Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
A dog who stops walking on leash and won't move can certainly put a dent in the quality of your walks. Rather than looking forward to your daily walks, you may start dreading them because you're stuck with a dog who won't budge.
The behavior can surely appear peculiar, considering that most dogs are eager to go on walks and act excited just by seeing the leash.
If your dog stops walking mid-walk or at any other time during a walk, it may therefore help to carefully evaluate what may be occurring.
Firstly, Evaluate the Situation
Often, the best way to identify what the problem may be is by closely observing your dog and paying attention to what happens just prior to when your dog decides to stop walking.
"Antecedent" is the technical term used to describe anything that occurs prior to a behavior. Once you identify the exact antecedent that evokes the non-wanting-to-walk behavior, you are better equipped to work on the issue.
If your dog though abruptly stops during a walk for no rhyme or reason and your dog has always been fine going on walks, walking smoothly all the time, it's important to give your dog the benefit of doubt and take him to see the vet to exclude any medical problems.
Pulling Often Won't Help
Your primary instinct when your dog stops walking will likely be to pull your dog, but often this doesn't solve the problem.
Your dog may become even more reluctant to move as he'll put on the brakes and refuse to budge.
The more you pull, the more he may oppose it. And getting frustrated or angry will only make matters worse.
Treats May Not Work Either
"You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar," goes the saying, so you may therefore feel tempted to try using treats to bribe your dog into walking.
While this may work with dogs who are super motivated with food, some dogs may care less about food depending on the underlying problem that is affecting them.
The Virtue of Patience
Sometimes, you may need to be extra patient and accept that your dog is facing a problem and you will need to work on it to obtain results.
As the saying goes, "Rome was not built in one day," meaning that you cannot expect your puppy's or dog's behavior to change overnight if your dog feels he has a very valid reason to stop walking. However, with patience and consistency, you may start getting somewhere (pun intended).
7 Reasons Why Your Dog Stops Walking on Leash
As mentioned, there may be several dynamics at play with a dog who stops walking during walks. By correctly identifying the underlying cause, you are better equipped with solving the issue by tackling the root causes.
It's not always easy identifying the correct cause, so if you're struggling with a dog who keeps on halting, please get professional help.
Start with a veterinary visit, and if your dog gets a clean bill of health, then your next step may be working along with a behaviorist.
1) An Underlying Medical Problem
In general, we expect to see dogs with some underlying medical problem stop walking during the day at other times in addition to walks. We would also expect them to show some type of symptoms.
However, it is also true that going on walks may bring on certain types of pain that may not be noticed at home.
Even if your dog is young, it may be still worth ruling out medical problems that may cause dogs to freeze and stop walking.
For example, intestinal parasites or some tummy troubles can sometimes cause uncomfortable feelings in the hind end or abdomen that could make a puppy reluctant to walk.
On top of this, you want to rule out any kind of congenital malformation of the puppy's hips, legs or back that could cause a refusal to walk. Sometimes, growing pains (panosteitis) may be an issue with some dogs.
Something also worthy of ruling out are cardiac (heart) issues. Puppies may suffer from congenital heart issues (present from birth) that could cause exercise intolerance and fatigue.
Have your vet check your dog's heart out and evaluate whether there are heart murmurs, suggests veterinarian Dr. Lisa.
In older dogs, joint problems can cause dogs to feel pain and stop walking. Other possible issues may be vision issues and any type of sudden pain such as back pain or muscular problems.
A pinched nerve in the dog's neck may cause them pain upon wearing a collar and walking on a leash. Finally, in some cases, the dog's anal glands may be to blame. If they are full, it may feel uncomfortable for the dog to walk.
2) A Problem With the Paws
Sometimes, the underlying issue is right there under the dog's paw. Of course, the dog will stop walking if every step he takes causes pain!
So it's always worthy of checking your dog's paws to make sure there's nothing embedded. Check under each foot, looking carefully at the pads for any objects embedded and feel in between the toes as sometimes things may get stuck there too.
It may happen that a sliver of glass may have been embedded in the dog's paw pad or a foxtail or small rock may have gotten stuck in between the toes.
3) A Matter of Heat/Cold
When it's hot outside, dogs may get sluggish and they may start perceiving walks as unpleasant. They may therefore walk very slow and seek shade and they may be eager to walk back home. Dogs may also be thirsty.
On top of this, consider whether the pavement may be too hot. In the summer, pavements can get extra hot. Try to touch it with your hand: if it feels hot to you, your dog will feel it too.
Some small dog breeds may get chilled easily and may dread going on walks when it's very cold or windy or when there is a lot of snow.
4) Not Used to Being on Leash
Often, puppies stop walking for the simple fact that they aren't used to being on leash. When they feel pressure on the leash, they therefore freeze and don't know what to do. Pulling on the leash, may cause them to freeze even more as they get stuck in a sense of learned helplessness.
If your dog is not a puppy but was recently rescued, it may also be that he was never walked on a leash before. This can happen if the dog was a stray or if he lived on a farm and was never walked on a leash.
In this case, dogs often stop walking when they feel the pressure of the leash on their collars or harnesses. They don't know how to respond to this sensation and simply freeze into place hoping it will go away.
5) A Matter of Walking Gear
Sometimes, the issue may be what you are using to walk your dog. If your dog is used to the leash, and then you use a harness, he may freeze because he's not used to the sensation of wearing it. The same can occur when you use any new walking gear such as a head halter.
Also, consider fit: A dog I used to walk sometimes would slow down and stop walking, and at a closer look, I found out that this harness was rubbing against his internal elbow areas which were irritated from the constant friction.
6) Walks Are too Long
Often, when puppies are given their last set of vaccinations and the vet claims it's finally OK to start taking pups on walks, new puppy owners tend to overdo things. They may therefore take their puppies on walks that are too long.
Normally, puppies tend to have lots of energy, but it tends to come in short spurts followed by a nap.
Walking for too long can sometimes be more exercise than a pup is ready for, so he may start getting tired (and thirsty or hot) and therefore start slowing down.
Sometimes, a dog may start stopping on walks when they encounter stimuli or situations that overwhelm them or find frightening. Freezing can therefore be a dog's stress response due to something that may have happened on a walk.
Dogs live in a world of associations, so if something scary happens on a walk, the dog may start expecting it to happen again.
The fear-causing stimulus can be just about anything, from a car's engine backfiring, scary construction work, fireworks in the distance or a neighbor's dog barking loudly. Be your dog's eyes and ears and try to identify any triggers.
Help, My Dog Stops Walking on Leash and Won't Move!
As seen, there can be various causes for a dog who stops walking on leash and won't move. Based on potential problems, the following are some tips that may help overcome the problem.
1) For Medical Issues
As mentioned, there may be many medical issues at play. Only your vet can treat these issues based on his findings. If your vet doesn't find a direct cause, and you know your dog well enough to assume something's wrong, sometimes a second or third opinion may help. At times, deeper diagnostics can make a difference. Maybe an x-ray may reveal something or your dog's bloodwork may show something unusual.
2) A Paw Problem
Of course, removing any embedded object should solve the problem almost immediately, but it may take some time for a paw wound to heal. Here are some tips for paw pads injuries in dogs.
3) A Problem of Heat/Cold
If it's hot, walk your dog in the wee hours of the morning or late evening when the temperatures are cooler. Bring along a collapsible dog water bowl.
If the pavement is hot, plan your walks at the cooler times of the day and have your dog walk on grass rather than pavement if possible.
Small dogs who get easily cold may benefit from wearing doggy sweaters and doggy boots.
4) For Dogs Not Used to Being on Leash
Generally, puppies or dogs who are not used to being walked on a leash may stop walking because the pressure around the neck/body may scare them. These dogs need to learn to "give in" to leash pressure rather than opposing it.
It often helps, attaching the leash to the collar and letting the puppy or dog drag it around the house when you are home to supervise of course.
After your dog has done this for a while, then sit down on the couch and occasionally pick up the other end of the leash and call your dog to you and praise and reward with a treat for moving in your direction.
Then start applying some very gentle pressure on the leash and call your dog to you, so that your dog learns to "give in" to the pressure.
If your puppy or dog struggles with wearing a collar or having the leash attached, please read handling exercises for puppies.
5) For Walking Gear Issues
Always make sure that you introduce your dog gradually to new walking gear. For instance, getting dogs used to wearing a halter takes an adjustment period.
Make sure that harnesses fit very well. If your dog has sensitive skin, use a harness that offers padding.
6) For Too Long of Walks
If your puppy struggles following you, panting and stopping on walks, and comes home exhausted, you are likely doing too much (tell your vet about this though to ensure your puppy or dog is healthy). If you come home though and your puppy is still bouncing off the walls, then maybe those walks aren't that long.
Consider that, in general, a larger dog can walk for longer compared to a smaller dog. So certainly, a three-month-old Golden can go a bit farther than a three-month-old Chihuahua.
You can try briefer walks and increase the duration of the walk gradually, rather than going straight on a one or two-mile walk. Also, bring along some water.
7) For Fear on Walks
Fear is something that can take time to work on because it can be very debilitating. Also, when dogs are in a fearful state, their ability to learn decreases, and when dogs are over threshold, they'll likely refuse even the tastiest treats.
For such cases, behavior modification using desensitization and counterconditioning is often needed. This entails taking baby steps through very gradual exposures to the frightening stimulus and creating positive associations with it.
For instance, if your dog is fearful of a dog who barks a lot behind a fence, you can try walking him at a distance from which he's more comfortable (like across the street rather than in the front of the house) and feeding him high-value treats as you walk past this dog. Once you are past the dog, no more treats. This method is based on Open Bar/Closed Bar.
- With young puppies, sometimes it helps to take another more confident puppy/dog along for the walk. Have a helper walk your puppy, while you walk the other pup ahead. Praise that confident pup for walking along, petting it and giving it a treat. Make a lot of fuss. Your puppy may want to join in the fun. Praise and reward him for joining you.
- Give treats contingent upon moving. In other words, show your dog a tasty treat, and the minute he takes a step forward, praise and give the treat.
- Ensure to provide tasty treats that your dog only gets when he is outside.
- If your dog loves to meet/greet people, have them step away a bit and call your dog so he has to walk over to them to meet them.
- If there are no cars around and it is safe to do so, walk your dog on a long line (very long leashes. are often sold in horse tack stores or online) and start walking at a distance. Your dog may eventually start following you when he starts feeling like he's alone. Praise and reward your dog for reaching you.
- Drive your dog nearby your home, park the car and walk home with him. This may help to get him back into feeling it's safe to walk there. Bring along treats to create positive associations and make him think that that area is a great place to walk. You may have to drive him for a bit until he gradually walks more and gets used to the routine of walking again.
- Calming aids may help sometimes. There are DAP collars, calming supplements such as Composure, Anxiety Wraps and Thundershirts.
- Persistent cases may require a mild tranquilizer prescribed by your vet to help get your dog used to the idea that neighborhood walks are safe again.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 06, 2021:
I would often put a leash on my dog when it was time to bathe him. If I didn't he would run away from me. He either didn't like the leash or didn't like to have water on him. It was fun doing that. Your articles about dogs are informative and most helpful.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 04, 2021:
Hi Pam, since this is an older dog it would be important ruling out vision problems, orthopedic problems, balance problems. Yes, see-through can cause them to stall in fear. Baby steps, literally one step at a time, praise/treats for stepping up a step or two using high-value rewards. Watching the owner or another dog confidently go up, can help too.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 04, 2021:
A very good article.
My neighbors have a dog next door that will romp up a storm in their backyard, but when they put a leash on him...He stops cold.
I guess he ain't gonna do that leash.
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 03, 2021:
I like how you step through the medical, environmental, behavioral, etc. reasons to problem solving.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 03, 2021:
Hi Adrienne! I thought I had commented on this, but maybe not. Anyway...
Have had this issue with a few of our dogs, mainly adolescent boy dogs. It took a lot of patience and training to get them over it. But it subsided as they matured.
Others definitely had medical issues. Our boy now has an occasional mini seizure that causes him to freeze. I know it's a seizure because there's a blank, unresponsive stare. Sometimes it expresses itself as a wonky step or two. But I think it emphasizes how important it is to rule out medical concerns before assuming it's behavioral.
Great insight, as always. Have a great day!
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 01, 2021:
Well presented, thanks for sharing.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 01, 2021:
This is a very good article on this problem, Adrienne.
My grand one just bought a condo on the second floor. There are two sets of stairs. They have an older dog (about 13 years) who won't go up the metal stairs. It seems like he is afraid, but maybe it feels bad to his paws. The metal stairs have a pattern of holes that he can see through, and I wondered if when he looks down is he scared, but I also thought maybe it feels bad to his paws.
I am not sure, but I watched him on a video and he will only go up two stairs before he turns back. I wonder if you have any other thoughts about this problem. He is a large dog.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 01, 2021:
I still remember the time when our first dog experienced his first leash. He did not know how to act. Fortunately, it did not take him long to recover from that initial strange-to-him experience. He quickly learned to love his walks!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on October 01, 2021:
I've had this problem off and on with our dogs over the years. Usually, it's been with our males.
In some cases, it was an adolescent "I wanna do what I wanna do" stubbornness which, with a lot of patience and maturity, eventually ended. In others, it was indeed medical, due to paw issues with allergies and seizures.
Sometimes it's really difficult to determine what you're dealing with. But ruling out the medical is definitely the first thing that needs to be done.
As well, it does take some owner "training," too, especially for those (like me) who integrate dog walking with our own exercise routines.
Right now, both our dogs are aging seniors. While they're not doing full stop as much, they are very slow. Recognizing where your dog is on the life path is also key.
Great tips, as always! Have a great weekend!