Dogs and walking go together like jelly and ice cream; when you get a dog; even people who know very little about them seem to instinctively know that you must walk them. Every day, come rain or shine all across the country you will see people out for a stroll with their canine companions.
For most dogs, the walk is the highlight of the day (second only to feeding time!).
With my own dogs, they can be in a deep slumber in front of a roaring fire, but the moment you touch their leads, or reach for the dog walking paraphernalia (poo bags, dog walking coat, ball etc) they are there ready in anticipation of the delights of exploring. When I have been sitting in front of the fire on a cold winter’s evening, I have to confess the last thing I want to do is to get togged out in my Antarctic style attire only to weave my way around the dark woodlands with dead fingers and chapped lips, but alas I do!
The dark, mess and cold of course is only a couple of months a year and in slightly milder conditions, I do get almost as excited as the dogs when it comes to rambling and exploring new places, different scenery and of course meeting with new people and dogs. Walking can be a great stress relief and of course helps to keep you fit, but what about when Fido decides that he no longer wants to come with you and that walks are completely off the menu!
So far this year, I have had more clients than ever reporting that try as they might, their dogs just don’t do walkies! The rattle of the lead or the poo bags being taken from the drawer is enough to send him running upstairs to hide under the bed!
Only the week before last I went off out on a home visit to see Matt Seaward and his Golden Retriever Henry. Matt explained to me that Henry will go out of the house and turn left, but will never go right and will walk to the first gate that enters the park, will run around the park happily playing with dogs and when it’s time to go, he will leave the park by the same gate only and walk the same route back home – not even a slight deviation to the paper shop is allowed by Henry.
So off we set for a walk (the second one in that day – and Henry only usually will go out once per day!) down the garden path was fine, Matt was amazed that Henry was willing to go for another walk less that 24 hours since he had previously been. We turned left along the road and Henry appeared to be enjoying himself then we attempted to walk past the entrance to the park and Henry was not happy!
Henry sat down, he then turned around and tried to run into the park, when this did not work, he thrust himself up and put his paws over the lead, to which Matt immediately started to untangle him and in the fiasco of Henry bucking around and Matt faffing about with the lead, Matt lost his balance and Henry ran into the park.
We went back to the house for coffee and a chat about what I had observed. Matt told me that Henry did not want to go to any new locations because he was fearful of something. I did not agree, Henry was a very confident dog, but in my opinion, just wanted his own way and wanted to go to the park.
Matt did not share my view of his pampered pet, and seemed to take a little umbrage that I did not feel as sorry for Henry as he did! Matt had spent weeks stroking Henry outside the park gates and giving into the imposed routine and walking route. I asked if I could take Henry out for a walk by myself. Matt agreed and I could tell by his tone that he almost wanted me to fail.
I put my running shoes on, tightened Henry’s collar so that it would not come over his head, removed the extending-
Henry looked a little perplexed and began to slow down, I picked up my pace and without dragging Henry (wafting a few fishy treats by his nose) he picked up his pace to meet mine. When we came parallel to the house, Henry tried to dash back in, but I anticipated that and did not let him throw me off balance, I held the lead up high as I ran so that he could not get his paws over it as he had learnt to do so well. After these two little protests we ran along the main road and across at the traffic lights and over into the park on the other side of the road (somewhere Henry had never been and did not know existed) there were lots of dogs, lots of new smells, people playing tennis and children on the swings. The park then opened out into beautiful open countryside where one could explore for days.
I walked back with Henry (via a different route than we took to get to the new location). There was no pulling into the park and he happily crossed the road at whatever point I decided. Henry was easy to change, next was the hard part, bringing Matt in to the equation.
Matt was pleased that Henry had been so malleable and insisted that we go again to cross the main road. Henry was already exhausted, but off we went once more. This time we walked, turned right out of the house without issue. At the end of the road Henry tried slinging himself at Matt and throwing his paws around the lead, Matt kept the lead high and continued walking. Henry gave in we got to the park without further issues. Matt was so pleased that he got to the new park that he brought all three of us an ice cream!
Once back at the house, I went through my advice for the following few walks. Matt had a few little hiccups over the first few days, but once Henry learnt that there are some fantastic places to go to other than the park; he began to follow wherever Matt decided to take him. After the first week, Matt text me a photo of Henry outside the paper shop on a Sunday morning on his way back from the park – Matt had fulfilled his ambition!
In this case, Henry just enjoyed playing with his doggie friends in the park and learnt how to get his own way. This is quite a rare case, most typically, the cause of the reluctance to walk is through a trauma that the dog has associated with a location, this could be for example fireworks, a car back firing or a low flying hot air balloon; most of the time however the owner doesn’t know what has caused it, but does know that as with most ‘phobias’ that it is becoming worse.
Take Lillian for example, another client I first met about six months ago. She had recently taken on Deloris, a three year old Borzoi. Deloris did have a few problems behaviourally, she was not house trained, loved the taste of kitchen cupboards and had a penchant for jumping in cars – (any car, any where), but also Deloris did not want to go for walks at all, ever!
Lillian was a very sweet lady whose husband had recently passed away and she chose Deloris as her companion and as a motivator to get Lillian to exercise daily and to meet new people. Trouble was of course, that Deloris wasn’t going to motivate anyone to go for a walk.
Deloris had a very sensitive nature and so did Lillian for that matter. Lillian was surprised that she couldn’t get Deloris to leave the house, but allowed her to stay indoors thinking that she would improve, but she hadn’t.
During our consultation, we did manage to get Deloris to leave the house, but she clearly didn’t enjoy it. Lillian was panic stricken in case she let the lead go and Deloris ran off and kept saying, “that’s good progress shall we call it a day now”. We did call it a day on her fifth request and I suggested that I go to her house each day for the next four days to introduce the plans gradually to get Deloris to A) accept and B) enjoy her walks.
I went to see Lillian every other day for eight days so that she could practice with Deloris herself on the days in between.
This case took much longer than Henry’s because the cause and circumstances were so different. Only within the last two weeks has Lillian contacted me to report that she has joined a local rambler’s society and Deloris accompanies her on daily walks and is allowed off lead now and Lillian has no fear that Deloris will run off home. The ramblers association meets fortnightly and Lillian has a new social circle. Deloris has fulfilled her job role!
I believe that in most cases of a dogs reluctance or refusal to walk, it has been caused by a trauma or ‘spooky’ experience, but it is greatly compounded by owner reactions over time thus it embeds and compounds quickly. If your walking partner decides that he or she no longer enjoys walks, contact a behaviour practitioner sooner rather than later!
By Ross McCarthy MCFBA MGoDT MBIPDT