When a dog refuses to walk, it may be funny, frustrating, or deeply alarming. Like with all things with our canine companions, context is key. You’ve undoubtedly seen hilarious “dog refuses to walk videos” online.
Just see this famous one of a Golden Retriever displaying his displeasure about leaving the dog park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHvim639FWQ
But not all refusing to walk is a show of protest. To know how to deal with this problem, we need to look at the many causes and their solutions.
Why do dogs refuse to walk?
Dogs refuse to walk because of pain, discomfort, fear, previous negative experiences, incomplete leash training, unfamiliar equipment, separation anxiety from their owners, lack of socialization, protest, or exhaustion.
You can see from this list that are many reasons a dog might refuse to walk, so there is no single cure for this problem. However, we will address the most common causes and supply some solutions.
Conditions like peeling nails or cracking paw pads can be painful enough for dogs to stop walking. Severe nail infections can be so bad a dog may need to be declawed and will lose a toe. Likewise, torn ligaments and other injuries can cause more than lameness.
If an old dog refuses to walk or has trouble standing up, it’s usually because of arthritis. Dogs may also struggle with other chronic and debilitating conditions. This means it’s time to assess your dog’s quality of life and speak to your vet.
You will need to establish how to keep your dog comfortable during this time and how best to address their mobility issues.
After checking your dog for any source of pain that may stop them from walking, it’s time to look at sources of discomfort. It’s essential to check that their harness or anything else on their body is not chafing and fits correctly.
Dogs may also not want to walk the first time you put booties on them or anything unfamiliar, such as a new tactical harness or a doggy Halloween costume.
So if a dog refuses to walk, the first thing to do is check for a physical source of pain. The second thing is to look for a source of discomfort, like a poorly fitting harness, and adjust the fit, so there is no squeezing, pinching, or chafing.
Suppose the problem is unfamiliar, such as new dog booties, jackets, a Halloween costume, or a harness your dog doesn’t want to walk in. In that case, you can use advice from this video to explain desensitizing a dog to new booties.
Remember, the same principles apply to anything else you ask your dog to wear.
The third root cause to rule out in dogs refusing to walk is fear-related. Dogs who are not socialized may fear walking in new environments or being exposed to loud noises and moving vehicles. These are some of the most common irrational fears in dogs.
It’s also vital to remember that dogs are single-event learners who go through fear periods in their development. This means if a young dog going through a sensitive period in its development is attacked in the dog park, it may refuse to walk toward to dog park in the future.
This why safe socialization for puppies in their socialization windows is so crucial.
This is not the same as incomplete leash and obedience training. Dogs refusing to move on a dog walk because they are frightened need to be desensitized slowly. It’s a good idea to get a reliable trainer and behaviorist to help your dog unlearn a fear response.
4. Incomplete leash training
Leash walking is a basic skill that all dogs need to learn. However, dogs having problems walking on a leash is all too common. Usually, the issue is related to pulling, but many dogs may take to suddenly stopping and refusing to walk further.
Sometimes dogs will stop because they’re heading in a direction they don’t want to go in, like away from a dog park. Occasionally, this may turn into a full-blown tantrum, like this Husky:
Most of the time, this behavior can usually be checked with a confident and firm approach from the owner. Too often, owners enter into a negotiation with their dog, and this encourages the behavior.
Remember, a dog that is only obedient when it’s convenient is not a trained dog. This means using positive reinforcement and going building a better foundation in their obedience work.
This video from McCann dog training can help you deal with dogs who suddenly stop on a walk:
5. Separation anxiety
Another problem sometimes emerges when a dog has separation anxiety and won’t walk with anybody but their favorite person. This can frustrate other household members when their dog refuses to go for a walk with them or will only walk when both owners are present.
The issue is usually that the dog in question does not want to be separated from the person they have their primary bond with.
What to do when a dog won’t walk without both owners
Dogs sometimes refuse to walk unless their “favorite” owner is joining. You may see this in cases where a dog refuses to walk with a husband if his partner is not accompanying them.
Usually, this is a form of separation anxiety, and because the dog has become hyper-attached to one owner, they don’t want to leave. It’s also often a question of gender, as it’s a common phenomenon that dogs sometimes have a harder time bonding with men.
Animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, PhD, writes, ” We’ve always speculated that it had something to do with the way men walked (more assertively?) or their bigger chests, larger jaws, and/or deeper voices.”
Regardless of why this can be frustrating and disheartening to any dog owner whose pet refuses to walk alone with them unless their partner chaperones.
The trick here is to reduce hyper attachment to the “favorite” owner. This means using place training to create a healthy distance. No more having your dog follow you to the bathroom!
Simultaneously, the other owner can work on developing a positive bond and better communication with the dog. The best way to do this is to engage in fun activities that appeal to the dog.
Reducing hyper attachment, so a dog feels secure when separated from the “favorite” owner while building a stronger bond with the other helps equalize a dog’s attachment to both their owners. Over time, they should become comfortable walking alone with either owner.
Pro tip: forcing a dog to walk alone with you when they don’t want to will only decrease their trust in you. Building a positive foundation of trust will help them to feel comfortable walking with you gradually.
Dogs also commonly refuse to walk and even collapse when they are tired or exhausted. Since heatstroke is deadly, it’s vital not to exercise your dog in the heat of the day and make sure you keep water and collapsible bowl with you on walks.
If you see excessive panting and drooling, make sure to move your dog to shade and take a break. Give them water and a chance to cool down. Do not force an exhausted dog to keep moving.
What to do when a dog stops walking and won’t move
When a dog stops walking and won’t move, it’s essential to understand your dog’s motivation first. A dog that is exhausted may need a rest and a drink of water. A dog frightened of moving in a specific direction because of a previous bad experience will need help feeling safe in that environment again.
Say there is no sign of exhaustion or fear, and a dog is simply stopping out of protest or because they want to head in a different direction. In this case, a dog’s obedience training is incomplete, and the best thing to do is restart obedience training with a competent dog behaviorist.
What to do when a dog refuses to walk in the cold or rain
Many of us are familiar with dogs who won’t go outside to potty in the rain. Of course, many doggy divas take it further and refuse to walk in the winter cold.
Not all dogs are made for the cold, so it’s better not to press the issue. If your dog shows signs of distress like whining, lifting and licking paws, or shivering, stick to potty breaks rather than forcing walks.
When taking a cold-sensitive dog outside, be sure they are bundled up in jackets with protective booties. Try to exercise them inside as much as possible with games or a treadmill. Remember, dogs who are not built for the cold are vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.
What to do when a dog refuses to walk in certain directions
Dogs who won’t walk in certain directions typically have a problem with the destination. For instance, a dog who had a bad experience at the vet may refuse to walk in the direction of the vet’s office.
Meanwhile, a dog whose favorite place is the dog park may slam on the brakes if you decide you want to go somewhere else.
If dogs do not want to walk in a specific direction out of fear or anxiety, then we use a gradual desensitization system described above. If a dog refuses to walk because they have their own ideas over where they want to go, it’s essential to restart their obedience dog training to teach better cooperation.
Should you drag a dog that won’t walk?
Do not drag dogs that refuse to walk, especially if they are wearing collars. The extra pressure on their throats can create massive trachea damage. If needed, put your dog in a harness with a handle to help you lift them out of a bad situation.
Otherwise, if dogs refuse to walk, it’s vital to understand the reason first. If it is a training and obedience problem, start rebuilding your dog’s foundational obedience and leash training instead of dragging it.
When a dog refuses to walk, it’s crucial to take a moment to figure out why. Do not assume its naughtiness and punish your dog, as this can exacerbate the problem. Issues rooted in fear and anxiety, either because of something unfamiliar like a new harness or environment or a previous bad experience, need a delicate approach.
Likewise, always check for a source of pain and discomfort like an ill-fitting harness, osteoarthritis, paw problems, or exhaustion. Once these have been ruled out, you can look at gaps in your dog’s training. Sometimes dogs need to restart leash training with better incentives, and sometimes they need confident and firm but gentle leadership from their owner to help shape a cooperative dog.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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