My dog, Rex, is like two dogs in one. He is 2.5 years old, neutered pitbull/boxer mix, and is incredibly aggressive towards other dogs.

In the house, he is cuddly, playful, and docile. My mom describes him as "a big mush". He gets along with my nieces and nephews, and doesn't even bark [save the rare occasion someone walks down my driveway that he doesn't know].

Outside, totally different story. He walks with almost his entire weight over his front paws; he has his ears up and tail stiff (actually it's hard to tell because his tail is broken); and he will lunge at basically any moving object we come across [I actually don't know what triggers this behavior; I have another question about something similar]. He pulls on the leash, and essentially refuses to walk anywhere except in front of me. He smells and urinates on everything, often kicking dirt when he's done. He completely ignores me, so badly that even if I grab him by the snout and point his face at me, he keeps his eyes glancing sideways.

It has been suggested to me that Rex is afraid, or simply stressed when outside, and I certainly don't doubt it. My question is: how do I calm him down? How do I carry some of the amazing inside behavior over to our outside walks?

[I understand this is a difficult question, that would require a lot of work. I am simply asking for some first steps in the right direction.]

  • 4
    Glancing away is a calming signal. Essentially, your dog is telling you that he's not ok with having his face grabbed. If you want to get his attention in a non-confrontational manner, try calling his name in a happy voice and wave some extremely yummy treats in his face. Make sure to reward even the briefest bit of attention towards you. You can also put 'watch' on command and use that
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 7:28
  • @ThomasH: You're certainly right. But you should know that he will not respond to his name when we are outside, unless we are completely alone (fenced in yard, for example). He also shows no interests in treats (I'm talking steak and hot dogs here) when we're outside, again unless we're alone.
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 7:52
  • Treats are never the way to correct misbehavior. It reinforces that all they have to do is act bad then you will give them a treat.
    – user9
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 14:43
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    @Chad You don't give treats to stop a dog doing something, you give treats when he is doing something right. It's also called positive reinforcement and exploits one of the natural mechanisms by which all animals (including ourselves) learn
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 12:10
  • @Chad It took a while but I finally get it now ... :) My recommendation was to call the dog's name, i.e. ask for its attention, and reward that when you get it. Waving the treats in his face was just a suggestion to distract him, it wasn't meant to imply giving them to him
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 20:03

4 Answers 4


Behaviour in and out of home:

Dogs are pack animals and when they're at home, they are safely in the den. The home environment becomes predictable and even boring for dogs, so coupled with this feeling of safety the lack of stimulation leads to some dogs lazing around the house (which is not a bad thing).

When they are out and about, the environment is new and stimulating. There are many potential threats, and dog's, generally, feel it's their duty to protect their people, not just themselves, so there's a lot going on for your dog.

The behaviour you describe is not of fear, but the alertness and protectiveness of an alpha dog. Walking in front of you is an assertion of his authority as the leader (which may or may not be a problem).

He walks with almost his entire weight over his front paws; ... he has his ears up and tail stiff ... he will lunge at basically any moving object ... He pulls on the leash, and essentially refuses to walk anywhere except in front of me.

Dogs communicate with other dogs by marking their territory. They enjoy discovering new smells and cocking the leg is like leaving a calling card for other dogs.

He smells and urinates on everything, often kicking dirt when he's done.

Most animals react to eye contact, particularly if you are staring close to his face, he will aver his eyes to avoid confrontation with you. By ignoring you he is challenging your authority over you, by avoiding your gaze he is actually submitting to you in that instance (which is good).

He completely ignores me, so badly that even if I grab him by the snout and point his face at me, he keeps his eyes glancing sideways

The first steps:

The way to overcome this is to reassert your position as leader of the pack, your dog needs to know he is the lowest member of the family pack (last after all the humans). This can be done with a number of simple techniques within the home to begin with.

  • Feed your dog after the people.

The family should sit and eat their main meal and finish before feeding the dog. The dog should never be allowed titbits from the table. Lower pack members eat last.

  • Have your dog sleep furthest away from your bedroom.

Highest ranking pack members have the, literally, highest places to bed and the lower the pack member the further it's position from the pack leader. Ensure any family members bedrooms are between you and your dog's bed.

  • Do not allow the dog on furniture

Same principle as above, the dog cannot share the same privileges as other family members.

This may sound harsh but with a pitbull cross he is a naturally dominant dog. I love large dogs and have owned a rottweiler and dobermanns. With these breeds, it is vital to retain the position of pack leader.

  • 1
    I would like to add that not everyone subscribes to this theory, but I have had many years of successful experience with it
    – user6796
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 10:01
  • 1
    Thanks for the great answer. These are actually very good tips, and you've probably guessed that I feed him before I eat, I let him sleep right next to me, and he goes on all the furniture! :) One question though: I live alone, so it's just Rex and I. If I make him sleep in his own bed, can it be in the room with me? Or should I put it in the den or another separate room?
    – Steve D
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 18:53
  • 1
    @Steve I'd put his bed in the corner of your room. You can make up for the loss of closeness by giving him extra pats and hugs , and he can lie at your feet next to you when you're on the couch, instead of on the couch
    – user6796
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 21:44
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    @SteveD There is no such thing as an alpha dog in the common use of the term. The dog won't stop pulling on the leash because you fed him after yourself or because you stop him getting on the couch. In the dog's mind, those things have no relation to each other whatsoever.
    – ThomasH
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 18:19

I would like to add an answer here, one that is unfortunately given too rarely.

Very often we are looking for the reason why dogs perform an (usually) unwanted behaviour. It seems that this will help us correct the behaviour but there are two pitfalls here:

  • first one is that it is a behaviour that has to be corrected while it is usually just a matter of changing a behaviour (how would a dog know that we don't like him to pull while on leash? Ask this guy!). Using the verb correct already places you in position where you are against your own pet... Would you want to correct a kid who's not throwing a ball correctly? Or do you want to spend time with him, teaching him things he doesn't know yet?
  • second it implies that knowing the inner psychology of the thing will actually help us devise a more efficient training method. In most cases this is plain wrong. Scientific studies have been done on what brainpower the dog actually have and others have led us to a learning theory applicable to most animals (see here and here and references therein).

Conclusion: your question is a training problem! Not a problem in the dog's mind. We have to find ways to train the dog. Period.

From your question it seems that your dog should be trained to

  • not pull while on leash
  • ignore moving objects and people while walking (this is a distraction on top of the training of the first point)
  • pay attention to you, ideally making eye contact every now and then, this is an additional criterion to be added to the training of the first point. It has to be trained separately first.

This is meant to be a constructive answer, not a rant against the other answer, but: if anyone manage to train his dog not to pull on leash following the three steps given at the end of the other answer, please publish!

  • +1 wish I could upvote more. With sincerest apologies to JFK: "Don't tell your dog what he's doing wrong, teach him how to do it right!"
    – ThomasH
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 13:17


He walks with almost his entire weight over his front paws; he has his ears up and tail stiff (actually it's hard to tell because his tail is broken); and he will lunge at basically any moving object we come across[.]

These are signs of arousal (see Arousal Communication). The exact triggers for this arousal can't be determined solely from your post.

He completely ignores me, so badly that even if I grab him by the snout and point his face at me, he keeps his eyes glancing sideways.

Look-aways are generally a calming signal intended to de-escalate a situation. Grabbing your dog's muzzle and staring into his eyes are (from a dog's point of view) extremely aggressive behaviors. If your dog didn't offer a stress response or calming signal to this inappropriate action on your part, I'd suggest immediate professional intervention.


You have a reactive dog. What he's reacting to is unknown, although a good general bet is the scent of other dogs or prey animals in the neighborhood. When taken together the marking, weight shifting, and stiff tail likely indicate that his fight-or-flight instincts lean towards "fight."

You have some basic options:

  1. Desensitization and counter-conditioning.

    • Build trust between you and your dog.
    • Train a "look" or "focus" command.
    • Shape a bomb-proof loose-lead walk.
    • Shape a good "heel" in a controlled and hopefully less arousal-inducing environment, then extend it to other locations.
    • Provide positive reinforcement for calm behaviors like a "macaroni down" or relaxed sit at the outskirts of the dog's threshold distance.
  2. Environmental management.

    • Avoid situations or areas that might lead to red-line behavior.
    • Use a dog run or zipline rather than walks through the neighborhood.
    • Use a treadmill rather than walks for exercise.

In my own experience, severely reactive dogs will generally become worse with aversive training techniques. In particular, muzzle grabs and leash pops may lead to redirected aggression towards the handler, and damage the bond between you and your dog.

Since he's so great at home, building off his in-home foundational behaviors would seem to be a viable option for you. However, I strongly recommend getting a certified behaviorist involved (not just a pet dog trainer) if you're unable to reduce Rex's reactivity through positive measures, or are unable to avoid or manage the triggers in his environment.


Based on your description of body language, he's probably not a confident dog so protects himself by being aggressive. The kicking up dirt is a form of marking.

How old is your dog and is he neutered?

What I would do is use a choke chain to correct, if worn correctly it is a very effective way to correct unwanted leash behavior. I would walk him directly to my side and when he tries to pull or begins to pay attention to distraction, give a simple quick tug to leash to catch his attention. I would continue walking him daily for at least 30 minutes.

I wouldn't say this is dominant behavior, I would say it sounds more like an insecure dog. I had a bull breed who behaved same way and it took him time and exposure, but we were able to enjoy a nice relaxed walk without him lunging or being stressed out.

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