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Staging a Protest: What to Do When Your Dog Refuses to Walk On-Leash

September 11, 2012

Staging a Protest: What to Do When Your Dog Refuses to Walk On-Leash

Every once in awhile while I’m driving I see a dog owner at the end of her leash (forgive the cheesy, over-used pun).  She’s standing on the sidewalk pleading with her dog to start moving.  We’ve all seen it before.  The dog, God knows why, decides to stage a protest in the middle of the sidewalk, at the end of the driveway or even in an intersection.  He just refuses to move.  No matter what. She can’t just drag him because she’ll end up on Youtube and he can’t be enticed with any amount of treats.  What does she do???

This is a problem that pops up in just about every class we run.  It’s so hard for us to understand, because what dog doesn’t want to go for a walk? Aren’t they supposed to live for this? Well, it’s not quite so simple.  As always, there are lots of things going on here and it’s our job to figure out where and how any given solution will work on an individual dog.

Consider His Health:

If this has recently started happening “out of the blue” and it never happened before your first instinct should always be medical.  I know it can be expensive, but sometimes a trip to the vet can explain a lot about your dog’s behaviour.  If he’s in pain and walking is uncomfortable for him, you’ll feel horrible knowing you’ve been forcing him to exercise for the last few months against his will.

Consider Any Sources of Fear:

Once you’ve established that your dog is in good health and isn’t hampered by anything physical you need to start asking yourself if there’s something in the environment that he could be afraid of.  Does he start resisting at the same spot every day? Is it at a particular time of day or night?  When you get past that spot does he immediately put on the gas again?  Dogs experience the world very differently than we do.  They see colours in much higher contrast.  That means that shadows, gaps, or even dark-on-light paint jobs will appear very stark to your dog.  Throw in the fact that they can smell things we didn’t even know existed and you’ll have a better understanding about what might be causing your dog to hesitate.  Start paying attention to what he might be seeing.  If you can isolate a source, then you’ve got a spring board from where to start counter conditioning! Half your job is done already.

Consider How You Might Be Reinforcing the Behaviour:

Consider this from the dog’s point of view.  The first time he slows down to sniff something, or stop, a couple of things happen:  1) You immediately stop walking, and 2) You start offering him treats if he’ll move again.  Now, not only has your dog been allowed to yank you in another direction, but he’s been rewarded for it!  I’m not saying that walks need to be an exercise in Military discipline but I do believe that your dog should learn that he can’t ALWAYS have what he wants when he wants it.  I find it’s easier to train in a cue such as “go sniff”, so that he can enjoy the buffet of smells while we walk without constantly stopping and starting.

Consider That Your Entreaties Might Make it Worse:

I’m a firm believer that when it comes to training, the less talking the better.  In general, words seem to just confuse the situation further and can even leave your dog feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.  Try to avoid raising your voice ten octaves as you beg your dog to start moving again.  Even watching it makes me anxious.  Instead, just wait.  Welcome to the world of dog training…it’s not as exciting as it looks on TV.  When he begins to resist on the leash simply stand still, have your treats ready and maintain pressure on the leash.  The SECOND he makes a choice to move in your direction and you feel the leash slacken, mark with a “yes” or a click and deliver a treat.  This is a technique that I stole from Grisha Stewart, called “Silky Leash”. It teaches your dog that it’s a good thing to move in the same direction as the pressure instead of away from it.  Watch the youtube video of Grisha in action here.

If you’re consistent about rewarding your dog for walking next to you we would HOPE that this isn’t something you’ll ever have to deal with.  However, if you’re one of the not-so-lucky ones then give these techniques a try.  With time and a LOT of patience it should work itself out.

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