You’re just out with your dog, enjoying a walk, and then SCREECH!… 3 blocks from home, they put on the brakes and refuse to take even one step further.
Why? Why does this happen?
Here are ten 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 their home base. A young dog may not 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.)
- Fearful, stressed or anxious dogs can use stopping to avoid scary things.
- Your dog may put the brakes on because they know the walk will 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. This is very likely if you have a young, fast-growing, large breed dog.
- 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. a 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. It’s part of his mayoral campaign.
It’s often more nuanced and a combination of the above. You’ll likely need some pet detective work to sort this out.
Here are ten things you can try to get your dog up and moving again:
- Sit with your dog if they are worried. Let your dog work out their environment for a minute, and be patient with her. Give them 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 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 them 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 your dog and encourage them 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 get a reward.
- When your dog 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 they will keep moving forward just that leash length to get their reward.
- When your dog is moving forward easily, begin to kneel sideways instead of facing your dog and walk slowly along, rewarding as you go. If they stall 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 stopping on their walks due to fear, get in touch. We can work on this together.