Why Do Dogs Refuse to Walk on Leash?

If your dog refuses to walk on leash, you may be thinking your dog is being stubborn like a mule, but most likely, there are other dynamics at play. These dogs certainly deserve being given the benefit of doubt before labeling them as hard-headed or lazy. It's therefore important to play close attention to when this behavior occurs so to obtain some helpful pointers which provide valuable help in the resolution process of the problem.

A Medical Problem

Does your dog stop waking in the middle of a walk? Sometimes, behind a dog labeled as being stubborn, there is a dog who is in pain. Dogs may suffer from a variety of medical maladies which would make us cringe (if we were in their shoes) and book a doctor's appointment to stop all the suffering. 

Dogs on the other hand, are quite stoic beings that depend on us humans. Deprived from the gift of voice, they can only communicate their pain in instinctive ways meant to prevent them from aggravating the situation. 

Yelping and whining, are generally only seen in cases of abrupt, acute pain as it happens when dogs step on a nail or piece of glass. Many dogs suffer in pain without any vocalizations, only subtle changes in behavior may take place such as a minor shift in gait or slowing down. 

A dog who refuses to walk on leash may therefore be suffering from joint pain, back pain or some other type of pain that is exacerbated by movement (like the pain caused by a broken nail or a paw pad injury).

Affected dogs typically will stop in  the middle of a walk out of nowhere and look at their owners as if asking for help and they may even sit or lie down. 

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Uh-oh, your dog stops walking and looks at you. Evaluate carefully what ma be causing him to stop

A Matter of Gear  

If your dog is a puppy or you just adopted a new dog from the shelter with an unknown history, it is possible that the reluctance to walk is triggered by wearing a collar and leash or perhaps from wearing a harness. 

Some dogs feel intimidated by the sensation of pressure associated with wearing a collar or a harness with a leash attached. Pulling them triggers the opposition reflex causing them to put on their brakes or pull in the opposite direction. 

The discovery of the opposition reflex, also known as freedom reflex, is attributed to Ivan Pavlov, the Russian scientist who discovered classical conditioning. Pavlov discovered during his studies that dogs struggled to remain quiet and still when they were constrained in a stand.

Puppies and dogs therefore, unless taught otherwise, are naturally inclined to instinctively pull away when they are pushed or pulled or restrained. Overcoming this resistance requires some gradual conditioning to the walking gear, and some training, focusing on teaching the dog how to give in to the opposition reflex. 

A Matter of Surface 

Some puppies or dogs may be reluctant to walk on certain surfaces. Next time your dog stops and refuses to walk, pay attention where this behavior occurs.

Some dogs dislike walking on wet grass, some others instead may be fearful of walking down a flight of stairs or perhaps they may fear walking over some steps. 

In some cases, a dog may stop walking because mistrustful of stepping on manholes, puddles or shiny, slippery surfaces that they do not trust. 

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Pay close attention to what happened right before your dog stopped walking

A Matter of Fear

Sometimes, fear may be the underlying reason for a dog who stops wanting to go on walks or who refuses to walk in the middle of a walk. 

Pay close attention to when your dog stops walking. Did a car backfire? Was there a rumble a thunder? Did your dog see something that could have startled him? These triggers could certainly cause a dog to put on the breaks. 

If dogs get too overstimulated and stressed on walks, day after day, they may decide one day to refuse to go on walks altogether. This means that, as soon as they see the collar and leash, they may cower or hide or they may be reluctant to walk out of the door. 

A Need for Attention

In some cases, dogs who feel somewhat neglected by their owners or dogs who love interaction from their owners in general, may do anything for some interaction.

A dog may therefore stop walking because, when he does so, the owner finally stops talking on the phone or stops looking at the surrounding scenery and pays attention to the dog. 

This little interaction of the owner looking at dog, talking to the dog, and possibly, pulling on the leash, may be reinforcing enough for these dogs to want to repeat this behavior over and over, when they feel the need. 

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Make your walks with your dog fun and rewarding

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs may have several good reasons as to why they may refuse to walk on leash. Identifying the underlying cause is therefore extra helpful, so that you know from what angle to tackle the issue. Following are some tips if your dog refuses to walk on leash.

  • Have your dog see the vet. You want to rule out possible medical issues going on. Explain to your vet the behavior you are witnessing so that he or she can conduct a thorough examination. Consider that some aches and pains that happen only on some occasions, may be difficult to pinpoint. X-rays and more in-depth exams may be necessary. 
  • Avoid getting upset and yanking on the leash to make your dog walk. This will only cause your dog to put on his breaks more and won't likely fix the problem. On top of this, if you force your dog to get closer to something he fears, your dog may lose his trust in you. As the saying goes, you draw more flies with honey rather than vinegar. 
  • Evaluate whether something may be making your dog uncomfortable. Can the pavement be too hot? Consider that asphalt, wood and sand are surfaces that can potentially become very hot during the summer. Can your dog be tired? Some breeds with smudged faces may be prone to overheating and breathing difficulties when exercised. Can your dog have anal gland problems? These glands when irritated/infected are known for causing an uncomfortable sensation and a desire to sit, lick the area and scoot. 
  • If your dog is a puppy or a dog who has never been walked before or isn't used to his walking gear, consider reading the tips in this article on getting your dog used to wearing a collar and leash. 
  • Train your puppy to give into leash pressure rather than fighting against it. Sit on the couch with your puppy or dog wearing the collar. Snap on the leash and tug on it very, very lightly as you toss a treat in the same direction and tell your pup to"get it!" With treats and lots of praise/encouragement your puppy should learn that if he follows the slight tug, great things happen!
  • If your dog is fearful of walking, consider what may be triggering the fear. Consider tough that sometimes dog fears generalize so much, that the walk itself becomes a phobia and so do all the things you do prior to the walk (grabbing the leash, snapping it on etc). Consider reading these tips for dogs scared of going outside. Moderate to severe cases may need the intervention of a veterinary behaviorist. 
  • If your dog is fearful of stairs follow these tips to make your dog less scared of them: why do dogs fear stairs? The same approach can be used for fear of walking over other surfaces.
  • If your dog is seeking attention from you, consider making the walk more fun and interactive by praising and rewarding your dog for walking nicely by your side on a loose leash. 
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