I met Willow a couple of years ago when she was nine months old. The original problems I helped with have all but disappeared but they have relaxed a bit as people do. Here is the situation back then.

Two days ago I met her again. She is a much calmer dog now but over the time two new issues have been developing.

Choice on walks is what Willow need

Willow won’t walk and Willow won’t eat.

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Willow is increasingly scared and reluctant to go on walks

The strange thing is that when they go away on holiday or out for the day, well away from home territory, Willow is a joyful little dog running around with tail wagging and ears flapping. They showed me this video.

They also showed me a video of Willow on one of the walks near home. She hesitates. Her tail goes down. She stops. She wants to go back to the car.

They then do all they can to make her move. The lady will talk to her, encourage, entice or bribe her; she may then get impatient and try to pull her to walk with them. To quote the man, they want her to ‘toughen up’.

When not going by car she’s okay past the first couple of houses. Then she starts sniffing, but not in the way a dog normally will sniff – with full concentration on the job in hand. As she sniffs she has her eyes turned to the lady, watching her. The lady feels like Willow is challenging her. I wonder whether she is buying time.

A few yards down the road Willow will start to look scared. Her tail goes down and she hesitates. At this stage the lady (who does most of the dog-walking) actively tries all she can to get Willow to walk on. The young man who sometimes walks her may pick her up and carry her for some way and then put her down again. They may get cross. It is a major issue.

After much cajoling the lady finally gives up and it’s making her unhappy because she believes, perhaps rightly, that Willow isn’t truly happy without walks and she wants Willow to be happy more than anything else. The whole thing seems to have got out of hand.

They feel they have tried everything, but they haven’t. What they haven’t tried is giving Willow choice on walks.

I feel it’s about the dog-human relationship. I sense the lady is too involved and worried about Willow (can someone love their dog too much?). The dog needs to be released from all pressure thus allowing her full choice on walks, choice of when she wants to stop and come home and choice as to whether she goes out at all. Then I’m sure everything will change given time.

I advised the lady to stand and let Willow sniff for as long as she likes, but not to watch her or to talk to her. Just let her get on with it.

Willow wants to go back to the car

Willow wants to go back to the car

Choice on walks starts at home.

Some time ago Willow was attacked by a Boxer. She came to no harm but was terrified. Possibly the human reaction was over the top. Possibly this incident has infected all familiar walks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they walk from the house or go by car. Possibly it has nothing at all to do with the Boxer as she is friendly with most dogs.

The behaviour actually starts before they leave the house. Willow tries to hide when the harness comes out. There is a lot of persuasion and a certain amount of force used to get harness and lead on.

Just as I believe they should be giving Willow choice on walks, I believe she should also have choice before leaving the house (or at least letting Willow believe she has choice. We can be cunning!).

The man will now put Willow’s harness on before going to work so that it is on already for the lady who can then simply pop the lead on when she’s ready and if Willow ducks away just drop the lead on the floor and try again later. Use food. Stop the talking and pressure!

The lady will walk Willow to the spot a couple of houses down where she starts to feel uncomfortable and then turn and come home. She will do this several times a day – several very short walks. She will lace the environment by sprinkling food on the ground ahead of her, on the outward journey (never on the way home).

Willow will have complete control of whether she continues walking or not. No pressure.

When a willing Willow who is given choice on walks eventually gets to the fields, the Rucksack Walk will be a great thing for them to do with her.

Her seeming reluctance to do what the lady wants her to do is spilling over onto her eating. Her refusal to eat worries the lady so much that she entices and persuades. With all that attention she may even find it rewarding to refuse to eat.

Now if she doesn’t eat much from her bowl it doesn’t matter as she can be fed nourishing stuff like chicken out on walks.

Already by putting down very small meals and ignoring her, knowing that she won’t starve, and with other members of the family feeding her and not just the lady – she is eating.

A couple of days have past and I received this email:

‘Yesterday, Willow ate 3 little meals – (the man) served her a couple of times and amazingly she ate most of the food offered! We wandered about outside the house sniffing a number of times and went back in and on the last walk she quite happily walked further down the road to the grassy area – I laid a little trail of food – then she wandered about sniffing and then headed home – no hesitancy at all!’

I hope that within a few weeks by being allowed choice on walks Willow will be as happy walking on familiar territory as she is when she’s away from home – with ears flapping and tail wagging!

Two weeks later: ‘Everything going really well with Willow! Eating is amazing now, clean dishes every time! Walking improving all the time, steering clear of the most negative walk at the moment. Really pleased with her progress’.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Willow and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)