What to Do When Your Dog Bites the Leash or Shakes the Leash

Puppies will bite and tug on the leash because they’re silly and immature and trying to figure out the whole leash-walking concept.

When older puppies or adult dogs do this, it’s obnoxious and sometimes escalates to aggressive leash shaking. Some dogs will even jump up and nip the owner’s clothes or worse.

This can be dangerous and scary.

I’ve received several emails about this problem lately. So I have a favor …

Please leave your suggestions or questions in the comments because these discussions are really helpful for others.

What to do when your dog bites the leash

The following is my list of ideas on what to do if your dog bites and tugs at the leash.

I recommend you read over the post and then pick and choose what might work for your situation.

Also, get help from a professional trainer if you need it. It’s scary when your dog starts biting and jumping at you. What starts out as play or mild frustration can quickly escalate to real aggression. Even with a small dog, this can become a serious problem.

I divided this post into 3 sections:

  1. Determining what the problem is.
  2. Tools that can help.
  3. Additional ideas and advice.

OK, here we go …

What to do when your dog bites the leash

First, determine what’s causing the problem.

Biting on the leash is often related to:

  • Excitement!
  • Frustration (Bored with the walk, bored with training)
  • Pent-up energy and lack of exercise

Are there more? Let me know in the comments.

Here are six examples why a dog might bite the leash, but they’re all related to excitement, frustration or energy. See if any of these describe your dog.

1. The dog is full of energy or immature.

The dog doesn’t know what to do with his energy, so he bites the leash.

If this sounds like your dog, look for ways to increase his exercise in general. Perhaps longer walks more frequently or visiting the off-leash dog park. Use a dog backpack to give your dog a “job” and burn more energy.

See my post: Why exercise is more important than training

2. The dog is so excited to go for a walk that she can’t contain herself.

She’s tugging on the leash because she’s excited! “Let’s go!” she says.

Perhaps playing fetch or tug (with a toy) in the yard right before your walk might help. Or, the opposite, work on some simple cues like sit or stay to turn your dog’s energy down a notch before a walk. Use high-valued treats if needed.

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3. The dog doesn’t want the walk to end.

Some dogs bite at the leash because they’re not ready to go home.

Try changing your route so your dog doesn’t anticipate when the walk will end. You could turn around randomly and pass the house or go a totally different direction than you normally do.

Towards the end of the walk, use treats to work on simple behaviors like sit/stay to help calm your dog.

4. The dog is super excited to be home after a walk.

Some dogs bite and tug on the leash because they’re excited to be home! Instead of letting him run around after your walk, try working on some “calming” commands like down/stay and then calmly putting him in his kennel with a bully stick or Kong toy for some quiet time.

5. The dog is frustrated or bored during training.

If your dog bites the leash during training, end your training sessions sooner or take more breaks.

My dog Remy will sometimes throw a “tantrum” in obedience class by jumping on me and grabbing the leash. I know he’s tired or bored when this happens so we walk away for a few seconds and then re-group.

See my posts: 

6. Does your dog have to go to the bathroom? Is he hungry?

Sounds silly but sometimes the dog is just trying to communicate something simple to you. For example, Remy was suddenly jumping at me and biting me while we were seated in a dog friendly brewery … turns out he had to poop really bad! Thank goodness I decided to take him out for a quick walk.

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Tools that can help stop your dog from biting the leash:

Here are several tools that can help stop your dog from biting the leash. Pick and choose what might work for your unique dog.

1. A chain leash or chew proof leash. Dogs generally don’t like to bite on chains or cable. Watch your fingers with these leashes though! You do not want to get your finger or your dog’s paw caught in a chain. Remy chewed on his leather leash as a younger puppy. A chain leash put a stop to that!

Order a chain leash here.

Order a chew proof cable leash here.

2. A muzzle. This may be extreme for some of you but not for others. It’s likely only temporary. You can train your dog to accept the muzzle by putting it on, taking it right off and giving a treat. Or if you have a basket muzzle you can put some peanut butter in it. Make it fun for your dog, not a punishment. Order a soft muzzle here.

3. Gentle Leader or Halti. A Gentle Leader fits over the dog’s muzzle and can give you more control. Introduce it slowly and reward your dog. Or consider a martingale training collar. Find the right collar that gives you the most control of your dog. A harness generally does not give you the most control of a dog that jumps or bites the leash.

4. Dog backpack. To give your dog a “job” and something to focus on. This also helps drain energy. I recommend RuffWear.

Dog backpack

5. High-valued treats. Treats will help some dogs focus. Try to put the leash on and off your dog when he is calm. Ask for a sit/stay before and after you leash your dog. Then give a treat.

If you can recognize when he’s about to have an “outburst” try working on some quick, simple tricks or commands for treats to switch his brain to something else. We recommend Zuke’s minis treats.

6. Bitter apple spray. The spray won’t harm your dog and usually they don’t like the taste. Spray a bit on the leash as a deterrent. Unfortunately, you might get it on your own hands. You could wear gloves.

Bitter apple spray for dogs

7. Electronic collar with a remote. Find someone who can help you with this if you’re not experienced. Put the e-collar on a low setting and correct the instant she jumps on you or bites the leash. It should be one quick correction. Then reward when she stops. Email Lindsay@ThatMutt.com if you need help with e-collar training.

8. A tug toy. Offer the toy to your dog as an alternative to tugging the leash. Or, give her a ball or other toy. If her mouth is full she’s not going to tug the leash. (Sometimes this can backfire and make the dog even more riled up. Know your dog.)

Other general ideas to stop your dog from biting the leash:

Here are some additional training ideas to stop your dog from biting the leash or shaking the leash.

1. Try a firm ‘no’ but don’t correct over and over.

If your dog is sensitive, you might be able to give a firm “no” and a quick tug correction on the leash with a command like sit. This might snap him out of it. To be honest, I’ve even bopped my dog on the nose for jumping and nipping at me.

On the other hand, repeatedly tugging and correcting your dog will likely get him even more excited or aggressive. Instead, try gently and calmly pulling up on the collar until he calms down if you are comfortable doing so.

You can also see if ignoring your dog works by truly showing no emotion and turning away from him. Try to keep the leash loose. One person said she will tether the leash to a tree or post and take a few steps away until her dog calms down.

2. Sign up for obedience classes.

Just working on the basics regularly and having a trainer and peers to bounce around ideas with can make a big difference.

3. Try to “switch” your dog’s brain.

Toss a handful of treats on the ground, not as a reward but to snap the brain out of it. Ask for a simple “sit” or quickly walk off in another direction with your dog following.

How to stop a dog from biting the leash

4. Change your routine to block or prevent the behavior.

It’s easier to prevent your dog from biting the leash that trying to stop it once it’s happening. For example, my dog Remy will bite the leash as I’m trying to put it on him.

To prevent this, I just send him to his kennel for a treat. Then I easily put the leash on him while he’s in his kennel and much calmer.

5. Take it in stride.

If your dog’s biting the leash is not a big problem and it’s just something “fun” she does for a few seconds, perhaps it’s nothing to worry about.

OK, now I’d love to hear from you …

In the comments, let me know what suggestions or questions you might have. It’s very helpful for others to hear from a variety of people.

How would you stop a dog from biting the leash?

-Lindsay

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What to do when your dog bites the leash

29 thoughts on “What to Do When Your Dog Bites the Leash or Shakes the Leash”

  1. I have a hyper 16 week old puppy, I am sure you hear this a lot but mine exceeds all others I have ever seen. I am exercising him a lot, between 4-6hr of off leash forest walks every day, he runs almost the whole time, plus a couple hours play time one on one in the yard and an hour or so of training sprinkled about the day. He often still runs around the yard on his own playing in his pool or with the sprinklers etc. Often he seems stiff in the morning when he gets up and I am concerned he is doing to much but he wants more! He has one speed and I cant wait until I can truly run and ride with him.
    The issue I am struggling with is he keeps steeling my clothing, socks, cycling shorts, run shorts, t shirts, whatever he can get, even if I catch him in the act he runs with the clothing to his special place under a shrub and snuggles with the clothing mouthing it, so far he has not chewed anything. when I take the clothing back I say NO and Bad, and he seems remorseful, sometimes even sheepishly bringing me the clothing as I approach him, I cant get him to stop this, any ideas? Some times it is a game for him as he will show me he has the item then run wanting to be chased, other times he is very stealthy trying to avoid me.

    Thankyou

    Dan

  2. Christina Moran

    My youngest dog did this at his agility class in between runs when he was waiting for his turn. He is now just over 1 year old and it rarely happens. I used to feel like I spent most of class telling him no and taking the leash out of his mouth.

  3. My boxer jumped and nipped at me in over-excitement every time I walked in the backyard with her. The jumping and biting hurt. What I found stopped the behaviour was to put a leash on her, then when she jumped and nipped at me, I put my foot on the leash, pulling the leash shorter until she had to go into a down. Then I kept her in the down position with my foot on the leash until she calmed down. She learned quickly from this that what she was doing wasn’t acceptable behaviour.

  4. I think my poor pup is excited to go outside since it is warming up and she is tired of being cooped up. She sometimes looks at the table where I have her leash or she has even grabbed it herself a couple times.

    And, now that it is warming up, we need to work on her walking. She doesn’t pull horribly, but she gets bull-headed and not want to move if watching something interesting, or she does not want to go into the house. Should I “bribe” her with treats to come back into the house? Isn’t that reinforcing a non-favorable behavior?

  5. I’m a pet sitter. My favorite dog was doing this and was a problem for me. Bilateral knee replacements mean I’m not as stable on my feet as I once was. Owners took to trainer using e-collar. Worked great, for all kinds of issues. Stay, come, lurching on leash. Worked great for this particular case.

  6. As a volunteer dog walker for our local SPCA, some of the dogs are overly excited as they come out of their kennel and bite the leash. Usually it stops as we get outside and their attention is on smelling the area. Recently one of the larger dogs would constantly jump up trying to bite not only the leash but my hand with an audible chomp. I put his hips tightly between my legs and held on to the back of his collar so I could re-adjust my hold on the leash closer to his collar. With a couple of corrections, he didn’t jump again and was actually good for the remainder of our walk.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’ve had that happen to me too and it can be scary! I’m glad you were able to correct him, for his sake and yours as well as the other volunteers.

  7. Help! , my 7 year old female Boston Terrier Zippy flips out big time when I try to walk her she aggressively grabs the leash and full body shakes it so hard she has hurt herself and me. Her eyeballs look like there going to pop out she’s breathing hard won’t listen she is in total panic mode! It wasn’t always like this, I have 2 Boston’s and we use to walk all the time together till one day a lady with 2 aggressive dogs was walking by and she lost control of her dogs, they dragged her onto my front lawn then attacked us while we were just leaving for a walk . I did a good job protecting them (mama bear came out) but zippy has never walked on leash since, it’s been almost 4 years now I’ve tried different harness, anti anxiety wrap shirt, watched Caesar videos, contacted a few dog trainers who told me they don’t help train the dogs that were attacked only dogs to not attack . Every time I try to take her out I feel like it’s torture for her so I stopped trying and just play ball in back yard with her. I feel like she has pent up energy and she truly use to enjoy walking. She loves people even other dogs . Is there anything I can do ?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Does she like car rides? I’m just trying to think of ways to change her routine and her “triggers.” I’m thinking you could drive to a park and get out and walk there. It might be the act of putting the leash on in your entryway that triggers her habit of shaking the leash.

      Another thought … you could order a totally different type of leash. Like a nylon instead of leather or vice versa. And maybe a different collar or harness just for the sake of changing the routine. And try putting it by a different entryway. Maybe try some high-valued treats, even dropping a handful on the floor right after you put her leash and collar on to snap her brain out of “tug” mode. Or hand her a squeaky toy or something else to hold. Then maybe try jogging or walking quickly outside, and head in a different direction than normal.

      That would be my thought, think of ways to change her routine and her brain’s “triggers.” And don’t feel sorry for her, just go! Maybe also walk the two dogs separately so you can focus on her for now.

      Also, if she loves any of your friends’ dogs, maybe meet up for a walk if she’s not scared of them so she can have more positive experiences.

      1. I’m getting a chain leash today going to try that & I like your suggestion of putting her harness on at a different entrance of the house and leaving through a different door. I’m going to make a play date with my friend and her dog, who zippy likes … so fingers crossed .. thank you for the ideas. It’s hard to not feel bad for her I feel like she has PTSD but I’ve got to just go ! So we can move past it. Thank you bunches!

          1. “Update!” Tears of joy! Lindsay your a dog angel. I took your advice and I’m thrilled to say it worked I’m so happy I had to let you know ASAP. I took zippy by herself to backyard put her harness on and leash I just bought that is a heavy chain leash, walked out the backyard gate (first time I’ve taken her this way for a walk) she looked at new leash twice and walked on !! We had a wonderful walk around the neighborhood. Not one time did she grab leash and not one time did she show stress. I can’t believe it, it’s been 4 years since we were attacked and she hasn’t walked on a leash till today! I literally had tears of joy. I’ve asked vets and tried to hire dog trainers to no avail or help. Changing her leash to a chain and changing where she exits our home worked!! I can’t believe it. Every day we will do the same thing and hopefully she will one day be able to walk with my other dog again . This is a huge step for us. Huge! I’m so thankful I found your website and all your information. Thank you Lindsay, big hug from zipper too!

          2. Lindsay Stordahl

            Oh thank goodness! So glad it helped! Let me know how she’s doing in a few weeks.

  8. *one month update*
    It’s been one month since I found this site and asked for help for zippy. I am thrilled to tell you zippy & I have enjoyed daily walks, hikes & park adventures over the last month. I also frequently get thumbs up from my neighbors who have watched us struggle with zippy’s walking anxiety in the past. Realizing zip’s trigger was exiting the front door we now leave through back door every time without any issues. With her daily walks has also come a peace about her at home. The chain leash played the most important role, when she stopped thinking of grabbing her leash she focused on actually walking. Lindsay thank so very very much for your information & help it’s changed our lives for the better. Zippy is a much happier doggie thanks to you!

  9. We homed Axel a 5yr old Mastiff x Shar Pei from the dog shelter a year ago. He is a lovely boy and we have had a few issues which we have managed – such as him thinking he is on the same level as our 14 year old son. However, we are really struggling with him on the lead. When we walk past a dog behind a fence/gate, another dog on a lead or if he see’s a cat he turns round to bite his lead, quite aggressively. I have tried a harness with a metal lead which stopped the biting but he was pulling too much and the metal lead was just not long enough. We changed him to a halti and a longer lead which helps with the pulling but when he is passing another dog/cat/dog behind fence he now shakes his head really aggressively and jumps up and round to bite the lead.
    I take him on a good 5km walk every morning and he is let off the lead a couple of times during this and is very good at socializing BUT another problem we have is his addiction to balls. If someone at the park has a ball and flinger he goes up to them often jumping up for the ball. He has his 5km walk/run in the morning and in the evening we take him to the park for ball time. He is only then focused on the ball and nothing else and no other dogs. On the way home if we are unable to get the ball from him he keeps it in his mouth, again, and sometimes for no reason, at a certain spot he shakes his head, in fact so aggressive is this that his dog tag took a chunk of flesh from his side. We have tried him on calming tablets, its just so embarrassing, especially walking past a dog on a lead he has previously been playing with when off the lead.

      1. I have the same problem when walking my Luna she is fine on her own when seeing another dog, the excitement is there but I can get her to sit and stay , good girl and all that , with treats she is a foody. But walk my other other one with her she will twist round bite the lead and go mad ,u can eventually get her under control with a handful of food. But that leaves the other one barking. But he sometimes us bot at all bothered about the other dogs depends on how he is feeling on the day. Very hard to control both dogs. He however is not a foody. Would love some advice also

  10. We have a 2 year old hound mix rescue named Cooper. He is great on the leash 95% of the time, but when he sees other dogs or hears dogs in their houses barking, he will grab the leash and tug and shake it aggressively. It’s hard to get him to stop as he is not particularly food motivated. I have tried tried treats and squeezing a squeaker toy in my pocket to distract him, but neither of these seem to work. I have thought about getting the gentle leader, but I’m afraid that he will still be able to get the leash and shake it. It’s kind of scary (and embarrassing) when he does this. I have three boys and they love Cooper, but I’m afraid to let them or anyone else walk him for fear they will not get him to stop or he may nip at them.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You might want to try a chain leash but make sure he doesn’t try to bite your clothing or you if he’s not able to bite the leash.

    2. Chain leash makes no difference to Axel, however as crazy as this sounds, as soon as he starts to shake his head and bite his leash we turn around in the opposite direction, it seems to diffuse the situation very quickly and we can then turn around again and walk past the offending house fine. I was so surprised this worked but it seems to be a winner!

  11. Our dog was in the an animal shelter for a year before we adopted him. He is a 4 year old greyhound/pit. Super sweet and a little needy. Loves our attention and cries if we are in the house but in a separate room. On walks he’s pretty good on lead but if a dog is even on the other side of the street he turns and grabs his lead in his mouth. He then kind of bows his head a gnaws on the leash. This isn’t aggressive though. He looks like he’s stressed and is trying to self comfort but he is chewing it. He chewed through it twice tonight on a walk. Suggestions besides chain lead. Would like to comfort whatever anxiety he’s feeling. Thanks.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, that does sound like anxiety or a little excitement possibly. I wonder if you handed him a toy or a biscuit that he has to chew up for a few seconds? I think the toy might get a little obnoxious so maybe hard treats he has to chew up might give him something to do when you pass other dogs.

  12. Lesley E. Roberson

    Thank you for this post!!! I have a 5 year old Rhodesian ridgeback (small 60 lbs. for a Rhodesian but very strong) dog. Whenever we go for a walk and he sees another dog, cat or bunny rabbit he grabs the leash and tries to pull me over to where he wants to go. (Oh, he doesn’t like chickens either, he caught one a few months ago. I was replacing my fence and it wasn’t quite completed.) I’m a senior and afraid he will pull me down. I love the gentle leader but he has almost bitten through it and also leashes. He actually became a new dog when I started using the gentle leader but still has his moments. I have tried a number of different collars and harnesses but the gentle leader has been the best.
    I just got a rescue dog, 3 year old Yellow lab mix. A playmate for “Ridgeway”. When we go for a walk she grabs Ridgeway’s leash but lets go when I tell her to. When the two of them get to “playing” Ridgeway starts “playing” with me by nipping my arm.
    I’m looking forward to life getting back to “normal” and getting Ginger into training. Also, the dog park will be open and I can take the both of them there so they can run!!! She barks continuously when we are walking wanting to get to other dogs or people. She loves all the extra loving. When I got her the only thing she did good was sit on command.
    I also have a dogpack for Ridgeway but am not sure how much weight I should put in the pockets. Also, the dogpack always slips either to the right or the left. Thank you for any suggestions.

  13. Good article, thank you!
    I recommend for the dog backpack to be the most effective I add a PARTIALLY filled water bottle to each side. its the sloshing water, not the weight, that makes the dog focus better as it throws them off balance.

    With the e collar, its important to use a QUALITY one, cheaper versions are often unreliable and you can inadvertently hurt your dog.
    Properly condition the dog so when they feel the low level stimulation(nick) they understand to look to the handler for information. Now the handler can give an already learned verbal cue like OUT, and use the e collar as needed to enforce the command. You will get much better results using the e collar as communication along with verbal cues, instead of just “shocking” the dog.

    For adult dog nonsense of bitting the leash there are several deterrents that are very effective, I’m hesitant to use these on very young pups as we don’t want to make them fearful. The Pet Convincer or Pet Corrector which are blasts of air in a small can which make a hissing noise, the idea is to startle the dog enough they stop biting the leash.Then we can start walking and praise the dog for not biting the leash. Another is a doggie air horn, and the last is a Doggie Don’t Device- which sounds like high voltage. Use the minimal amount of deterrent needed to stop the behavior.

    I recommend the Transitional leash by K9Lifeline, which is a type of head halter in which the leash comes off behind the dogs head instead of under the jaw. The design and materials are more effective and better received by the dog than any other head halter I’ve seen.

  14. I have a 2 year old staffy/corgy cross we rescued 6 weeks ago. He is an amazing, loving, affectionate, energetic, sociable dog who has otherwise settled in amazingly well BUT he is a chronic lead biter. It is getting worse and yesterday he bit me (not intentionally, he was desperate to get to the lead handle i think). He only does it with me and not my partner (i’m female and my partner is male in case this is relevant). It has got to the stage i am loath to walk him alone which obviously isn’t acceptable. He is like a possessed thing and looks quite savage when he is ‘in the zone’. He’s chewed through 4 leads and he now has a metal chain one but he still tries to do it. I find him uncontrollable when he is doing this. I have tried everything i can think of – distracting with a ball or treats, pushing him off, trying to push him to the ground, shouting, taking it off him (impossible as he has very strong jaws!) and ignoring it and just carrying on walking through it. We have a trainer and have only had a few sessions with him but this really has to stop as we will have to consider returning him if we can’t train it out of him.

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