Does your dog bite, grab or shake their lead? Find out how to understand and manage this behaviour
Some dogs bite, grab or shake their lead. This is known as ‘lead ragging’ and is very common. If your dog grabs or bites their lead, don’t worry, they can learn to behave differently with the right training.
Why does my dog bite, grab and shake the lead?
Lead-ragging generally serves some purpose for the dog. It’s up to us to figure out what is causing their behaviour, so we can help them behave differently. Lead ragging generally happens when a dog is feeling:
- anxious about something such as a dog or person approaching. They might target the lead because it’s the reason that they can’t get away. They might also hold the lead in their mouth because it feels comforting.
- frustrated about being stopped from doing something that they want to do, such as meeting a person or playing with another dog. They might target the lead as it is stopping them getting to what they want.
- torn between two choices and confused about what to do.
- bored. Tugging on their lead could be a way of starting a game with their owner or getting attention. We all know how hard it is to ignore a dog tugging on the lead!
Over time, dogs can learn that lead ragging makes them feel better or gets them what they want. This is when it can become a habit.
Dogs are learning all the time, so the way that you respond to their actions will influence how they behave in future. For example, when a dog is lead ragging, an owner’s instinct might be to tug back and try to snatch the lead away from their dog.
This could encourage them to try even harder to grab the lead, especially if they’re trying to tell you that they’re anxious or frustrated. It could also accidentally encourage a game of tug!
It might seem logical to use a muzzle to stop a dog from grabbing their lead. Or to use a chain lead to restrict movement and make it impossible for them to bite through. But these approaches might actually make things much worse.
Simply stopping them from lead ragging by using a muzzle or chain lead doesn’t help their anxiety, frustration or boredom. It actually risks making them even more anxious, frustrated or agitated. It is better to give them another outlet for these feelings.
The best way to teach a dog is to make it fun, enjoyable and rewarding for them to behave in the way we want. That way, they are much more likely to choose to behave that way all by themselves in the future.
What to do if your dog grabs or rags their lead
There are a few simple things you can do to discourage your dog from lead ragging and gently encourage them into the behaviours you'd like to see.
Teach your dog to walk calmly on the lead
Make it rewarding and enjoyable for your dog to walk along on a loose lead without biting or grabbing at it. Once they learn that it’s fun, it will become their new default behaviour. Teach your dog to walk calmly on the lead.
Try and work out which situations seem to set your dog off. It could be a certain location or specific things happening around you. Identifying the times when your dog is likely to grab the lead will help you to prepare for what to do.
For example, if your dog grabs the lead when other dogs approach or when you stop to talk to somebody on a walk, be prepared to turn away from other dogs or politely tell other owners that you can’t stop.
Bring a spare lead
If you’re worried that your dog might bite through their lead, clip a spare lead onto their harness or collar.
Then you can safely let go of the one they’re ragging without risking them running loose. If they then grab hold of the spare lead, calmly pick up the one they’ve let go of, and swap over. If they persist with this behaviour, you might need to take a different approach. Try producing a toy for them to tug on or scattering treats instead.
It might help to introduce your dog to wearing a harness during walks, as owners often report these are easier to manage when clipping leads on and off.
Lead ragging: how to divert and distract your dog
Stay as calm as possible
It’s easier said than done but it can really help. The calmer and more relaxed you are, the more likely your dog will match this energy.
Offer your dog a toy
If they start lead ragging, take out their toy and waggle it close to the ground so they don’t jump up. This encourages your dog to let go of the lead and then play with or carry the toy. It can help some dogs to carry a toy whenever they’re out and about.
Professional training and advice
Persistent lead ragging could be a sign that your dog is generally finding life a little challenging. They might need some extra training to live their best life possible.
For example, dogs who grab their lead because of frustration might benefit from learning to wait calmly for the things they want. Dogs who grab their lead because of anxiety can be helped to improve their confidence.
You and your dog can learn valuable skills with the support of our experienced, qualified coaches at Dog School. Find your nearest class.
If your dog is really struggling, then speak to your vet. If needed, they can refer you to a behaviourist for tailored support. This is especially important if your dog sometimes grabs and bites hold of you, your clothing or other dogs. Find out more about sourcing a qualified behaviourist.