Why does the behaviour of some dogs change when they are on the lead?

Why does the behaviour of some dogs change when they are on the lead?

Learning to walk nicely on the lead is one of the first skills that all dogs should be taught, and problems during their initial training or that develop later on can soon become set patterns of behaviour that can cause problems for the rest of the dog’s life, and which can be challenging to correct further down the line.

Problems such as yanking on the lead, pulling ahead or being overly reactive to other dogs should all be corrected early on and not permitted to develop into a problem, but recognising issues and knowing how to counteract them when it comes to training your dog to walk on the lead can be more challenging than you might think!

If you own an adult dog whose behaviour seems to change dramatically when they are on the lead as opposed to able to roam freely, identifying the cause of the problem is the key to knowing how to address it.

In this article, we will look at why and how the behaviour of some dogs changes dramatically when on the lead – and how to resolve it. Read on to learn more.

On-lead aggression towards other dogs

One of the most serious issues pertaining to problematic on-lead behaviours is aggression towards other dogs when on the lead, which can arise even in dogs that are perfectly social with others when loose.

This is something of a catch 22 situation because walking on the lead is of course necessary in many situations, and also because if you are worried that your dog will lunge at others, you will want to keep them under control and restrained on the lead to counteract this.

Generally, when a dog that is usually fine with others displays aggression specifically when on the lead, it is because they feel cornered or trapped, and unable to exhibit normal canine communication out of fear or anxiety about what might happen.

This is a manifestation of the fight or flight response in action, and what happened when the “flight” option is removed – in the dog’s mind, “fight” becomes the only option, and they will pre-emptively show aggression to warn other dogs off.

Generally, this occurs because of a prior bad experience with another dog while on the lead, or because of poor general socialisation with others, or lack of training on the lead in general.

To resolve the issue, you will need to go back to basics in terms of working with your dog and other dogs, potentially under the oversight of a professional trainer, and work progressively to recondition both your dog’s behaviour on the lead, and your own reactions to it.

Failure to follow commands

If your normally responsive and obedient dog seems to lose their minds as soon as you put them on the lead, failing to listen to you, respond to their name or follow commands, the chances are that walks are a real handful and something that you have come to dread.

What causes this to happen usually comes down to a combination of factors, including excitement, a desire to get out there and explore, and sometimes, not enough daily exercise being provided to fulfil the dog’s needs, so that when it is time for walkies, they automatically become hyper.

Getting your dog’s lead out is likely to generate a highly excitable reaction in any dog, but they should still respond to commands and be obedient – and if this is not the case, the first thing you should consider is if your dog isn’t getting enough exercise in general.

Pulling on the lead

Pulling on the lead is one of the most common negative behaviours that dogs exhibit, which usually comes down to a combination of the dog not being corrected for this when they were first trained, and again, the excitement of going out for a walk.

If your normally obedient and well-mannered dog becomes unruly and hard to control when on the lead, this can make walks frustrating and challenging, which in turn, makes the owner less inclined to provide exercise and so, exacerbates the problem.

All dogs should be taught from their very first interactions with the lead that they should sit or stand still while the lead is put on them, and that they aren’t going anywhere while they are pulling and generally being a pain!

Reconditioning your dog’s behaviours to counteract pulling can be time consuming, repetitive and frustrating, which makes things more of a challenge. Going through a process of stopping and waiting until your dog stops pulling before you proceed, only to stop again after a step because your dog is pulling and repeat the process multiple times is nobody’s idea of a fun walk – but it is a really important step to resolve pulling and bad behaviour on the lead in the future, and is well worth it in the long term.

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