Won’t Walk. Doesn’t Feel Safe. Not Naughty.

Fox Terrier won't walkThis is a puzzling situation. Often Harvey simply won’t walk.

The Fox Terrier is now eight years old and this began several years ago. He became even more reluctant to go out after their other dog died about nine months ago.

The lady and gentleman feel walks are very important, so much so that in addition to a morning walk and an evening walk, they have one of two dog walkers coming in during the day as well. Both were at our meeting which is wonderful. He certainly has plenty of humans caring for and about him!

Naughty?

They may have to drag or carry him out of the door. If he walks a little way to start with, he will then simply sit down. He won’t walk and refuses to go any further without some force.

The man referred to this as ‘being naughty’.

Harvey always pulls on the way back, very eager to get home.

The one exception to this is when one of the dog walkers takes him out with her own little dog. Harvey then walks willingly and happily plays with the dog.

He doesn’t feel safe

I am sure that the main reason is that he doesn’t feel safe when out. He will jump and cry even at crackling twig. He’s easily spooked.

There is a pattern to their attempts to take him on ‘normal’ walks. He usually will be lying on the sofa. When someone approaches him with his harness, he may growl. Ignoring this, they put his harness on.

Once outside, he pulls towards the car, a chance of escape. He’s happy in the car though when they get to their destination he still often won’t walk.

He is pulled, pushed and cajoled. Sometimes this works. Sometimes they have to give up. He has good days and he has bad days which will reflect his current levels of stress, I’m sure.

Harvey also lacks motivation generally. They need to reward him for doing things they ask whilst also pairing things he doesn’t much like with something he does like – food.

Won’t walk. Breaking the pattern

After all this time there could be an element of habit to the walking process. For this reason I have suggested they now change the pattern – the routine that leads up to walks. Because of their persuading, enticing and exasperation, he is under a lot of pressure.

It would be a lot easier for him if he thought nobody particularly cared whether he walked or not!

Imagine Harvey facing what, to him, is an ordeal three times a day. This will be adding to the stress that’s making him a dog that won’t walk.

I suggest changing the whole walking process beginning with no longer making the sofa the starting point. Having all four people who walk him together for our meeting means everyone can be consistent.

They will call him off the sofa and reward him for doing as asked. They can then walk out of the room – no pressure. Then they call him into the kitchen. They will sit down and call him to them. If he comes willingly for his harness (and food) they will put it on, if not, they will leave it and try again later. No pressure.

Won’t walk? No pressure

Once they have put the harness on Harvey they can attach a long line – at least thirty foot.

They can walk to the front door, inviting him to come if he wants. He may or may not follow. They can open the door.

He should then be given choice, choice as to whether he goes out at all and if he does, choice as to where he walks. They live in a quiet road so using a long line to give him some freedom is safe.

Now for the cunning bit! When he gets to wanting to walk a bit down the road which, with no pressure, he eventually will – they will turn back for home. They want to turn around before Harvey does – ideally while he wants to keep walking!

It is vital with a dog that won’t walk not to force him. It’s never going to be simply stubbornness or being naughty. There will always be an underlying reason. They have ruled out pain with a very thorough vet check, so it has to be either learned behaviour or fear.

While they are at it, they need to deal with anything on the walk that might scare him, even if it’s simply a cracking twig. They will pair it with food immediately. (Fortunately he’s friendly with people and not at all scared of other dogs).

Carrying food

It’s vital that each person walking him now always carries a treat bag.

Two or three very short sessions a day will slowly bring results I’m sure. It’s very important indeed not to push ahead too fast. They will try never again to put him in the situation where, for whatever reason, he won’t walk.

They will no longer think of him as being ‘naughty’ or stubborn as they could react crossly. If they think of him as ‘feeling unsafe’, this will help them to respond in the right way.

Interestingly, Harvey livens up in the evenings and becomes playful. I suspect he knows he can now relax with no more pressure of attempted walks hanging over him for the day.

No walks for a while won’t kill a dog. No walks are less harmful than the psychological effect of forced walks. There are other things they will now be doing instead to compensate.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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