I am fostering a dog who was left chained to a fence outdoors for several days. Inside our house, he is friendly and very affectionate with all people. He has a healthy, shiny coat, he's extremely well house-trained, he's reasonably obedient, and he hardly ever barks. (These factors lead us to believe that pre-fence, he was probably in a good and caring home that trained him well.) Inside the apartment, he's a dream dog.

When you get him on a leash outside, he's a totally different dog.

As soon as we get out of our apartment, he jumps up to get the leash in his mouth. He will not walk unless he is holding the leash in his mouth. Periodically, he will stop and shake his head (leash in mouth) very hard, and pull backwards, tug-of-war style. When he's walking (and not shaking or pulling), he pulls forward like mad. He is a little bit responsive to me while doing this. I've been employing the strategy wherein I stop immediately when he starts pulling, and he will sit and wait for me to allow him to continue walking. When doing so, he's frequently exhibiting scared dog body language and shaking.

Things have improved a little over the month he has been staying with us. After a few loud "NO" corrections and changes of direction, I can usually get him to stop shaking his head and tugging backwards. The stop-and-wait strategy has gotten him to pull a little less hard on the leash when he's walking forward, but he's still pulling hard, and he simply will not walk without the leash in his mouth.

When anyone else other than me walks him, he's immediately back to square one - all the improvement vanishes, and he exhibits "scared dog" behavior more frequently.

When we are done with our walk (drag) around the block and get back home, he is reluctant to put down the leash after I've unclipped it from his collar. But once he drops it, he's back to his cuddly, tail-waggy self.

My theory is that he has major anxiety about being on the leash because he was tied to a fence with a chain leash, which meant he couldn't pull it loose or bite through it to get himself free. It seems like this experience means he wants to be able to control the leash himself. This is conjecture, though.

Patrick is a foster dog of unknown origin, but he seems like a pit bull/lab mix, fully grown at about 65 pounds (estimated), reasonably young (4 years old or so), not neutered (yet). We are using a regular canvas/webbing collar and leash.

How can I help this little guy?

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    Abby, you say he came from a caring home before that? and he was only tied up to the fence for several days? as opposed to months on end
    – user6796
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 16:42
  • @skippy I can't say for sure what his home was like before, but he trusts and likes all the humans we've seen him with, and he's overall very healthy, all of which indicate a happy home. The people who found him on the fence asked around and the neighbors said he'd been there "a few days".
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 17:11
  • "He is a little bit responsive to me while doing this" Could you elaborate on what you mean by that and give us a few more details about when exactly he seems scared? From your description so far, it's hard to tell whether you are dealing with excitement or anxiety issues, which is probably why you've got two somewhat opposing answers at the moment (one addressing anxiety and one excitement). I find it very hard myself to decide which one is the more likely at the moment.
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 13:49
  • @ThomasH He seems scared with me less and less - only really when new people are walking him. By "responsive" I mean that when he's pulling and I stop walking, he will sit down and wait for me to continue... unless he's backwards tug-of-war pulling, in which case he's totally unresponsive to my commands. I tried the thundershirt technique and there was no change, which leads me to believe it is an excitement issue, not anxiety.
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 15:10
  • @abbyhairboat have you tried using a different kind of walking devise like a harness? Unless you get one of the clip in front ones the leash will be out of reach of his mouth. If he likes holding things you might try giving him something like a ball or a small rope toy to walk around with instead of the leash
    – Veg
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 21:48

6 Answers 6


how is it going?

Your description makes me think of a dog that might have been a nice, even beloved homebody dog who developed into an unmanageable training drop-out so that his owners despaired of being able to keep him - and hoped to give him a chance with somebody else.

Supposedly he knows some training 'helpers', starting with stopping when he pulls and trying to get the leash out of his mouth by pulling - so he was given every chance and time enough to find his antidote for any of those methods - probably without ever understanding what kind of behaviour they wanted from him - and that it might bring him some kind of success he finds attractive in his situation, if would only he choose another option than pulling/holding/shaking.

Later on I would think they probably tried to correct him by some rather more desperate kind of punishment - seemingly not connected (by him) with his owners actions but with the leash situation/strangers (you possibly know, what's in the market)-for me that could explain his fearful body signals when on leash with anybody else, his shaking and so on.

Not Dominance, but bad outcome of some training experiments during his impressionable younger years.

What to do? Would first try to teach him to heel at home without collar and leash (not to trigger the 'old' behaviour again by them and not get him fixated on grabbing the leash again (which keeps his neck safe from most kinds of leash punishments at least he might have learned).

Because of possible earlier trainings issues I would never use 'normal' signals for any training with him - not to remind him of earlier errors but use foreign language ones or/and unusual body signs, use praise and high value treats/play for any nearness to heel position (no command, not even a 'signal' or lure, just waiting what happens with a friendly dog when You walk around the home without any distractions and talk to him some friendly nonsense...

Just 'golden' the position near your leg (might choose the right instead of the usual left - reason the same as above: completely unrelated new training usually much easier to introduce than any changing of old habits/expectations). If he gets the idea, You might slowly add the first distractions and later on a new collar (still no leash) and then look for an qualified APDT-Trainer to help you get it 'on the street'...

Who am I? A dog trainer from another country with university degree - noticeable not in English - and decades of experience with normal and correction work in a soft way.

  • I hadn't thought about teaching him to heel inside without the equipment that triggers his bad behavior. That's a great idea.
    – hairboat
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 19:51
  • Great, that You like it! Please let us know, how it works, as You seemingly already have him trusting You so well, I'm quite sure he will love it (perhaps put on a certain shirt, when you have time for training/treating him for nearness - not to develope him into your begging/heeling shadow in the house when not training - mine always beg by 'heel' instead of running free, so did it myself - would like to spare you that in the house ;-))
    – malinois4
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 20:14
  • Thundershirt/harness with ring in front for 2nd leash to turn him around when he starts might help during walks . Changing direction as You do mostly is more effective than stopping which often only forms 'sit - pull again as soon as owner walks on' in many cases. If he connects his start with bad experience/corrections on leash it might trigger shaking to block that, as might do commands (expectation of punishment and chance to turn that into tug play). He is a lucky boy that he met You to help him out of his trouble!
    – malinois4
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 20:46
  • Good answer. Here I would not call it "heeling" which is more a "trick" training, regular loose leash walking would do. I also agree on not using usual commands. Don't focus on verbal cues first. Have the dog conformably do things is scared of, then add a new cue.
    – Cedric H.
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 12:25

"he's frequently exhibiting scared dog body language and shaking."

At the risk of sounding like a shill, I cannot recommend the Thundershirt enough for anxiety issues, as this has resolved many problems with my perpetually nervous dog.

To maintain control, you could go with a thick 6-foot leash, and possibly a harness. Checking the same site above, they apparently also sell a ThunderLeash which claims to be a "no-pull" harness. While I had success with their other product, I cannot vouch for this specific harness brand, but I do feel if you aren't using a harness, one might help you maintain control and keep the leash further from the dog's mouth.

  • 1
    This seems like it could work. Inside the house he tends to nestle himself under our legs or close to a large object, indicating that the pressure on his body and/or smaller spaces make him feel more comfortable. He might like the thundershirt. I'll give it a shot and report back.
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 18:23
  • You don't have to buy it from their site, which I think is the most expensive route. I didn't buy mine online because of sizing issues; I picked mine up at a local specialty pet shop. More recently I've noticed them in large pet supply stores (I saw Pet Supermarket selling them), so you can look there.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 18:25
  • OK, thundershirt fail. We took him outside wearing it and there was exactly no change in his behavior. This leads me to believe it's an excitement/play/dominance thing, not an anxiety thing like I originally thought. (He does seem to like wearing the thundershirt, though, and we'll definitely hang onto it for future car trips etc)
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 15:22
  • Did you wrap it tightly around the front of his chest/shoulders? Was it on him for 10 minutes prior to him going outside so he could be adjusted to it?
    – JoshDM
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 15:28
  • Yup. We are continuing to try it, too, as the guidance said we might need a few more tries than just one to see results. So far it seems that it chills him out a little at home, but then he just keeps getting way amped up when we get outside.
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 18:12

From what you have mentioned, it doesn't sound like this problem is from being tied up for a few days.

His behaviour sounds like he may be a little dominant and actually be very excited about going for hi walks. The reluctance to hand over the leash can be interpreted as a sign of dominance. The quivering can be a sign of excitement, especially combined with him not wanting to relinquish the lead when he returns home. I have known dogs that are possessive of their leads and it's also a game for them to keep hold of them.

One way you could break him from this habit is to use a muzzle when you walk him (granted other people on the street may regard him as vicious- but you could also tie a bow to his collar!). As he is a strong a dog, it is futile getting into a wrestling match with him, he will always win a prolonged tug of war.

A way you could train him, as dog's are quite intelligent, is to signal the beginning of the walk by getting the lead and the muzzle. If he takes the lead in his mouth, you use the strong prolonged deep "Noooooo" and put on the muzzle (I know this involves a brief tug of war, but it's the psychological difference of giving him a choice).

Any period of time that he has the lead on without grabbing it, he gets lots of praise and big pats, over theatrically. As soon as he grabs the lead, a big "Nooooo" and then the muzzle if he doesn't willingly drop it. Hopefully over time, the length of time he can go without needing to apply the muzzle will increase; from a split second, to seconds, to getting out the front door, and so on.

You could try introducing food rewards into the picture, this is a little more complicated, given he is taking the lead continually into his mouth, but it could see results.

  • I've tried bringing treats on walks and he's totally uninterested in them. I'll start with this muzzle idea and see what happens.
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 22:02
  • @AbbyT.Miller yes his toy is the lead, so the treats have competition. Let me know how it goes :)
    – user6796
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 22:25

I have a rescue with similar anxieties. He was a stray in California with no idea of his past. He does freak out and did insist on walking directly in front of me ect. One of the things I learned is with anxiety, it's a lot easier to train them, is if you relieve them of pent up energy first. I have a lab/pit cross and my rescue is a pit and they are very high energy outside but chill inside. So what I suggest is finding a ball diamond or fenced in area, let him run around, then try the leash training. I also play my other good dog against my rescue lol. When she walks nice, she gets treats and praise. That has broken him out of zone out on his stresses. Still a work in progress. Regular walks that are positive and disciplinary, is what I'm doing with him. He's almost trained to be a running partner. I give him a light tap with my knee when we're running and when his stressers appear, I don't let him cross in front of me. When he doesn't react, he gets praise and a treat. So far so good! Hope that helps!


Your theory could very well be right-and it sounds like you are doing the best you can to try to help him.

He's not dominant (in fact, the idea of dogs exhibiting "dominance" is an outdated one whose only scientific support comes from a naturalist's paper in the the late 1930s who observed wolves held in captivity-somehow as a culture we have decided that his findings about an unnatural situation perfectly apply to dogs...), he sounds terrified. He's so nervous he's unwilling to let go of his leash for even a moment-so maybe that would be the place to start.

When he is on his leash, simply do not move unless the leash is not in his mouth. Correct him (using whatever negative reinforcement you use, whether it is a sharp "No!" or "out!"), then wait for him to obey. This is easier said than done-especially with a dog who sounds this anxious in these situations. However, it is possible; Patrick is still a relatively young dog whose attention span can only be growing, and the more he realizes how calm you are in a particular situation, the more he will try to emulate you.

If he knows "drop/give it" this would be a good command to use in this situation as well. "Leave it" is also tremendously helpful.

I really like the idea of changing directions when the dog wants to walk ahead of you-it lets Patrick realize that he's not doing what you him to and causes him to shift his focus to you again, and gives him a great opportunity to be rewarded for remedying his behavior (the reward being a "good boy", "yes", or even just getting to continue the walk).

You might want to try spraying "bitter apple" or some other type of scent/taste-deterrent on the leash before you go out for walks; that can be a hit or miss situation however, as my dog has learned to like the taste of the stuff.


My mother in law's dog loves holding the front part of her leash, has done it for years. She walks just fine and occasionally gets excited when she needs more exercise or if it's the first walk of her day. She attached a short tough strip that connects to her collar and the clasp of he leash. Also they need at least one leisurely walk a day to smell all the great smells on the route. That could stop the pulling, letting them take some relaxed control. And the tenser you pull, the more stressed a dog is.

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    you may want to try focusing more on the problems asked in the question and lesson on your mother-in-law's experience. Although experience can be very helpful when used in the proper way, your experience doesn't seem to fit with this question. Maybe you could explain more about how your mother-in-law modified the leash to help the dog stop pulling. This way be helpful. Commented Nov 10, 2015 at 17:00

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