What Is Leash Frustration?

©Scott Sheaffer, USA Dog Behavior

Is your dog Mr. Wonderful off-leash and a handful when on-leash? This seems counterintuitive. When your dog is connected to you by a leash, you would think his behavior would be better than when off-leash. Not always the case.

First, let me be clear that there is a difference between leash aggression and leash frustration. Simply stated, leash aggression can occur when a dog is fearful and feels trapped when on-leash. With no option to run, a leash aggressive dog can choose to act aggressively in hopes of getting the scary dog or human to move away. Leash frustration, on the other hand, occurs when a dog is annoyed by his inability to move freely or irritated by pain while on-leash.

Below are some of the reasons why dogs can have behavioral problems (i.e., experience leash frustration) when on-leash.

• One of the most prevalent causes of leash frustration is the wrong type of collar. Think about it, how happy would you be if you had to wear a choke collar or, even worse, a prong collar? Most dogs don’t fully understand what is causing all the pain around their neck – they just know it hurts. We can certainly understand that dogs, just like humans, can get grouchy when in pain.

• There are two things that are good indicators of a healthy dog – insatiable appetite and unbounded curiosity. It’s the latter that can lead to leash frustration. If a dog is continually prevented from getting to things he wants to investigate (e.g., another dog, interesting smell), he can become frustrated.

• My clients frequently hear me talk about not micromanaging the leash. In our desire to be good dog handlers, we can unknowingly provide too many leash inputs to our dogs. We want them to move right, move left, back up and stop with precision. All of this tugging on dogs’necks can become a bit annoying to them and cause them to react.

• Owners sometimes punish their dogs as a way to stop unruly and reactive behavior when on-leash. This just temporarily stops the behavior while only increasing the amount of frustration. Worse yet, we teach dogs to “mask” their frustration in order to avoid punishment which creates a ticking time bomb, but without the ticker.

• Dogs that walk you, instead of you walking them, are inadvertently causing their own leash frustration. The constant pressure put on a dog’s trachea when he pulls like this can make him miserable. I know what you’re saying, “But Scott, dogs are doing it to themselves!”

Leash frustration can be addressed and this unwanted behavior can be extinguished. Unchecked leash frustration can frequently turn into leash aggression which is more difficult to treat.

Ways to reduce or eliminate leash frustration:

1) Use a humane and properly fitted collar (I prefer wide, buckle type, flat collars).
2) Provide your dog plenty of safe and appropriate opportunities to freely interact with other people and dogs (e.g., dog parks).
3) Learn how to handle your dog more comfortably and confidently.
4) Teach your dog how to walk on a loose leash.
5) Use positive training techniques.

If you have a dog that is presenting with leash frustration, please seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. This will make you and your dog happier and help prevent leash frustration from escalating to leash aggression.