back off when he hears “Leave it!Some trainers prefer to use the “Off” command instead of “Leave” so that it can be applied when the dog is on the bed or couch.

Aversive methods

The following changes to the leash to discourage biting should be tried before leash biting gets out of hand.

 White vinegar or Citronella oil can be applied to the lower section of the leash. Vaseline and perfume aswell assome hot sauces and bitter apple juice may also be applied successfully. See which one works best for your dog. The dog may still bite the leash out of habit for a few times but soon stops when he dislikes the taste.

In some serious cases owners have opted for chain leashes to discourage biting. They are not easy on the hands and are heavy which makes voice control difficult. The dog is constantly aware of the heavy chain and reacts to its movements rather than listening to the owner’s voice. Chains can cause damage to their teeth and are not recommended.

 Leashes must never be left with or attached to an unsupervised dog.

My advice is to make your first puppy leash out of a light piece of rope, followed by an old leash for training. Save the better or new ones for shows and visits. All my pups start sleeping in a cardboard box and get an old, worn-out leash for training.  Once dogs have developed good habits they deserve special privileges and can be trusted with a nice leash.


If your dog willingly grabs and pulls on the leash it’s an indication that he enjoys doing it. Playing tug is a great game, when played by the rules, to teach him mouth control.

Many dog owners mistakenly discourage tug games because…”it teaches them to bite.” Not true! All dogs bite because they do not have thumbs they cannot hold things other than with the mouth.

Some say that if you play tug you must be sure you win. Dogs do not play like us. They play to win and will run off when they have captured their “prey.” Thus, if they never can win, why would they want to play tug? Dogs do not become more dominant through tug play!

The best way to start is to attach an old glove or a piece of mutton cloth to a 1m long string. Add a short stick to the other end to make it easy to drag the article past your pup that should be on a long (5m) leash. When he chases and catches the tug, keep tugging to give “life” to the article. If he drops the prey item, repeat the tease. Should he want to run away with it, run with him as he carries the tug. This is the beginning of the retrieve exercised in obedience training. Playing Tuggy is valuable for drive building.

It is important to realise that we must replicate the “win feeling” in the dog so that he comes back to you for more of the same. If he wins he feels strong. The dog becomes more confident and stable after playing Tuggy for a while.

Tug-of-War Rules

The dog must win the tug but bring it back for more of the same.

Always have the dog on a long line.

Play hard (never soft) but initial start of play must not so hard as to discourage participation.

Tug movements are from left to right. Up and down moves can injure a pup’s neck.

The tug is a prey item so it must always be seen clearly and be moving away from the dog. Never push the tug towards the dog or hold it in front of your chest. There is no such thing as a suicide rabbit that will jump into a dog’s mouth. Older dogs can be told to “Sit,” while you hold the tug next to your side so that it can be seen clearly and you can move it away as you give the play command.

The “Out” “Aus” “Give” etc. command must be practiced separately before using it in the game.

Young dogs need not be given the “Out” command too soon. An exchange for a treat should work in the beginning.