Dealing with behaviour we don’t like is a multi-step process. Just trying to stop the behaviour is not effective in the long run. It’s not very fair to the dog either.
Teach Your Puppy
A better approach is to focus on what we would like them to do and teach them that. While the dog is learning the new skill, good management protocols must be in place. Before a new behaviour is ready for use, it’s important to prevent the dog from getting better at the pesky behaviour we don’t like.
This approach applies to almost anything that our dogs might do – counter surfing, chewing on the leash, jumping up or even eating their poop. People are typically unsuccessful when trying to fix issues like these because they are spending too much time and energy focusing on stuff they don’t like. Either they don’t know what else to do or they don’t have a good management plan in place.
Help Your Puppy
Let’s use leash biting as an example. As part of good management, we need to have a plan ready. If your dog is prone to leash biting at specific times during the walk or when certain things are happening, then be proactive so you can provide an alternate activity to keep them busy and happy. This may be more mental activity, such as practicing fun behaviours you’ve been working on, or a treat toss that will allow your dog to spend some time focused on looking for treats in the grass. If you do this before they get going on the leash, that’s great. Ideally, you want to be proactive.
Another option for dogs that tend to be quite mouthy is to have an appropriate chew item available on walks. This is simply a management tool so that they are not chewing on the leash. By providing a soft fleecy toy, they can outlet the behaviour more appropriately during the early stages of training.
Keep these points in mind:
1. Teach your dog great leash skills. The best place to train these leash behaviours is not actually on a walk, but in the house to start. Any behaviour we work on should initially be taught in the less-distracting home environment. I like to teach the pup how to ignore the leash itself as part of leash skill training.
2. Provide fun things to do while on the leash. Dogs will often resort to chomping on the leash out of boredom or frustration. Are you providing chances to sniff, explore and move about more freely?
3. Catch them not chewing on the leash on walks. Reward this big time! Rewards can be food, lavish praise or a quick round of something they love to do. If a leash biter walks for some period without chomping on the leash, then I offer a short session of tug, a toss of the ball or a chance to check out something interesting nearby. Depending on the dog and the stage of training, this might be 15 secs or a couple of minutes of chomp-free walking,
4. Leash chewing or grabbing can also be a sign of stress. This is often the case with younger dogs and pups. If the walk has gone on too long or they are concerned about something nearby, they will often resort to focusing their attention on the leash. Keep an eye on your young dog to see if you can detect any patterns in the behaviour. Be proactive and support your dog when necessary.
Turning this annoying behaviour into something great isn’t difficult. Just focus on the positive, be proactive and have fun out there!