Many puppies bite their leash and the behavior can be perceived as quite annoying to new puppy owners because it's very difficult to walk a puppy with a crocodile-hold on the leash! But why do puppies bite their leash? The answer is very simple: because the leash is fun to play with! Fortunately, there are several options to address this behavior.
Why Do Puppies Bite Their Leash?
Humans perceive the leash as a strap for restraining and guiding a dog on walks, while to a puppy's' eyes, the leash is something irresistibly fun and entertaining and who can blame them?
A Leash For Play
Puppies, just like children, have spurts of boundless energy, and they tend to see the world around them as a big playground. Just like children make planes out of paper and turn just about anything into a toy, puppies don't need much to have a good time!
The leash from a puppy's eye is particularly attractive for many reasons. It is long, which makes it look almost like a snake, it wiggles and it offers resistance when he bites into it. The more resistance, the more he will want to latch on to it and sink his teeth in. Leashes are fun to play with because they trigger a puppy's predatory drive which is also why puppies love to chase toys.
This behavior is reminiscent of a dog's past history as hunters. In the wild, it is not unusual to see young wolf pups play tug-of-war with a piece of fur from animal carcasses. One puppy would grab one side, another the other and they would tug to their heart's content.
If your puppy grabs the leash and you try to pull the leash away, you are therefore playing a fun game of tug with your puppy. The more you provide resistance by pulling, the more fun your puppy will have fun.
A Matter of Texture
On top of providing a fun game, puppies may also be attracted to leashes due to their texture. Leather leashes are particularly appealing since they may also taste good considering that they're often made of cattle hide. Other materials though may be appealing as well especially when puppies are teething and seeking items to chew on.
A Matter of Boredom/ Frustration/Excitement
Leash biting in puppies may also occur for other reasons that may go beyond play. Emotions such as boredom, frustration and excitement can trigger leash-biting in puppies who haven't learned how to properly cope with these emotions.
If the leash biting happens often on walks, it's a good idea to identify what seems to be triggering the behavior. In general, puppy leash biting due to play stops on walks because they puppy's attention is focused on all the stimulating sights, sounds and smells.
Many puppies start biting the leash on walks when they become bored or frustrated. For instance, if your puppy bites on the leash when you stop walking and chit chat with somebody, the behavior is likely due to boredom/ frustration because the puppy wants to keep moving or go sniff something nearby versus just standing in one spot.
Some puppies may get very excited when they see other dogs on walks, and their excitement may be redirected to the leash. Puppies may get frustrated if the leash gets in the way and prevents them from meeting the other dogs on walks. This is called barrier frustration, and if not tackled, can even lead to barking and lunging.
Sometimes, leash biting occurs when the puppy feels restrained and doesn't like that sensation. If you haven't taken time in conditioning your puppy to walking on a leash or if you deliver a lot of leash correction under the form of leash pops or just jerking or tightening the leash, the puppy may react by biting the leash due to these unpleasant sensations.
Now That You Know...
Now that you are aware of why puppies enjoy biting the leash, it's time to see what can be done to reduce the behavior. Fortunately, as with tail chasing, biting owners' arms and feet, leash biting is something most puppies outgrow as they mature. Following are several options:
- Make sure your puppy is conditioned to wearing a collar and leash.
- Never drag your puppy on the leash if he resists. Your puppy will associate this negative experience with the leash and consequently try again and again to get the leash off.
- Focus on getting your puppy to perform desirable behaviors rather than trying to stop an unwanted behavior.
- Try redirection. If your puppy bites the leash the moment you put it on, ask your puppy to sit in front of the door and reward the nice sit with a treat. Sitting will keep your puppy's mind off the leash as she awaits for her treat and then keeps busy eating it. Once you provide the treat, be ready to walk out the door so your pup can focus on outdoor stimuli rather than thinking about the leash again.
- Have a back-up plan. If your puppy goes to bite the leash the moment he gets up from sitting, take it off and sit on the couch. Rep after rep, puppies learn fast that their behavior results in no walks.
- Offer a stuffed animal to carry. Use one your puppy doesn't see often. Many puppies will happily carry the stuffed animal which will keep their minds off the leash.
- If your puppy is particularly eager to play tug, make sure that during the day you provide outlets for this need with tug toys. While you're at it, make sure you put playing with the tug toy on cue. Tell your dog "take!" when you present the tug toy. Teach your puppy also to drop in exchange for a treat.
- If the biting happens on walks, train your puppy to heel and deliver treats at a high rate so to help keep your puppy's attention on the treats rather than on the leash. Practice a few steps at a time and then progress to more steps. The goal is to make the activity far more rewarding than biting the leash.
- Do a treasure hunt game on the go, you can put it on cue by saying "treasure hunt!" while dropping several treats on the ground in several directions to divert your pup's attention to the ground rather than on the leash. Make it a fun game. You may want to practice this first in quiet areas before trying on walks.
- Some puppy owners have success switching to a harness that clips on the back. With the leash no longer dangling in front of their faces, puppies soon learn to ignore the leash.
- To make biting on the leash difficult or no longer pleasant, you can try some of these tips: Slip a long piece of PVC pipe over the leash (dogs do not like to bite this hard surface) or attach a lightweight piece of chain to the leash (dogs do not like to bite on chain)
- You can also try the two leash method where you use two leashes simultaneously, when your dog grabs one leash, release it, and use the other (allowing the former to drag); this prevents the creation of tension which lures dogs to bit.
- While there is always the option of switching to a chain leash (which puppies don't typically like to chew on), it's important to consider that this solution won't fix the issue. However, it can be used as a last resort as a management measure while alternative behaviors such as sitting and heeling are trained.