You’re just out with your dog, enjoying a walk and then SCREECH!… 3 blocks from home, she puts on the brakes and refuses to take even one step further.
Why? Why does this happen?
Here are 10 possibilities:
- Young dogs have an instinct to stick close to home. It is a genetic safety measure that keeps puppies from wandering off (just like the following instinct they have at this age). As they become more mature and independent they are more willing to go further from home base. A young dog may not really understand walking on a leash yet. (That staying close instinct seems to go away overnight! This is why letting dogs off-leash is dangerous until a recall is very strong.)
- Dogs that are fearful, stressed, or anxious can use stopping as a way of avoiding scary things.
- Your dog may be putting the breaks on because they know the walk is going to end soon.
- It may be your walking/training strategy. Often anchoring on walks is a consequence of our response to the dog’s attention-seeking behavior. Luring, bribing, pleading, or negotiating with the dog creates a hard cycle to break. You do not want to teach your dog to stop mid-walk for a treat.
What do you do when your dog puts on the brakes?
- There could be a comfort issue or health issue that is causing your dog to stop walking such as:
- Sore hips, backs, and muscles cause pain, and this can cause your dog to stop walking. Check with your vet if you suspect this.
- Growing pains. If you have a young, fast-growing, large breed dog, this is very likely.
- Some dogs will stop because the harness used to walk them is uncomfortable, ill-fitting, or has rubbed raw places at the armpit. See if your dog stops less when using a collar vs. harness.
- Physical discomfort: Dogs that are too hot, too cold, who have an injured nail or a paw pad burned by hot asphalt or snow and ice will stop on walks.
- Did you know animals are superstitious? Is your dog stopping at the same spot every time? It could be a spot where something wondrous has happened such as finding a half-eaten biscuit on the ground. It might happen again.
- It could also be something as simple as wanting to smell the bush every other dog in the neighborhood has peed on. Or squirrels hang-out nearby.
- Some dogs just don’t feel like a walk. I’m looking at you, bulldogs.
- Over-exercise. Maybe your dog is just plain dog-tired.
- Your dog wants to greet another dog or person and will not move until allowed to do so. It’s part of his mayoral campaign.
It’s often more nuanced and a combination of the above. You’ll likely need to do some pet detective work to sort this one out.
Here are 10 things you can try to get your dog up and moving again:
- Sit with your dog if she’s worried. Let her work out her environment for a minute and be patient with her. Give her a little pep talk.
- Reverse the usual walk route or mix it up a little.
- Walking around the dog and marking/rewarding the butt coming up, treating once the dog is walking (not before!). This is how to fix a learned behavior without necessarily finding the cause.
- It’s a perfect opportunity to reinforce the “stay” and teach a release cue. Reward your dog only when they are moving to you.
- Just leave. (OK, not really.) Tie the leash to something sturdy and simply walk off and leave the dog as if you don’t care what they do. You do need someone else for this to watch and make sure the dog is okay while you are gone. You can even have the other person be the one to take the leash and stand there like a post when you walk away. The idea obviously here is to motivate the dog to want to go with you and not be left behind. It also surprises them when you do this!
- You could get out your phone and talk to someone (or pretend to). Dogs understand that this means you have attention elsewhere and their behavior isn’t as important. It takes the pressure off.
- Teach your dog to “Touch” (hand to the nose) and ask your dog to touch to get her to move. Reward by tossing the treat in the direction you want to walk. By rewarding the “Touch,” you are not reinforcing the anchoring.
- Wait around. Maybe get out a book? When your dog finally moves, mark, and toss a treat in the direction you want to walk.
- Teach “Let’s Go” by saying it just before your dog is about to walk anyway. Mark and reward with treats or a favorite toy. A good one for worried dogs!
- Try this little exercise:
- Go to the end of the leash and kneel facing your dog. You can have a treat or toy or not but this may help the process. Face her and encourage her to come to you.
- Usually, the dog will come forward when you are in this “new” kneeling position. All they have to do is move forward that short distance and they get a reward.
- When she comes to you in the kneeling position, immediately move back to the end of the leash again and repeat. This turns into a game quickly and she will keep moving forward just that leash length to get their reward.
- When your dog is easily moving forward, begin to kneel sideways instead of facing her and start to walk slowly along, rewarding as you go. If she stalls out, go back to the beginning.
- Don’t pull with constant pressure on the dog. That just causes your dog to dig in, or go the opposite way.
- Don’t pull out a treat to lure your dog forward. That may be how you got here, to begin with.
- Longer walks should be done when you have the time to anticipate this behavior, otherwise, the need to rush will exacerbate frustration.
- For success, practice these techniques before you need them!
- If you have a dog who is stopping on their walks due to fear, get in touch. We can work on this together.