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A very common problem owners experience are when their dog becomes aggressive whilst on lead but are fine when they off lead. The owner often becomes stumped whilst trying to make sense of the dogs’ actions. They will come to many elaborate guesses to explain this behaviour but will fail to come up with the actual reason to why it is happening. Being human and complicating the issue we will often think of every scenario to why a problem may occur but miss out the most obvious explanation.

The reason to why a dog becomes aggressive on lead rather than off lead is to do with the most basic instincts and defence responses.

If a dog believes there is a problem they have the options to

Flight (run away)

Freeze (Bark, growl)


If a dog is on lead and it is uncomfortable with the situation then it has no option but to choose another defence response. Depending on how they perceive the situation a dog may feel it has no choice but to bark or snap to keep others away.

I am sure this makes sense to every person but why then would a dog bark or snap at other dogs that are not a threat? This is harder to get out heads around but if we could put ourselves in the dogs’ shoes for a moment it will make sense. If the dog can move away at any moment they feel slightly uncomfortable this will reduce their state and give them time to analyse the situation. The dog is an instinct led creature and if subjected to many close encounters in which they start off concerned, it can then lead to them genuinely fearing for their life if they can’t move away. In these scenarios when they are fearful their state will be constantly heightened. If their state is heightened they will not have the time to analyse the situation properly rather they will react and ask questions later.

A client from Hammersmith and Fulham had this exact problem with her dog Pedro. She would walk Pedro on lead and go directly up to many other dog owners she knew, to say hello. Pedro did not understand the lady’s’ intentions and felt intimidated when put in a situation with these dogs.  The other dogs were friendly but Pedro mistook their friendly and somewhat intrusive behaviour for aggressive behaviour. As a result Pedro’s state became heightened and then he would snap.

  Pedro had many repeated traumatic experiences and could not manoeuvre himself out of perceived harms way. Overtime a pattern of behaviour developed and he would bark at the sight of dogs from a distance in anticipation of a problem.  The lady from Hammersmith and Fulham was embarrassed by Pedro’s behaviour and so took him to training classes to address the behaviour.

In these training classes there were even more dogs on lead with Pedro and he became increasingly worse.

Eventually she changed tactic and called me to ask for help and arranged a consultation. Together we worked with Pedro to avoid dogs so he could have a break from trying to warn danger away. Overtime the lady would then go nearer other dogs but learnt to react using a defence response of flight before Pedro could bark.  After many experiences Pedro then began to associate his owner to reacting quickly in times of potential danger. Pedro then would look to his owner for help with danger in every scenario rather than the other way round. Once the lady then decided to go closer to other dogs Pedro’s state did not heighten because he felt safe with the ladies decision making skills. Then finally he would meet dogs in a calm state and could see they were not being aggressive.  Pedro has not snapped at a dog since.

If you need any help with dog training be it separation anxiety, aggression, pulling on the lead, poor recall, jumping up, not listening, toileting in the house or any other unwanted trait etc. Or do you require a dog sitting service? If so contact us at

London Dog Trainer and behaviourist is here to help.

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