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Trainer’s Corner: Is My Dog Stubborn?

A frustrated client wanted to show me how her dog would completely put on the brakes when walking on a leash.

The demonstration began in her house. When the leash came out, her dog began doing his ‘excited behaviors’ that included jumping, running back and forth, and barking. She asked her dog to sit, which her dog did, and then she attached the leash. (Attaching a leash to a still dog can be another topic for another day.)

We then walked outside. Until we got to the end of her driveway and even made our way into the street, her dog was even pulling her. Walking on a loose leash would be another lesson for us to practice.

However, as soon as she got to the stop sign that was a couple blocks from her house, her dog planted his front feet and would not move any farther. My client wanted to keep going but clearly her dog did not want to go. She showed me how she tried luring her dog to go forward with treats. That did not work. She tried just pulling her dog but her dog would only plant his
weight down more.

What was going on here and why would her dog suddenly stop moving forward?

At another home on another day, a client showed me how her puppy would pull the other way when she tried to get her puppy out the front door. He would walk out without hesitation when it came to the back side of the house but not the front. 

What was going on there?

I also answered a call from a woman who was telling me about how she and her dog always enjoyed walking through the park near her home. They would go for 30-minute walks easily. Suddenly one day, her dog would walk five minutes and lay down, not wanting to go any further. “He didn’t seem tired,” she told me. “I don’t understand what it going on.”

Were these dogs being stubborn? Dominant?

My answer: no. First of all stubborn and dominant are simply labels. They don’t tell me is really going on. Always, there is a reason for behavior. From that little information, the only thing I know is that each of those dogs does not want to move in the direction his handler wants him to go. To begin to help them, more questions need to be asked to try to have a better
understanding of why.

I’d want to rule out any kind of medical reason first, especially for the first and third cases as these are instances of where the dog does not want to go further. Pain or discomfort can absolutely cause a dog to want to shorten a walk. If there is nothing physically wrong, then it is time to look at other factors.

Has anything occurred on a previous walk that caused the dog to have a fear response? Maybe a large dog bolted in front of them which caused your dog to bark/lunge/retreat. Maybe there were a lot of yelling kids that caused the dog to react. Or maybe there was a loud noise. It could even be that the dog picked up on a scent undetectable by the handler, but that is a predictor of danger to the dog. If any of these things have happened, that could very well be a reason why a dog would want to put on the brakes.

It could also be that the surface was too hot or too cold. Or in the case of the dog not wanting to move farther than a certain point from the house, that the dog does not want to leave its home.

There are just so many possible reasons why a dog would plant his paws on a walk, not of which as to do with those labels ‘stubborn’ or ‘dominant’.

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Sometimes, often times actually, I’ve found that a dog will respond different when away from his house and then we may begin working on leash skills in a different location.

In the first case I described above, what helped was walking the dog back and forth, going a little further away each time and then coming back closer to the house again, giving her dog more experience of moving father away with a positive consequence. We also practiced in an off-site location as well, where my client’s dog walked very easily on a loose leash.

In the second case, we practiced both walking her dog closer to the front door and then away from it, then practicing little by little moving out onto her front porch where her dog could just see the surroundings and have positive experiences. Then began moving out into the yard only when her dog continued to have relaxed muscles.

In the third case, it turns out that through questioning I learned there are a lot of off leash dogs in that park and her dog had some scary encounters in the past. It was  understandable then that her dog would not want to go farther. Switching walking areas was all that was needed for them to enjoy their walks once again.

The lesson here: If you are out on a walk with your dog, and your dog suddenly brakes, step back and ask the question, “Why?” The answer will help you come up with a solution. 

Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com.

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