By AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Hilarie Erb
We hear a lot about dogs that pull their owners along on walks. But there are also dogs, believe it or not, who don’t want to go out for a walk at all. They refuse to walk on a leash, and their owners have no luck coaxing them along.
If we are talking about a very young puppy, he probably just needs to learn about wearing a collar and leash. Don’t expect an 8-week-old pup to know how to walk on a leash because there’s a good chance he’s never even worn a collar. Some breeders will have at least introduced their puppies to the collar and leash, but if not, it’s up to you.
Puppies need short, positive lessons. At first, just wearing a collar and leash around the house for a few minutes while you play with him and give delicious treats is enough. Slowly, over a few days, work your way up to holding the leash and luring the puppy into walking, using those treats. Keep the walks short and reward frequently when the pup is walking nicely.
Outdoors, give him a chance to enjoy the surroundings, sniffing and exploring. There is a difference between going out for a quick potty walk (not much dog fun) and a survey-the-domain adventure (lots of dog fun). Soon your pup will be eager to go on as many walks as you can take him on!
For the older puppy or adult dog unwilling to walk on a leash, first make sure there are no physical issues causing any pain. Dogs are good at hiding pain so this may not have occurred to you. Once a medical cause is ruled out, you’ll need to patiently help him overcome fears he has about walking outside on a leash.
Instead of just heading out the front door, put your dog in the car and drive to a completely new place: a different neighborhood, a park, or a store that allows pets inside. Bring extra tasty treats, ones that are really tempting that she only gets on walks. A favorite toy, also reserved for this purpose only, can come along too.
Don’t baby her if she’s fearful but keep a happy tone to your voice as you walk. If she plants her bottom, don’t tug her forward. Surprise her a little by turning and walking in the direction she’s backing toward, using that toy to distract her and cheer her up.
Again, keep the training sessions short. Expect it to take weeks, even months, for this dog to become a confident walker.
You can also try driving a few blocks from your house and then walk home. Have a friend that your dog likes meet you at the starting point and let this friend greet her enthusiastically and give her some treats. If the friend brings a happy dog that your dog knows and likes, even better. Don’t forget special treats and a toy. This walk home will expose your dog to things he might find scary, but she’ll be on the way home with friends so they may not seem so scary after all.
If your dog walks with you for a while and then stops or turns back, it might be that he is getting tired and/or hot. Make sure you keep the distance and weather conditions in mind, especially when walking a very young or senior citizen dog.
Always end the leash-walking lesson on a happy note! If you manage even a short walk in the right direction, it’s time to stop. Keep it happy.
If your dog is still a reluctant walker, look for a good training class. Hands-on help from an experienced positive trainer and exposure to fun things outside the home may do the trick. Visit /events/training-clubs/ to find clubs and trainers near you.
For more training help and to talk directly to a trainer, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline at www.akcgooddoghelpline.org.