Many dogs jump up and grab their leash at the word “walk” with wagging tails and excited faces. But some dogs don't seem as thrilled to go on a leashed adventure. Why is this? And how do you convince a dog to walk if they don’t want to?
There are many reasons why your dog could be hesitant to take a walk. Some could be getting older and slower or may be experiencing discomfort, while others might be battling a fear associated with walking. Whether a puppy or rescue who may not know how to walk to adults and senior pups who may have decided a walk just isn't for them, getting a dog out of the door could be quite a challenge!
If you want to walk your pup without a fight or get them ready for the dog walker, we've got all the reasons and solutions to your pup's anti-walking attitude that'll get them out and about in no time!
Helping a puppy or first-time walker learn to enjoy walks
Often, puppies are adopted before they have any leash training, so it's likely you'll need to spend some time training your puppy how to tolerate a collar, harness and leash, and how to take a walk. While this section will outline the steps to help your puppy want to take walks, they can also apply to dogs of any age.
First, with any puppy or adult dog, be sure to have your veterinarian rule out any physical limitations that may make it difficult to take leashed walks. Also be on the lookout for any medical conditions that may limit the amount of exercise or activities your dog can take part in. Once you know your dog can safely take walks, you'll need to introduce them to their new best friend- the leash.
Introduce the equipment
Before you can head out the door with your pup, you'll need to get them used to a collar, harness and leash. Most dog parents start their time with their doggos by purchasing a collar, so they may already be used to wearing one. And while a collar is a good option for trained dogs on a leash, a harness is a safer and more controlled option for puppies, rescues, anxious pups or scent hounds who can take off on a dime. Take these steps to get your puppy used to these essential walking items before you hit the sidewalk.
- Start by placing a harness and lightweight leash in an area your dog hangs out in to sniff and explore for a few days.
- Next, put the harness on your dog inside the house without the leash for another few days, increasing the time it is on each day, first for a few minutes, then 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and so on. Give lots of praise, treats, cuddles and maybe even engage in a play session.
- Make it exciting by using a cheerful and high-pitched tone when you talk about the harness, leash or walk. Make putting on the harness a fun game where pets, treats or play is a reward.
- Once your pup is comfortable with the harness, clip the leash to their harness and let them walk around freely with it dragging behind them. Supervise them while you do this exercise as they may get tangled up and cause an injury or increase their leash wariness.
- After a while, call your pup to you and reward them with a treat. Hold the treat out and circle the room. When Fido follows you, give them a treat. Next, do the same exercise, except hold the leash while you walk. Practice pulling on the leash to get them comfortable with that feeling.
- Be sure to have your puppy wear their gear while you’re at home to supervise them and don’t leave them in a harness and/or leash when you’re not there. It may get caught on something and startle them or pose a choking hazard if you've got a chewer on your hands.
Take it outside
Once your puppy is comfortable with the harness or collar on, and can walk comfortably with you holding the leash indoors, it's time to test those skills outside.
- Armed with a positive, excited voice and your pup's favorite treats or toy, put on the harness and leash.
- Start with small walks in your yard or on the sidewalk right outside of your house.
- Increase the length of the walk each time.
- Puppies are limited in how much walking they should be doing while they are still growing. Talk with your vet about how much exercise your pup can safely handle without causing any damage.
- To further encourage positive associations, go to a fun place or play a fun game outside when out for walk.
- Do not scold, hit, or pull any dog who doesn’t cooperate with leash walking — this will only make them resist it more.
Overall, always use patience with your pup, keep things positive, and manage your expectations. Your dog isn’t going to be a pro the very first time they walk on a leash, no matter how you introduce it. But with practice, they'll soon love taking walks and everything that goes with it.
Extra Tip: Got a leashed trained dog in the house? Let them be an example for your pup by easily getting harnessed and leashed, and taking walks together.
Common causes and solutions for dogs who won't go for a walk
There are lots of reasons why a dog doesn’t want to walk. The good news is that if you identify the triggers early, you can learn how to minimize them and reintroduce a walk in a positive way.
Here are some common causes and solutions why a dog may not want to go for a walk.
The pressure of the leash on their throat intimidates them
Anyone who’s ever worn a turtleneck sweater knows the initial discomfort of something around your neck. Now think of someone attaching a heavy object to your neck while wearing that sweater and pulling you around by it. Sounds fun, right?
- Attach the leash to a harness rather than a collar, as a harness distributes the pulling to the chest and body rather than the neck. This is particular important for miniature, toy and brachycephalic breeds who may suffer from breathing difficulties or tracheal collapse.
- Heel train your dog to walk calmly beside you so there is little to no pulling happening during walks.
They don’t like their leash, harness or collar
As you can probably imagine, heavy leashes and tight collars or harnesses aren’t the most comfortable combo in the world, but this trigger is an easy fix.
- Try different collars or harnesses and a lightweight leash to see what your dog likes best. Some harnesses can rub too much under a dog's arms or fit awkwardly, and different materials of collars or leashes could also fit or feel different. If this doesn’t solve the problem, other factors may be at play.
Anxiety is one of the most common reasons dogs don’t want to walk. They might be scared of the leash, the outside world, cars, noises, or people and pets they may encounter. They could even have had a past experience on a leash that scared them. Signs of a fearful pup include cowering, panting, whining, trembling, peeing inappropriately, or trying to escape.
- Take walks at different times during the day or night when there are various factors at play to try and narrow down the culprit. In the early morning and late evening, there may be less noises or people.
- Constantly reward your dog to help them replace negative associations with positive ones. Treat or praise them at each step, including getting equipment on, clipping on leash, stepping outside door and every few steps along the walk.
- Desensitize them by giving them repeated exposure with plenty of rewards. Go slow and gauge your dog's reactions, and always retreat when they get too anxious. Remember, you want them to feel safe. Reward your dog even if all they do is look at the sidewalk as it’s still progress. Desensitization can take weeks or even months, but progress is possible!
Understandably, many dogs refuse to walk or even get up from their bed when they’re in pain. What may look like obstinate hesitation may be your dog asking for help. Overweight dogs may be experiencing pressure on their joints from the weight that can be painful and will need to start slow.
- Talk to your vet who can examine your dog and diagnose any injuries, arthritis or other issues your dog may have. They can also work on a treatment and exercise plan that works for your dog. Vets often prescribe pup-safe NSAIDs like Rimadyl for joint pain or minor injuries. Never give your dog a painkiller made for humans in place of a dog-specific medication unless explicitly instructed to do so by your vet. If your dog truly is in pain, leave the walks alone until they’re feeling better. When they feel up to walking, they’ll let you know!
They have no experience with leashes
Inexperience with leashes is a common problem for rescues with a history of neglect. You’ll need to treat inexperienced pooches the same as you would a puppy, no matter their age.
- Follow the steps above for training a puppy, however, be extra watchful for any signs of anxiety or fear. If your dog is agitated by putting on a harness or the leash, retreat a step or two and repeat getting used to each piece until your dog is more comfortable before moving on. If their anxiety seems to be triggered when you step outside, pay attention to all the factors involved to try and narrow it down, i.e., loud noises, strangers, textures of grass or sidewalks, etc. Watching for what triggers your dog can help you focus on desensitizing your pup to them and get back to the fun!
They’re content where they are
Dogs are a lot like toddlers. If they’re having fun and don’t want to leave, they’ll throw a fit. Bucking, pulling, putting on the brakes — they may do anything they can to keep you from dragging them away.
- Don’t proposition them with treats or make a fuss. Simply face away from them until you have their attention. When they look at you, give them a treat and throw another where you want them to go. This will redirect their train of thought and make them interested in leaving with you.
- Some dogs can get sleepy after a meal, so try to take walks before mealtimes when their energy may be higher.
While many of these issues can be worked out at home with patience, love and persistence, there are some dogs that may need a little extra help. Finding a professional trainer can help both you and your dog overcome any issues and get back to the fun of walking together.
Tips for walking an older dog that doesn’t want to walk
Perhaps you have an older dog who suddenly stops wanting to take walks or seems stuck in their sedentary ways. If they suddenly stop wanting to go for walks, you should have them checked for medical issues, such as arthritis, dementia or fatigue that comes with old age. If they get checked out and are physically and mentally sound to take walks, use the same methods as you would for puppies and be consistent. Your dog is still making positive associations even in old age.
Here are some additional tips for getting senior dogs interested in walks:
- Introduce the leash slowly while in the home.
- Be consistent with leash practice.
- Enlist the help of a furiendly pup to take walks with to help encourage your dog.
- Create a reward for the end of the walk, such as a play, grooming or cuddling session that your dog enjoys and can look forward to.
- Do not use prong, shock, vibration, or similar collars as teaching tools.
- Use high-value treats and toys when encouraging walking.
- Work on leash training when your dog is well-rested.
- Train in warm, dry weather. Cold and wet weather can cause arthritis flare-ups and may make your senior dog less likely to cooperate. Severely cold weather can also be uncomfortable for older dogs who can't keep warm on their own, so if you must go out, dress your dog warmly in a sweater, jacket and/or dog booties.
- Always be gentle with the leash. Never jerk or pull it.
- Be patient. Older dogs walk slower, and it may take more time for them to get comfortable with the leash.
Need more tips? Check out How to Train Your Older Dog to Walk Calmly on a Leash.
How to keep your walks furbulous
Now that you have your dog interested in walking, don't drop the ball! Keep walks exciting so your pup can't wait til its walktime! Here are some pawtastic ideas to make your pup jump for walks!
- Mix up your walking routes to ensure your dog never gets bored.
- Walk with a friendly pup to give your dog a buddy to explore with.
- Join a dog walking group to add more socialization to the exercise!
- Turn walks into a game to increase your pup's fun and exercise their brains too!
- Bake some special treats your dog barks for and save them just for before, during and/or after walks.
- Take a walk to the dog park for a special surprise your pup won't furget!
- End each walk by engaging in your pup's furvorite activity, whether that's playing fetch or just getting some extra cuddle time.
Don’t fret if your dog doesn’t take to leashed walks right away. It takes some time and patience for dogs to get comfortable with walking. If you implement these tips consistently, your dog will learn to love walk time and may even bring you leash when they are ready to go!
Need a little help getting your dog walking? Download the Wag! app to access on-demand dog walking and training services.