dog refuses to walk on the leash
Pet Behavioral Problems

Dog Refuses to Walk

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s going on in our dog’s heads. We try to do our best by them, giving them daily walks and meeting their exercise needs. But what if your dog refuses to walk at all?

The biggest reasons dogs refuse to walk are pain, illness, or discomfort. Visit your veterinarian and also ensure you aren’t expecting too much activity from your dog. Other reasons dogs may stop in their tracks include poor training, excitement, anxiety, or sniffing the environment.

After you rule out health concerns, try using treats to get your dog moving again. You may have to work on training or alter your route to avoid excitement or anxiety triggers. A professional dog trainer or behaviorist can work with you to resolve the problem if you’re struggling.

In this article, we’ll talk about why your dog might refuse to walk and what to do about it!

Reasons Your Dog Refuses to Walk

Pain

Your dog may refuse to go on a walk if they’re in pain, or they may stop right in the middle of your walk.

Many things can cause pain for dogs, whether it’s an ailment, a tummy bug, or pain in their legs or feet.

Puppies may experience growing pains, senior dogs frequently develop arthritis, and any dog can have a splinter in their foot!

The condition of the sidewalk can also make walking painful. For example, cement gets incredibly hot in the summer and can burn your dog’s paws.

If you’re unsure of the temperature of the cement, try taking your shoe off and standing barefoot on the pavement. If you can’t tolerate it for a few minutes, try walking at cooler times of day, like early morning or late evening.

You may need to completely forego the walks for a while if your summers are extremely hot.

In the winter, many people lay down salt to melt ice on the sidewalks. This can hurt your dog’s paws and make them not want to go out!

Dog booties can work for both scenarios to keep your dog’s feet safe. They might also prevent splinters from digging into your dog’s paws on walks.

Small brown Pug Dog with flat black face and white curly tail Straining on Leash
Dog Straining on Leash

Discomfort

Your dog might not like the temperature, weather conditions, or what they’re wearing. For instance, some harnesses are simply uncomfortable or dig into the armpits.

Other times, your dog needs to be trained to wear the harness before taking long walks in it. Some pups can be very fussy about harnesses!

Your dog might not like hot summer days and may prefer walking in the early morning or late evening when it’s a little cooler.

On the flip side, some dogs are sensitive to cold weather and may prefer to stay home or wear a sweater to keep them warm.

Other weather conditions, like rain or snow, might also affect your dog’s desire to walk. Or, they may hate that sweater or raincoat you put on them!

Anxiety

Anxiety can cause a response known as fight, flight, or freeze. If your dog tends to freeze when they’re anxious, this might be why they refuse to walk.

Maybe they’ve stopped in their tracks after seeing a stressor, like another dog. Or perhaps they don’t like leaving home at all because the world is a scary place to them!

If your dog has severe anxiety, speak to your veterinarian about treatment options. They may suggest medication that can help your dog regulate.

Dog trainers can also help work with your dog to get them over their fears. Make sure you choose a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods—harsh training styles will make your dog more anxious!

dog with green hood not wanting to walk on leash
Small Dog Wont Walk

Illness

Have you ever been sick and dreaded taking your dog for a walk? I know I have! Sometimes, our dogs might feel the same way.

If your dog is ill, they might refuse walks. This could be caused by anything from eating something bad to a severe illness.

Your dog might feel kind of “blah” and want to rest, or they might be in pain when they walk, as we discussed above.

Whenever your dog is acting unusual, it’s a good idea to get them to the veterinarian. It’s often a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

They Don’t Want to go Home

Sometimes, dogs will stop in their tracks when you’re near home. They’re like a kid at the park stubbornly stomping their foot and demanding five more minutes!

Maybe your walk hasn’t been long enough, or your dog is just headstrong. It’s important to ensure you meet your dog’s daily exercise requirements.

If you’re sure they’re getting enough activity, it’s time to work on training. Lure your dog forward with treats—but don’t reward them until they’re up and walking.

You don’t want to wait too long to reward good behavior, but you also don’t want your dog to think they get treats for refusing to walk!

The Walk is too Long for Them

Some dogs never run out of energy, while others would rather lounge on the couch than go for a run. Small dogs, especially, may stop in their tracks because you’re expecting them to walk too far.

It’s important to keep your expectations realistic depending on your dog’s breed and fitness levels. For instance, flat-faced, or brachycephalic, breeds can only handle a limited amount of exercise.

Going overboard could lead to breathing difficulties or heat stroke.

Your Dog is Busy Sniffing

Some dogs feel the need to sniff everything. They’re super curious and want to take in all of their environment.

Dogs receive all sorts of information when they sniff. They can tell what other animals have been in the area and learn so much about other dogs from their pee in particular.

You might also notice your dog peeing a lot on your walks for the same reason. It’s all communication.

It’s essential to give your dog time to sniff. Walks that are just for sniffing give them so much enrichment!

But if you’re in a hurry on a particular day or your dog sniffs for way too long, there are ways to curve the behavior. You just need to be more interesting to your dog than all those scents are.

Grab some high-value treats (like small scraps of cooked, unseasoned meat or your dog’s favorite store-bought treats) and use them to keep your dog on track.

Teach skills like “come on!” to get them moving forward or use a “magnet hand,”–which is basically holding a treat in your hand and having your dog follow with their nose against your hand.

You don’t want to do this the entire way, but it can work to get them moving forward during the most distracting parts of your walk.

They Expect Something to Happen

If something happens that my dog likes, he will beg for it repeatedly! If it happens twice? Now he thinks it’s a new routine!

Your dog might think the same way. Maybe they saw a dog they liked behind a fence, and now they stop, expecting the dog to come out and play. Perhaps they found a scrap of bread someone threw out for the birds, and now they have to closely inspect that person’s yard every single walk.

It can take some time to get out of this habit, but you can use training to get your dog back on track. Simply urge them forward and offer a treat when they comply!

In the future, try to keep them focused on you when passing that area rather than whatever hopes and dreams made them stop before.

stubborn bulldog refusing to walk on leash
Stubborn Dog Refusing to Walk

Stubbornness

Maybe you’re walking away from the dog park and your dog wants to go toward it, there’s another dog ahead you won’t let them greet, or they really, really want the squirrel that just ran up that tree.

Some dogs are stubborn and can stay in place for a long time, trying to get their own way. A distraction can go a long way in most situations like this.

Bring something that interests your dog with you on your walks and use it when you need to get their attention. Bounce a ball on the sidewalk or offer a tasty treat if they keep walking.

A Puppy’s Instinct to Stay Near Home

When puppies are young, their instinct is to stay near home. This protects them from wandering off from their mother and getting lost!

Luckily, puppies don’t need long walks. They might even be too much for them at this age.

Short bouts of playtime in the house or backyard will get out most of their energy. Remember that puppies spend a lot of time sleeping!

They’re energetic little critters, but they need lots of short bursts of activity throughout the day, rather than one or two longer activities like you might provide for an adult dog.

They Don’t want to Walk

Your dog might refuse to walk for no other reason than that they don’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Dogs love routine, so it’s best if you can keep their daily walk at a consistent time of day. This way, they’ll be ready to go when you are.

If you’re waking them up in the middle of a nap or interrupting a great game of fetch, they might not be as amicable.

They Haven’t been Leash Trained

Dogs don’t automatically know how to walk on a leash. It’s not a natural behavior for them, but one we have to teach.

If your dog or puppy isn’t leash trained, you might notice them tugging on the leash, going in different directions, or even sitting down and refusing to walk.

They aren’t trying to be stubborn or misbehave; they just don’t know the rules yet.

dog on a walk
Dogs Need Physical Activity

How to Get Your Dog to Continue Walking

Rule Out Pain, Illness, and Over Exercise

If your dog won’t walk, call your veterinarian and book an appointment. This will help you to rule out pain and illness.

Talk to your vet about the exercise your dog needs based on their breed. You can also do your own research to see what’s recommended.

When it comes to mixed breeds or mutts, you may have to make some guesses. For instance, my dog Charlie is a shelter dog who looks very much like a Labrador! This means he has high exercise needs and loves water.

Over the years, I’ve also noticed some herding instincts in him, so I consider those as well when planning activities.

Also, consider your dog’s age and build. Young adults tend to need the most exercise, and you should take it slow with puppies and seniors.

If your dog has a short muzzle, they’re likely to have a low tolerance to exercise and heat. On hot days, indoor-only activities are recommended, and you should skip the outdoor walk.

Dogs with long, skinny frames and deep chests are often sighthounds. These breeds are built for sprinting and might not have a lot of endurance when it comes to exercise.

Then there are your Australian Shepherds and Golden Retrievers who like to go, go, go!

Positive Reinforcement

Once you’ve ruled out physical problems, you can begin to train your dog. I recommend against harsh training methods like dominance training because they’re proven to be ineffective and harm your relationship with your dog.

Instead, use positive reinforcement to teach your dog what you want from them! Short, frequent training sessions will prevent you and your dog from getting frustrated.

Use treats, a toy, praise—whatever motivates your dog. I usually stick with treats and praise because my dog is a Labrador who loves to eat and is also a real people-pleaser!

Coax your dog forward with the treat in your hand. In the beginning, reward them for just a few steps. You can reduce the frequency once your dog learns, but for now, you want walking to be super rewarding and exciting.

If your dog is nervous, try walking ahead and kneeling in front of them. Call them forward with a treat in hand and give them lots of praise when they come!

Patience

Sometimes your dog just needs someone to sit and be patient with them. Maybe they have anxiety or another medical condition and need a break from the walk.

Take them to the side if possible, especially on busy sidewalks. Your goal is to keep the environment as stress-free as possible until you can get them moving again.

Never yell at your dog for stopping or yank them forward. The latter might make them dig in their heels even harder, and both will damage your relationship.

If your dog is afraid, punishments will only make them more fearful. If they’re excited, yelling and tugging on the leash might make them more wound up!

Dogs are almost always trying their best to please us. They don’t mean to give you a hard time!

dog peeing on a brick wall
Potty Breaks are Important

Avoid Fear Triggers

If your dog is anxious or reactive, avoiding triggers is crucial.

Of course, your end goal is for your dog to go on a walk and ignore their triggers, but this doesn’t happen overnight. Slow and purposeful counter-conditioning is the only way to get them over their fears.

Pushing your dog into stressful situations that they aren’t ready for can have disastrous results. If your dog panics, their fight or flight instincts kick in. And if you don’t let them avoid their triggers, they just might turn to aggression instead.

Try a Different Route

If your dog is always stopping at the same place, try a different route that avoids the area. This can work whether it’s fear or excitement causing them to stop walking.

Work on Training

The following can help you train your dog to keep walking:

  • Leash training
  • Recall
  • Commands like “come on” and “look at me.”

Choose a distraction-free environment, such as in your home at a quiet time of day, to train initially. You can then add in more distractions and different settings so that your dog knows the rules apply more broadly.

Recall teaches your dog to come to your side. You can use it by walking ahead and then calling them so that they move forward with you.

“Come on!” is a command that tells your dog to keep moving on a walk. You can use any cue for this—I just make a clicking sound, personally!

Lastly, teaching your dog to look at you can realign their focus and stop them from focusing on anxiety triggers or exciting things that distract them from their walk.

Hire a Dog Behaviorist or Trainer

If you’re having trouble training your dog, hiring a professional might be the best choice. Make sure to choose someone who is certified, uses positive reinforcement training, and has experience with your dog’s specific problem—whether it’s anxiety, reactivity, or something else.

Try Other Activities

Most dogs need at least one daily walk. But if yours doesn’t like long walks and still needs to get their energy out somehow, try different activities to see if you can find one they prefer!

Fetch in the backyard, practicing dog agility, and dog sports can all be fun alternatives.