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.


7 thoughts on “Help, my dog won’t walk!

  1. My dog is 3 years old and normally goes for a walk.all of a sudden goes halfway down road and insists on going back home.. ( he is scared of dust carts) when he hears one)

    1. Yes, it can be a surprise when a dog who previously had appeared fine about going for a walk, changes their behaviour. The operative word in that statement is “appeared” as what I have noticed time and time again is that dog’s fears and stresses often go unrecognised by their owners (stress signals can be very subtle, and can look like excitement too), and because we are so conditioned to believe they enjoy the walk, we don’t notice the warning signs before the behaviour changes in a bigger way.

  2. Hi Vicky, I have read Jans book on and done her online course, but am still a bit stuck with this one. My chihuahua/ jack russell shakes when i get the collar on and is doing some of the above, refusing to move once i get him out the door. I really would like to be able to go out with him to the woods/beach etc. What i am now doing is picking him up and putting him in car and once we are at said destination he is fine and seems to enjoy the walk. At the moment I am trying to train him ‘walkies’ put his collar on and then take it off for him to get used to. Do you think i should leave all walks for time being and just work with this?? and build up to him wanting to go for walks. He does enjoy socialising with some- not all, dogs when we are out, and i feel like a person , it is probably not good to just be in house and garden all the time, hence me wanting to work towards walks outside, any advice would be greatly recieved, many thanks Annie

    1. Hi Annie,

      I would put the collar on and leave it a considerable time before attempting any of the next parts, and doing each bit slowly and gradually, waiting for total calm between each. The problem usually arises when we have in our minds an allotted window of time in which we can walk our dogs. If we do the getting ready bits to the walk on their own, one at a time, and build them up, you may find after a period of a few hours, he’s totally relaxed and is open to going outside. Obviously, you’d need to have other things to be getting on with while you are working on this. So a weekend or a working from home day can be good opportunities. I hope this makes sense?

      All the best,


  3. my dog is a nightmare for walking and always has been. He is now 6 years old (English Bullterrier), and was not well socialised. We bought him from a breeder (he was the last of the litter and around 17 weeks old). He lived in a barn with his sister and was never really socialised around people/everyday objects so when we bought him he was scared of everything from children-cars and everything else in between.

    We have worked hard on his socialisation but he still absolutely hates being walked he will often back off into his bed and lie down and you cannot budge him. We get him to the gate and he drops down and again, it’s impossible to move him.

    He has a walk in the morning with my husband but that is via the car to the local heath. He acts as if he is scared when out and will often stop and look around. He is non-aggressive towards other dogs but doesn’t really enjoy their company, he would much rather be indoors with us just hanging out. Oh when he was 3 he was attacked by a very aggressive Akita, but his issues were way before that incident but I guess that didn’t help!

    Any idea what we can do to help him as this has been the most frustrating dog we have ever had, all of our other dogs Bullmastiffs, loved their walks even when they were unwell.

    1. Hello Gerry,

      This is a surprisingly common problem. We often believe that dogs enjoy walks because they will come along with us. Many of them see it as a patrol, rather than as leisure activity/exercise. He is seeing it as a patrol that isn’t safe for any of you to do. To help him to feel more relaxed, I strongly recommend that you read “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell and engage the help of a Dog Listener in your area. They will help you to help him live a much more relaxed and happy life.

      All the best,


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