Dogs love to walk, but sometimes their behavior can be puzzling. A dog carrying its leash can be amusing. However, it can also make walking them difficult. If your dog enjoys carrying its leash, you may be wondering why, and what you can do about the behavior. 

Why does my dog carry his leash?

It’s a cliche commonly seen on tv. You get home from work, and your dog comes running up to you with its leash. The implication is clear. Your dog wants to walk. Do they really understand enough to bring you their leash, or do they just like to carry it around? 

Chew instinct

Your dog may be carrying its leash because they want something to chew on. If you notice your dog chewing on the leash instead of only holding it in its mouth, this is a possible reason. Dogs chew for a variety of reasons. Puppies often chew because they are teething, and the pressure relieves their discomfort. Chewing is also an instinct for dogs. It helps keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. Since dogs don’t have hands, they use their mouth to explore their world. Dogs will often chew items or put them in their mouths to learn more about them. 

Comfort

Your dog may be carrying the leash because it’s comforting for them. When a dog feels anxious, it’s common for them to want something in their mouth. This is similar to a baby with a pacifier. Some dogs may chew, while others simply want to carry it around in their mouth. They may choose the leash because it’s familiar, or simply because it’s there. 

Wants to Walk

This common tv trope can be the reason your dog is carrying its leash. Dogs are intelligent enough to know that the leash equals walk, so they may bring their leash to you as a way of asking for a walk. If your dog carries its leash to you and looks at you expectantly, it may be because they want a walk. 

Attention

Dogs are second only to children when it comes to getting attention. Your dog might be carrying its leash as a way to get your attention. If your dog carries the leash around while looking at you or following you around, they may simply want interaction. 

Puppy

If your dog is still a puppy, they are more likely to put anything and everything in their mouth. The world is still new to them, and they are learning about their environment. They are also more likely to experience excitement, anxiety, or want to play, which can all cause them to carry their leash. 

Why does my dog carry his leash on walks?

When your dog carries its leash on a walk, it can look as if they are walking you. This is cute, but it can interfere with your walk. It can also make your dog feel that they are the one in control, which can cause them to act out. 

Excitement

Excitement often leads to playful behavior for dogs. Your dog might jump up and nip at your hand when they are excited. They may even chase and bite their tail. It’s natural for a dog to want to mouth things when they are excited, including their leash. If your dog is high-spirited during walks, this might be why they are carrying their leash. 

Frustration with leash

The leash is used to keep your dog near you and safe. However, your dog doesn’t understand that. To them, it may represent restriction. It’s the only thing that stands in the way of them chasing a squirrel or sniffing another dog as they pass. This can cause them to be frustrated with the leash. They may carry the leash in their mouth or chew it out of frustration when they can’t go where they please. 

Play

Your dog may be attempting to play by carrying the leash. Dangle a rope in front of a dog, and they will likely bite it, expecting a good game of tug of war. They may view the leash as a conveniently placed toy, and carry it hoping for you to play with them.

If your dog seems bored on walks, this can lead them to play with the leash. They may also want to play with it simply because they have a playful personality. 

Attempt at control

There’s a lot of controversy about the role of dominance in dog behavior. Some people believe that many dog behaviors can be traced back to dominance, while others believe its importance has been vastly overstated. 

It is clear that dogs in the wild have a pack leader. It’s generally agreed that as the owner, you have an important role as pack leader. The question is how much of dog behavior is done to challenge that role, and how to establish yourself as the leader. 

 Your dog may be carrying their leash in an effort to control the walk, which challenges your role as leader. It’s important to set boundaries with your dog. If your dog seems to be leading you, that’s probably the reason they are carrying the leash. If you don’t change the behavior, you may have issues in other areas where your dog wants to assert dominance. 

Ready to end walk

Your dog might be carrying the leash because they are ready for the walk to end. Does your dog seem tired? Do they seem unenthusiastic about continuing? Are you nearing the end of the walk? If your dog seems ready to head home, consider taking a different route or shortening the walk a bit. 

Reinforcing the Behavior

It’s important to think about how you might be reinforcing the leash carrying, particularly if you want to stop the behavior. Do you find it adorable when they carry their leash? If you react positively, your dog will keep repeating it because they want to please you. If your dog is attempting to play, and you try to tug the leash from their mouth, they will think you are playing. This also reinforces the behavior. 

It is very important to not send mixed signals, especially when you are training your dog not to carry its leash. Have you ever had a boss that left you unsure of what was expected? Did it create a lot of unnecessary stress? It’s similar when training your dog. If you seem pleased by the behavior but then punish or scold them, it leaves them not understanding what you want. In addition to prolonging training, it can cause insecurity or anxiety in your dog.

What should I do about my dog carrying his leash around?

First, you’ll need to decide if the leash carrying is a problem. Some owners decide it’s simply a quirk that doesn’t interfere with their ability to care for or walk their dog, so they allow their dog to carry the leash. Keep in mind that behavior that is cute in a puppy isn’t always cute in an adult dog. If you have a puppy that likes to carry its leash, you’ll need to ask yourself if the behavior will become problematic as they grow. 

Recognize the Cause

Changing any behavior is easier if you can identify the cause. Are they getting enough exercise? Do they get overstimulated by vehicles or loud noises? Do they want more attention than they are receiving? Do they use the leash as a way to tell you they want to go for a walk? 

If they are over-excited, you may need to choose a different route for walks. You may need to change the time you walk your dog, so they won’t be impatient. If your dog is bored, switching routes should help as well. 

Give an alternate behavior

To train your dog to stop carrying its leash, you’ll need to give them an alternate behavior. Regardless of the reason your dog is carrying its leash, providing an alternate behavior should get them to stop carrying their leash. 

Default Position

One way to give them an alternate behavior is a default position. Sitting is a great default position. If your dog is excited, it can help them to settle down. If the issue occurs during walks, you may want to choose standing still as the default position. 

“Calm” is a common command. You can also use “Leave it”. You’ll want to choose a word or short phrase that you don’t regularly use during conversation to avoid confusion. Words like no and stop are usually not good choices for this reason.  

When your dog is over-excited or carrying its leash, give the command for the default position. Reward them with a treat only when they assume the default position. When they carry their leash, ignore them until they put it down. 

Offer a Chew Toy or Carry Object

Another way to provide an alternate behavior is to give your dog a chew toy or other object to carry. Some dogs simply want to carry something. It could be due to anxiety or excitement. Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to have a desire to carry things. Working breeds including Shepards, St. Bernard, and retrievers may have an instinct to carry things. 

The key to offering a carry object is to choose one that appeals to your dog. You may have to attempt a few different things before you find a suitable object. Some dogs prefer a soft toy. Others love carrying a bone. Some are perfectly happy with a stick.

Consider safety when choosing a carry object. Don’t choose something with sharp edges or points that could injure your dog. Avoid items with small pieces that can come off and be swallowed. Choose an item that’s light enough your dog can carry it comfortably. Consider size as well. The item should fit comfortably in your dog’s mouth and not impede their movement.  

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.