Help, my dog won’t walk!

Not the most common of dog behaviour problems, but I do get called to help about it every couple of months or so, are those strange creatures: dogs that won’t walk.  When I say won’t walk, what I really mean is they refuse to go out for a walk.  They are perfectly content to walk around in the house or garden, but don’t want to go any further.

The forms of ‘not walking’

There’s more than one approach a dog will take to this, you may be experiencing one of more of the below:

  • Fear of/refusal to have the lead/harness put on – perhaps running away, shaking or growling.  I have work with people who have found themselves ‘wrestling’ their dog into it’s lead/harness.
  • You can get the lead/harness on, but dog refuses to go past the front door.
  • You can get the lead and harness on, go out of the front door and down the path, but once you get to the pavement your dog won’t walk.
  • Your dog will go out of the house just fine, but after an unspecified amount of time, will just decide that’s enough and will stop walking, perhaps even lie down on the floor and no about of encouragement can convince them otherwise.
  • Your dog will walk on the whole, but will refuse to go to particular places.
  • Your dog will only walk if certain members of the household are coming along.
  • Your dog will only go for a walk if they are being taken in the car.

distracted dog won't walk

A bit of history/culture

Us Brits can find this a bit hard to get our heads around, because dogs love walking, don’t they?  Also we have to walk them, don’t we?  Don’t we?!

Well, we certainly are a culture who do walk dogs, on the whole.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should, or that it’s normal for dogs to like it.  Take a look at other cultures when you are on your holidays, and see if you can notice a difference…

I have helped families who have moved here from Portugal, South Africa, St Lucia to name but a few places, and the ‘normal’ things that people do with their dogs are very different. Dog walking is not the norm in any of these places at the moment.  It’s very British, and we’ve only been doing it for a few decades.

Before that the dogs were given a choice whether they wanted to go out, and if they did go, it was usually without us.  So they’d just wander around the neighbourhood, going where they felt safe.  Interacting with the dogs they were happy to be around.  Sometimes they’d just hang out in their own front garden or yard.  Maybe nipping down the street briefly if they thought they’d seen something, to return to their own territory once they were happy that all was fine.  If they didn’t to go anywhere, or didn’t feel the need to go anywhere, they didn’t go!

happy and relaxed dogs in india

Why won’t your dog walk?

If you dog won’t go for a walk, it doesn’t want to and/or doesn’t feel the need to go for a walk.  It’s that simple.  There is a bit more that comes with that.  You see to dogs, the idea of leaving your territory is a serious matter.  Imagine yourself as a Viking, leaving your own territory, off to explore other lands.  You don’t know what’s going to greet you and whether you’ll be welcome.  You also don’t know what will happen to your own lands while you are away.

The ‘normal’ excited behaviour we are used to seeing from dogs over the walk is actually a release of adrenalin.  So again, think Vikings, landing their ships whipping themselves up ready for whatever may come next.  Which begs the questions whether other dogs are enjoying the walk, or whether they are seeing it as something more serious, which has to be done.  Whether it’s a patrol, a territory battle, a hunt…?  I’ll leave you to dwell on that one.

So what do I do if my dog won’t walk?!

  1. Don’t force it.  The more of an issue you make out of it, the less likely they are to want to.
  2. Don’t worry about it.  Exercise can be achieved through play. and stimulation through training etc in the garden.
  3. You may need to work on reducing the overall stress of your dog too.
  4. Take your time.  Work on the individual components of the walk one at a time.  E.g. just practice getting the lead out until your dog is more indifferent to it.
  5. Work on  your leadership.  At the moment your dog isn’t trusting your decisions 100% – I’d strongly recommend a read of “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell.

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