Leash Aggression

LEASH_AGGRESSION_FeaturedLeash lunging, leash reactivity and leash aggression are all behaviors that are caused by a dog feeling restrained, frustrated and uncomfortable in a social situation while attached to a leash. In normal circumstances, an unleashed dog would be able to put sufficient distance between himself and a fear source. But if the same dog is leashed and unable to increase that distance, he will react or behave defensively in the hope that the fear source will go away.

If your dog’s behavior is reinforced by success (meaning distance has been increased), he is likely to react in the same manner again when faced with a similar stimulus.

Walking a dog that lunges and aggresses on leash is not a pleasant experience. The anticipation of a problem tends to cause human tension, which is transmitted down the leash to the dog, effectively making the lunging behavior worse. Dog and owner are then locked in a vicious cycle of tension and leash lunging that becomes hard to change.

How Do I Train My Leash Reactive Dog?
The first step to stopping your dog lunging is first identifying the cause of his discomfort, and then working to desensitize him to the stimulus that makes him uncomfortable. At the same time, you will be conditioning him to see that the stimulus is no longer cause for concern.

If you have a dog that is social, and who lunges on a lead because he is frustrated and just wants to get to the stimulus, you have to teach him that lunging achieves nothing, while calm behavior results in him being able to greet. If you have a social, yet frustrated dog, simply turn and walk him away from the source until he is calm and only allow him to greet when the leash is loose.

Do not punish a dog that lunges on the leash for any reason, especially if the cause of the behavior is insecurity, which is the case for most dogs.

Put the emphasis on giving your dog something else to do in that moment instead of using punishment, which will help him be more comfortable in the situation.

Punishment Makes It Worse Punishment makes leash lunging behavior worse and a dog more insecure because the dog begins to associate the punishment with the stimulus that he fears. For example, if your dog does not like other dogs and is punished for reacting badly each time he sees another dog, the visual of the dog will then be associated with the fear or pain of the punishment. Therefore in the dog’s mind, seeing a dog means unpleasant things happen to him, which promotes a really negative association: approaching dogs equal pain or fear.
Change How Your Dog Feels About the Threat
By using positive reinforcement techniques you can actually change the way your dog feels about a certain situation for the better and therefore change his emotional and behavioral response.

  • For example, when your dog sees another dog in the distance and is curious but not yet uncomfortable, bring out his favorite toy or food and play with him or feed him. The toys or food you use have to be of the highest value and only used when doing this teaching around other dogs.
  • Playing or feeding your dog will help him to not only focus on something else when he is in the proximity of another dog, but the pleasure he gets playing or eating will change the way he perceives the outcome of that dog’s presence.
  • Now he is associating the sight of another dog with positive things happening to him that make him feel good. This is the key to changing the way your dog feels.

Remember, punishment serves to suppress behavior at that moment, but does not help to change the way a dog feels emotionally, while using these positive techniques will have longer lasting success.


Desensitizing Your Leash Reactive Dog
Desensitizing your dog to a perceived threat, such as an approaching dog, may happen very quickly, or it might take a period of time. Every dog is different and it is important to go at your dog’s pace.

To teach your dog to be comfortable with other dogs passing by, start by having a friend or trainer bring their calm, non-reactive dog to help you.

  • Begin the training by having them stand at a distance where your dog is comfortable and can focus on other things.
  • Play a game your dog enjoys, give him his favorite toy or feed him some delicious food.
  • If your dog shows no signs of discomfort, ask your helper to bring their dog a little closer.
  • Continue to play or feed your dog and give plenty of praise.
  • If at any time your dog reacts negatively, simply turn around and walk away from the situation until he calms down enough to play again or accept food.
  • If your dog is reacting negatively, you have decreased the distance too quickly. Move the helper dog back to a distance where your dog can relax and repeat the process.

Provide a 'Security Blanket' Some dogs that lunge on leash need a 'security blanket' when they walk. These act rather like a pacifier. These dogs find it really comforting to carry something they love in their mouths for all or part of the walk, keeping them relaxed in the environment. A beloved toy might be all you need to help your dog relax. How Long Will Training Take?
Training might take time depending on your dog’s level of discomfort, but do not give up, as this training technique has an impressive success rate. Stay calm and relaxed yourself throughout the process and gradually work up to the point where the other dog is able to walk past as your dog focuses on you or stays calmly by your side.

  • When you get to the point where you can walk past other dogs with no reaction at all, your dog might be ready to experience his first greeting.
  • Do not allow unconfident dogs to greet face to face to begin with as it can be too much pressure, so practice following the other dog or walking parallel with each other until both dogs are comfortable.
  • If your dog is relaxed, then you can both walk in an arc towards each other, have your dogs greet for a few seconds face to face and then happily draw them away from each other, rewarding them for making this huge step.
  • When it is appropriate, try going for regular walks with your dog’s new friend and begin adding other dogs to the mix until you can get a regular walking group together.
  • Simply experiencing the joys of a walk with other dogs will help your dog feel more comfortable around them.

Bottom Line
Like most aggressive responses, leash aggression is usually rooted in a dog's fear of a person, place or thing. To manage the behavior, you must first identify what is causing the fear, and then work to desensitize the dog to that fear by utilizing positive training methods. Never punish a leash aggressive dog with leash jerks or physical force, as this will only increase the dog's fear and unconfidence in that situation. Successfully managing leash aggression can take time, but as long as you stay consistent and provide positive alternatives to how the dog experiences things, you can literally change how the dog feels about being on the leash.

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41 thoughts on “Leash Aggression

  1. Linda White

    We adopted an English Setter at 6 years of age and not neutered. First thing we did was get that fixed, but I think his problem with dog aggression on the leash is totally different than any of the descriptions in this article. Sam spent almost 6 years in a kennel by himself, there were other dogs around but they only interacted during hunting. He simply did not know how to play with another dog (we already had another dog that was also a rescued, a female).
    It took about 3 months of daily walks before he showed the aggression. We don't even have to be near them, they can be more than 50 feet away, across a busy street, but if they are on a leash he seems to know it. Dogs that are behind a fence or on a chain that is not close to him, he ignores, but if the fence is beside the sidewalk, he will get aggressive. We've had dogs come after us, neither one seems willing to actually bite the other, just a lot of noise and teeth showing. Everyone told me that it was simply him protecting me, but he finally started doing it with my husband, on walks only, never in the field hunting with other dogs. He finally started to play with Maya, my other dog, about 6 months after we got him, but my daughters dog, a female, he barely tolerated her for the longest time. Now it's more like a benevolence between them, Hazel respects him, he basically ignores her 90% of the time, but we have seen him play with her a couple of minutes, and they've been curled up together on a pillow.
    So, when we are on our walks and I see another dog or dogs approaching, we usually step off the sidewalk and I make him sit. He still might bark, but he's not allowed to get out of control. I just wish he could ignore these other dogs, because often the other people don't bother to try to control their dogs. That just burns me when that happens, I usually end up having to walk 40-50 feet off the sidewalk then.

  2. Gill Evans

    Hi we have a 2 year old Border Collie who has issues with cars. He lunges, jumps, spins and crawls flat on his belly when one comes up the road. We have taken him to behaviour classes but these didn't work so we are left hoping that it is just a typical collie thing and he will eventually grow out of it, as many people have told us. We had him from a sanctuary at 6 months and were aware that he had problems on the lead as that was the reason why his previous owners got rid of him and the staff at the sanctuary had been unable to walk him through the lanes as it was unsafe. We have had collies before so know they can sometimes stress with traffic. As soon as we put his lead on he begins to pant and lick as if he's tasting something (we know this is stress related). As soon as he is away from the cars and the road he is back to his normal self, he loves running and playing fetch with his ball. I've had 6 months of physio due to the damage to my shoulder through his constant pulling and we have just had him neutered in the hope this will help him calm down. Hate to see his anxiety over walks

  3. Clare Neal

    Hi Victoria, We have a 8 year old border collie called Alfie who is an adorable cuddly boy until he is out on a walk and see's another dog. this results in a flipping about snarling barking and im gonna rip your throat out action. my husband and I have both been bitten when this has occured (myself quite badly) when he has red zoned because at that point in time he doesnt appear to see anything he just kicks off and if you happen to be near his mouth you get caught. As I say perfect in all other ways not aggresive in the least but walking has to be done via my husband now as he would pull me over lunging, he also does the car lunging but only now and then (mainly loud and large) we would love to be able to take him to the park when we wanted but its always a case of timing it right so no other dogs are about incase he flips.the odd thing is he has ran about playing ok if the dog is over the far far distance but if it approaches whoa. we think it is a case with him that if he is off leash (when this behaviour was unknown , hes is a rescue) and can freeely escape its not to bad. we know basically that its fear aggression/leash aggression but are at a loss to stop it. we have done the toy to carry which results in same anxiety but lots of busted toys 🙂 we have tried the walk on ignore and keep calm as not to transmit down leash bit and we have tried we're more interesting than that we are playing/feeding you and as a last resort we tried the lie down bit too. none of these work 100 % and we are seemingly getting nipped a few more times some days than others. Can you help Advise please Victoria. Yours hopefully Clare

  4. Cindy WH

    We have a corgi/cattledog mix and he lunges randomly at cars and sometimes people. He loves people but I can't figure out the car thing because it's so unpredictable. I wonder if he's being protective of us or afraid of the cars. Since it doesn't happen all the time, I have tried to analyze the root of the problem but the only consistent thing is that it is inconsistent and scary because I'm afraid he's going to get hurt if I have a moment when I hold the leash too loosely. I usually stop in my tracks when he starts pulling and never scold him. Advice? Btw, he's a rescue from a prison rehabilitation program and is thought to have been hit by a car when he was originally picked up by a pet shelter program. Thanks in advance!

  5. Ingrid

    Wonderful! I've always been a fan, and am thrilled to see this nicely specific protocol. Going to look for more.

  6. TheModernDogTrainer

    Leash aggression and reactivity is a tough one. This is a great article. Thank you for sharing this important information with dog owners.

  7. Max

    here's is another situation: I am walking my dog on leash, when a big unleashed happy-go-lucky big puppy joins in. He wants to play and does so by pestering my dog and placing his paws on my dog's shoulders. My dog handles it pretty well, seems not impressed and at times seems like he wants to play. As soon as the other owner leashes his pup my dog starting complaining and barking semi-aggressively at the pup, as if to say "I had enough of your antics." Should I have avoided that situation? How to behave?

  8. Connie Forst

    My dog lunges every time a car goes past him. He also barks in the car when other cars drive by us on the road. I'm going to try the "Pacifier" method to help desensitize him to cars. I'm going to give him his favorite ball when we go outside to carry in his mouth. If he does not lunge when a car goes by and he has the ball in his mouth, I'm going to positively praise him and shower him with attention when he does not lunge at a passing car. Does this sound like a good method to use? He's grown into a very strong dog and he has pulled me off my feet when lunging at a car. This is dangerous behavior because he could possibly pull us into the path of an oncoming car.

  9. Rachel

    I have a black lab and she likes to smell everything! Anything she sees, she's pulling you in that direction. Do you have any tips to avoid this?

  10. Samsfriend

    Thanks for a very helpful article- Will surely try the recommendations! We have a large lab-hound mix (about 100 pounds) that we adopted from a shelter about 18 months ago. He has come a long way and is very good most of the time but he can be unpredictable - Sometimes, he's ok with a squirrel appearing in his sites - sometime he will suddenly bolt at the squirrel (or something he thinks he hears or sees) - When we're out walking, he will pass by another person with a dog quietly, and sometimes growl and bark - When we stop to greet someone with a dog, he'll be great while we're standing there talking then start barking and carrying on once we move away from each other - Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  11. Ann Davis

    I took on a 2 yr old dog, last June, only to discover that his aggression levels were more than I had ever dealt with. It didn't help that he was very strong. I have pretty much stopped his dog/human aggression, but his dog aggression is still bad. Given choice he wouldn't run away, he would launch a full on I'm going to kill you attack! No one said it would be a short road, but I know we will get there ... eventually.

  12. Loz

    Thank you so much for this help - I have a rescue dog who was living on the streets in Spain and is VERY leash aggressive. I have discovered that I have been doing all the wrong things 🙁 I'm now going to try this approach and see how we get on - thanks again

  13. charles

    we have a 9 month labpoodle, he is great in the park when off the lead friendly and playful with other dogs and also good when on the lead in the park...but when he goes out for a late night walk he has a lot of leash aggression especially if someone walks past him...what can I do????

  14. Erin McDonagh

    My dog is fine greeting other dogs on leash and walking with other dogs, but the minute she realizes that it's time to walk away from the other dog (or that the dog is going to pass her without a greet) she goes nuts: lunging and barking and flailing. I've tried redirecting her, making her sit while other dogs pass, and just trying to walk her away. I'm not sure how to fix this. She loves other dogs...just maybe too much.

  15. Roberta

    I am unable to put a leash of any kind on my dog. Tried lasso, harness, etc tried trickery sneaking up treats outside in open area so not to feel cornered... No avail without getting bitten puncture wounds... Only to go to the vet and groomer and asked to put a muzzle on ... He's a 3 yr old English springer who used to go for walks on leash constantly then moved to my home when my daughter moved back and I have large fenced in yard with doggie door so could come and go at his leisure.

  16. kirsty

    My dog picks n chooses the dogs he lunges at most of the time he is fine and will say hello but then for some reason there will be a dog he lunges and growls at also if he's off lead he will pick out the only dog on a lead and go for it

  17. Anne Springer

    I'm so glad to see the differentiation made between dogs that are frustrated or exuberant, for which operant conditioning is so useful in teaching impulse control, and those which are genuinely afraid (or even aggressive) with which we can use desensitization and counter-conditioning. Force free trainer, Jennifer Titus, PCT-A, has made a terrific resource available for people who want some additional help with reactive dogs, or who don't have a PPG or VSPDT trainer nearby. Her site is http://www.careforreactivedogs.com.

  18. Helen mcguirl

    Thank you I will try this. I'm at that frustrated stage nothing I do deters my dog from Barking an lunging. Fingers crossed

  19. Lana

    Thank you. This is great. Do you have any tips about how to help a deaf dog whose not as food driven when aggressive on the leash to become desensitized? It's hard to get him to pay attention and he freaks out around other dogs.

  20. Mary Feuer

    If you've already done it the wrong way - pulling him back and all that - can it be undone? I have a 5 year old, new to me, and have no idea how his leash has been handled in the past by previous people.

  21. Sarah

    So is it okay to correct my dog as in a firm 'No'? My dog will almost refuse to move when she is barking at another dog. The only way she will move is if I literally drag her and I hate doing that.

    This evening I had 3 sets of dogs (all being walked separately by 3 different owners) coming from the side, behind and in front. I had nowhere to go and no clue what to do while my dog was barking and lunging.

    When people tell you to keep the leash loose yet if you let it loose your dog would run at the other dog. I have to keep it tight otherwise she will make contact with the other dog.

    I have no clue how to stop her and I think my actions are making her worse. She's been to dog training and the trainer put her in with other aggressive dogs and she got bit so it put me off trainers and I haven't taken her to one since.

  22. Kristina Edwards

    So my puppy is 5 months. He is a sbeperd mix. He was rescued and had a very rough start. I was able to get him socialized with our two dogs at home and now that he has his shots finished I can socialize him with other dogs..the problem is he has leash aggression.. he started playing at a doggie daycare twice a week and it's helping, however when on the leash, he seems to do OK at first...his tail is wagging but then his hair stands up and he starts growling..therefore I pull him away before anything further happens....

  23. Lauren Joy

    My main issue is with passing dogs in their yards while we're out for a walk, there's one particular dog that started it all, any time we walked past it barks like mad and chases up and down the fence and my dog barks back at it and goes nuts. All the advice I've found is for when other dogs out on their walks are approaching, so I can't just make my dog sit and treat her until the other dog passes. I've tried walking in the opposite direction until she's calm and trying again, no luck there, we tried walking with a mission and she still goes nuts, I've tried jogging past the house, walking on the opposite side of the road, trying to distract her, nothing helps. And now she's just started running up to other dogs barking like crazy just to say hello because now she thinks it's appropriate, so much so that my friend's new puppy wet himself when she did it to him.
    I need something to change because my new pup is starting to pick up on that and he's a Dachshund (she's a dachshund mix) so I don't need any aggressive behaviour!

  24. Heeler Ha Ha

    Truly, literally random. We can take our dog into a local self serve dog wash, everything will be ok. Three more dogs come in behind us, on the third and sometimes the second, *bark bark bark* Sometimes it's one, sometimes it's 5. Srsly, it would make my life easier if he read these articles and did leash a aggression the right way! He's baffled and "punked" every trainer so far. All 5 of them! When we go herding, sometimes he barks at the goats, other times he will get tired enough to stop barking, sometimes he keeps barking. Sometimes he armchair quarterbacks other dogs, sometimes he doesn't. Our most recent clinic he was barking so much, another attendee suggested painting a little sheep on his face bc he was acting like a crazed football fan in a bar! I keep telling him he isn't doing leash reactivity right, he just gives me his Heeler grin and trots along, probably laughing at his little Heeler jokes !

  25. amy

    my dog, since being attacked has become very nervous around other dogs. i have tried slowly introducing other friendly dogs and slowly we have been getting there. i now have a new pup, the 2 are getting along fine but for some reason my first dog has began barking and lunging at other dogs whilst we are out walking

  26. Daniel

    Great topic and great explanation to the behavioral topic. Proper leash control can or cannot be your friend. Applying a correction at the wrong time can actually worsen matters. As a Master trainer, many years back, I was trained using the application use of an e collar. I understood this concept fast, the wrong time, the worst outcome (I rarely use an e collar), it also can cause negative feedback, which can cause a fearful dog or high anxiety dog, to crawl up the leash!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f08b830c5ed6cfacd8345cd894d02601a8b70dbab5aae3bf31cc059dd074214e.jpg to crawl up the leash.

  27. Maria Gomez Salcedo

    Hi, I have a rescue dog that I believe may have been abused in who knows how many ways. She was witnessed kicked out of a big rig and when my husband brought her home to me, it was apparent that she had a recent litter. She didn't show any leash reactivity or aggression toward other dogs until a few months passed. Nor did she show any reaction toward persons outside of the family when they'd come over for quite a while. Then, suddenly it happened, she reacted on the leash with my daughter when walked and had an encounter with another owner walking their dog. She reacted, my husband was with my daughter and attempted to take control of the leash and was bitten in the leg. My husband was furious but allowed me to keep her AFTER much pleading that she had issues. Then 2-3 months later, the same happened to me while walking her and a little unleashed dog came out of nowhere AND a young boy on his bike started running toward us and I became so frightened I started yelling and my dog bit me on the side of my left leg near lower part of knee. That was last year November and the bruise and scar is still there. She's wonderful with my cats and my family. I've yet to introduce her to my other three dogs that I keep separated in the basement living space. I'm afraid she would want to fight them. My Siberian husky is a healthy 5 year old and could probably fight if needed but I e never seen him aggressive. And my other two are 13 year old small rat and chi terrier mixes. My rescue is a pit mix. It's been a year this July 2016. If I don't tame her from this type of behavior, I don't know what to do. I since had her vaccinated and vet checked and spayed. Found out she had a heart murmur. I feel so bad for her more now because I know nobody will want her with a medical issue too on top of her other leash aggression. Since the bite episode last November with me, I started muzzling her and use a regular Kong brand collar and leash AND a Kong harness. I believe my dog was possibly used in fights with other dogs. I don't know. I do feel the need to leash at home for most of the day because I'm afraid she will run out the door when opened. I read your article and see that it's wrong. What can I do to stop her from aggression toward other dogs or people too when she spits them. It really concerns me to the point where I'm so stressed. I can't even trust anyone else to walk her because I fear they don't or won't know how to handle her. When I see people or animals approaching us while walking, I cross the street or walk on the street until they pass us. Is she trainable? Please help me with any advice. Thank you

  28. Andrea Prickett

    Hi our five year old female Pointer is highly reactive when in the back of our car. She is fine when humans walk past or even approach the car and talk to us but if we drive past someone who is walking their dog or a car with a dog in it drives past us while we are moving she goes ballistic. We just don't know what has triggered this or how to handle it. She is reactive on lead as well, if we work on the lead reactivity will it help the car reactivity?

  29. Katy

    My dog (Malamute) has just started to get aggressive every now and then on the leash. Its usually towards slightly smaller more timid dogs. I know I'm not doing the best thing to stop it long term as I get worried for the other dog and not wanting the owner to get scared. I grab her and hold her firmly by the neck collar until she sits and calms (usually as they walk away) and say "no"
    She is a friendly dog otherwise who goes to a great daycare with lots of other dogs of all shapes, sizes and personalities. As well as living with a chihuahua.
    How can I start helping her?

  30. Anastasia71

    I'm ready to KILL my dog. Sincerely thinking about ditching him at the pound with a note that says "good luck!" As he's learning better habits and becoming calmer, he's also becoming MORE rough/aggressive with me when he does lunge and he's pulling so hard on any lead I can tell he's hurting himself. But he doesn't stop. Even as he's being better and learning to sit and relax, he's becoming WORSE during the times he does lunge. I'm at my wits end. I can't restrain him without hurting him but I also REFUSE to spend HOURS and DAYS and WEEKS of my time shoving treats down his maw trying to train him at his GLACIAL learning pace to be calm and not pull. Just so sick and DONE of his crap right now.

  31. D

    Many of us have been there. I'm sorry for your situation and when I get this frustrated I have to stop and regathering my gumption. Let the dog be a dog while i recompose. maybe you need to give up the dog, maybe not. My advice would be to not get another if you do.

  32. Dog lover

    Have you tried a gentle leader (halti)? It acts as a head harness like people use on horses. It prevents them from hurting themselves, and they also can't pull as hard with their head. Good luck!

  33. MaryAnn

    Hi, I have a almost 3 year old male Chihuahua. He goes to doggie daycare twice a week and we have been in training for over three months. In his class he has been with three larger dogs at first he was aggressive but over time he has gotten better. Also in daycare he is doing well. So between the trainer and daycare we have figured out it is only when he is with me. Any suggestions on how to handle his aggression if its attached to me.

  34. Leta Lou

    i have a 3 month old puppy who rolls and bites the leash...she weights 21 pounds...so it is not a great situation when she growls and bites at the leash ( and me as well). help!

  35. Positively

    Hi Anna, we recommend a consultation with a qualified trainer to give you some tips on how to manage or change this behavior. It is impossible to give you good advice without seeing your pup's behavior, I'm afraid.
    For immediate help, I recommend that you visit our website and plug in your zip code or city to see if there is a VSPDT local to you. If there isn't, there is always the option of doing a phone consultation with one of them.
    Here is the link to search for a VSPDT:
    Here is the link to request a phone consultation:
    Either way, you should be able to get some very much-needed help.
    The Team at Positively

  36. Positively

    Hi Spanielli,
    I recommend a consultation with a qualified trainer to give you some tips on how to manage or change this behavior. It is impossible to give you good advice without seeing your pup's behavior, I'm afraid.
    For immediate help, I recommend that you visit our website and plug in your zip code or city to see if there is a VSPDT local to you. If there isn't, there is always the option of doing a phone consultation with one of them.
    Here is the link to search for a VSPDT:
    Here is the link to request a phone consultation:
    Either way, you should be able to get some very much-needed help.
    The Team at Positively

  37. Lisa Russo

    We adopted our dog a little over 2 years ago (he is about 4 now). He has always had a fear of strangers when on leash, men in particular. We have tried working through it with treats when strangers walk by and always keeping a distance from them. Recently when he was with a dog sitter he nipped at a man, ripping the sleeve of his shirt. I attributed this to being somewhere/with someone he wasn't completely familiar with and being on leash. Today, he nipped at my (male) neighbor while on a walk. He did not break the skin, but he did rip a hole in his shirt. My dog HAS met my neighbor before multiple times. He has been in our house with him, petting him. He has been in our driveway playing baseball with out kids, WITH our dog. I do not want my dog fearing strangers/men, and I especially do not want him acting aggressively towards anyone. We do work with a trainer, but any more advice would be greatly appreciated.

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