Courtesy of Whole Dog Journal
I was just driving down the street and my eye, as always, was drawn to a dog – a Golden Retriever puppy, I saw as I got closer – being walked by an older woman (sheesh, probably my age!) But just as I passed, I saw something that I always hate to see: for whatever reason, the puppy suddenly put on the brakes, refusing to go forward, and the woman, exasperated, just started dragging the pup by the collar along the sidewalk. Noooooo!
I have heard this complaint from puppy owners before:
“He only will go about a half a block from our home, and then he will just sit down and go no farther!”
“Whenever she feels like it, she will just lay down and refuse to go!”
“I know he still has energy, because as soon as we get home he runs all over the house! He’s just stubborn!”
First, please, I beg of you: Don’t pull your puppies! Pulling and dragging a pup can not only injure their necks and dislocate knees and elbows that are still rubbery (and with growth plates still not closed), but also give them a highly negative, unhappy association with you, the leash, and going on walks. Dragging and using force can only make matters worse!
So what should you do instead?
I would both respect the puppy’s strong aversion – and look for ways to change his mind about going along with you. In fact, I’d try to make going with you irresistible.
But first, as a matter of respect for his wishes, I would examine the possibility that there was something that was aversive to the pup that he is trying to avoid. In this case, I was in the frigid northwest, and the sidewalks are both icy and freezing and there has been a liberal use of salt and other chemical icemelts, which can burn a puppy’s tender feet. (Drag him just a few steps, and now he has raw, scraped feet, which will burn even more!) In other places, the concrete might be too hot or rough. Pay attention to his preferences: Does he walk off of the sidewalk and onto the grass at every opportunity? Is he avoiding certain types of surfaces?
It may be that he’s experiencing another painful stimuli, or once was subjected to painful stimuli on the route that he thinks you are taking. The traffic may be extra loud – or even, perhaps it was once very loud on that street, as when a fire truck once went by with its siren blaring, and the pup associates that painful noise with that street. Does the pup not want to go at all, or just not that way? If you turn around and go home, will he happily set off with you in another direction, or does he just want to get home? If you can be flexible enough to let him pick the direction, does he choose another route? Pay attention to these subtleties and see if you can determine what, specifically, he is having a hard time with.
Next, I’d consider your walking gear. If his collar sometimes delivers a painful tightening sensation, or his harness has gotten too tight because he’s gone through a growth spurt (or was poorly fit to begin with and is rubbing him or jamming him in the elbow with every stride), he’s not going to be having a purely fun experience walking with you. Get a well-fitting flat collar or a harness that’s more comfortable and fits better. If he goes more willingly with different gear on, you have at least one answer.
Next, I’d work on trying to increase his enjoyment of walking places with you. You can start this at home! See if you can “take him for a walk” around your house and/or yard without a leash. That’s right – just by using your cheerful voice, treats, a toy, and/or a playful demeanor. If you can’t be interesting or exciting or reinforcing enough to keep him with you on your own property, what is going to make him want to accompany you out in a much more distracting world – one that might be full of scary or aversive distractions or one that is rife with distractions that are more interesting or fun than a distracted, morose, punitive, or demanding human?
If he puts on the brakes at home, or veers away from you in favor of something else, see if you can up the ante – make being with you far more attractive by grabbing a toy and tossing it around in an inviting way, or dashing off to hide and calling him in a super excited voice (perhaps even leaving a trail of treats behind you as you look for a place to hide that is not too hard but not too easy). Be unpredictable! As you trot together down a hall, suddenly turn into a bedroom and fling yourself onto a bed; when he comes back to see where you went, let out a squeal of happiness and praise him! Once he’s gained interest in being with you at home, take the games out onto walks, too. Make yourself more interesting, fun, and reinforcing than anything else out there and he will want to be with you, even through various physical discomforts like freezing sidewalks.
Yes, there are times when you might have to pick up your puppy and carry him home – just as every parent has at some point had to pick up a tired, scared, or hungry toddler, calling it a day. This is a far better alternative than imposing physical force on his tender psyche and joints. I can’t help but think, every time I see one of these recalcitrant pups putting on the brakes out in the world that I will be seeing that puppy again shortly, either in my local training center (ideally) or in one of my local shelter pens, given up as “stubborn” or “stupid” – when in fact, it was strictly due to the owner’s use of force on the canine equivalent of a toddler.