It makes you feel like melting in frustration. You know your dog needs to be walked, but he darts through the house every time he sees you reaching for his leash. You bend over, put your hands on your knees, and sigh. “Here we go again.” He hides in the closet behind your clothes, and you can get him out with neither bribes nor pleas. You are thinking to yourself how there must be a way to fix this problem, and you are right. You may have to sow a little work, but in the long run, you can reap wonderful results.

Why does my dog run away when he sees the leash or harness?

Your dog needs both socialization and exercise; thus, it is important to walk your dog. So, when your dog is put off by his leash or harness, it is a serious issue. Generally, dogs love being outdoors, so, when you pull out his leash or harness, and he takes off, you are left wondering what the reason is. That answer is not necessarily an easy one, but there are some common reasons, as well as some less common reasons you can look into, as you must identify the problem before you can begin to solve it.

Could it be to do with my dog’s training?

It is always best to leash train a dog as a puppy, so an obvious answer is that your dog possibly has never been leash trained, which means you will have to start from scratch or hire a trainer. Yes, older dogs can still be trained to walk on a leash. Another possibility is that your dog has been leash trained improperly. If your dog was trained improperly, he may be confused about what to do. A leash training problem is one you will often have with rescue dogs, but take heart, it can be remedied, and rescue dogs, any dogs, are certainly worth the time and trouble.

Could it be to do with my dog’s leash or harness itself?

Is your dog’s collar too tight? The leash would compound that problem. It is more important than you may realize for your dog to have the proper collar or harness and leash. You should not even begin to try leash training your dog without the proper equipment, because if your dog is uncomfortable, he will not be cooperative. Besides, you need to possess a certain amount of control over your dog that you can only achieve with the proper equipment. The same collar does not work for every dog, nor all small collars for all small dogs. Contact the AKC if you are unsure about what type of collar, harness, or leash you need for your dog.

Could it be to do with my dog’s thought process?

There is a good chance that your leash problem lies in your dog’s thought process. This is what is known as “negative association.” You used to spend every Thanksgiving Day at your Aunt Susan’s, and you always had tons of fun until that one Thanksgiving when you did not. Your cousin thought it would be funny to lock you into the storm cellar. You were in there for two hours before your mother found you. Now, you go ten minutes out of your way to keep from driving by her house.

Why is that? It is a negative association. For you, that property says one thing, “Storm cellar. Storm cellar. Storm cellar.” Maybe something has caused your dog to have a negative association with his leash. Has your dog ever gotten a huge sticker hidden under his collar? Want to know more about what your dog’s negative associations with his leash could be? You should keep reading.

Why does my dog hide when it is time for a walk?

You want to have fun with your dog. You want to be out in the sun with him, meeting new people and new dogs, interacting with them and getting exercise, but no — every time, it is a no-go. You begin to wonder if it is your fault, wonder what you are doing wrong. There is a good chance that you have done nothing at all wrong, and even if you have made a mistake, it can be fixed. There can be a near multitude of reasons for your dog hiding when it is time to go for a walk. See if any of these possibilities sound like your dog.

Could it be something simple?

There could be a simple reason for your dog hiding when it is time to go for a walk. It could be that it is summertime, and your dog does not care for the heat of summer, or it is wintertime, and he does not like the cold. 

Could it be physical?

If only he could talk to you and tell you his woes, but he cannot, and because your dog cannot talk to you, you must figure out whether there is a physical reason for his hesitation. Dogs bothered by arthritis, a slipped disc, or bone disease can experience a lot of pain on walks. They may have other hidden issues, as well, like Pancreatitis, Cystitis, or Peritonitis, that would cause them serious pain on a walk.

These problems usually take a visit to the vet for diagnosis, but sometimes there will be hints, such as a change in your dog’s gait or a whine when he goes to lie down. Other physical reasons your dog may not want to go for a walk are that, if his hearing or vision are deteriorating, his depth perception will be changing. This will make a dog’s nerves stand on edge, as he may feel vulnerable. 

Could it be a negative association?

Negative associations are powerful. That sticker under that was under his collar is now causing negative associations with his collar, and he does not want to go near it. It is only an example, but you get the idea. Most dogs do not care for a start from a loud noise like a siren and such. It could even be feeling trapped, like getting his leash wrapped around a pole. Bad experiences like these can cause negative associations.

Could it be emotional?

Dogs are an emotional species. They display many of the same emotions that their human owners do. The most obvious emotion that may be keeping your dog inside is fear. Your dog could be afraid of his leash. Maybe it just feels odd and makes him skiddish and nervous. He could feel angry or frustrated for some reason.

Could it be a combination of things? 

It could also be a condition known as “tactile sensitivity”, in which your dog does not want to be touched in a particular area, or even at all. Maybe he is not warm and affectionate anymore. Maybe he never was. This would keep him from warming to his equipment. This condition can be caused by a scary or painful experience. Tactile sensitivity is a combination of a medical condition and a negative association. Most of the possibilities, however, will fall under the following category: a combination of emotions and negative associations.

Did the groomer accidentally clip one of his nails too short and cause him to feel pain? Was he terrified while getting his vaccinations from the vet? Did a loud noise scare him at the park? Did another dog attack him? All these and many more possibilities would cause your dog to feel fearful, angry, or frustrated when it was time to go for a walk. He would negatively associate a walk with this scary or bad experience.

Could it be something else?

Your dog could even have other reasons for not wanting to go on walks. Some dogs have figured out that, if they take off running and hide, you will come looking for them, possibly with treats, and pay them lots of attention. Your dog may think of it as an exciting new game the two of you can play. 

How do I get my dog to like walks more? 

Now, you are thinking that you know what the issue could be, and you would like to know what you could do to solve the problem. Believe it or not, there are some things you can do to get out of your predicament. Here are some answers.

What should I not do?

There is one thing that you must never do when leash training a dog. Do not pull them with the leash. Matters will only take a turn for the worse. Your dog will lose his trust in you. You can hurt your dog this way, and it will not help solve your problem.

What is flooding, and should I use it?

Flooding is also usually not a good idea. This is when you force your dog to face his fear head-on. An example, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, and you take him to the airport, this is flooding. Flooding usually does not work, and in many cases, it can make matters much worse.

What is counterconditioning?

Every time the scary stimulus comes up, one of your dog’s favorite things should enter the picture — this is counterconditioning. Whatever your dog loves, no holds barred, is it your old sock or a peach hand pie? Figure it out and use it to get your dog anticipating something good instead of something bad or scary.

What does it mean to find my dog’s Threshold?

It is important, if your dog is scared or anxious, to find his threshold, which is the point at which your dog goes from responding well to responding negatively when approaching his fear stimulus. At this point, stay at this distance, and do whatever it may take to make your dog feel relaxed and receptive to his favorite thing, even though he is facing his fear somewhat. 

What is desensitization?

You have found his threshold, so you are ready to begin counterconditioning. However, his fear stimulus will not always be outside his threshold zone. That’s why you should learn desensitization. The process of desensitization is that you begin at the outer levels of the threshold, far away from the stimulus, at the lower levels of it, and work him up very gradually to facing his fear.

While moving from one level to another is not always easy, you will know when he is ready for the next level when he reacts positively to the current level of stimuli. A sign may be that he will suddenly perk up when the stimulus is introduced, then, look to you for his favorite thing calmly and in a relaxed manner. Before you move on to the next tier, you must be certain that he has learned that the fear stimulus now comes before happy things.

What is the bottom line?

Here is a sample plan on getting your dog to accept his leash and go walking:

  1. In an area where you usually get the leash out and prepare to put it on him, hang the leash over a chair or knob in a conspicuous place.
  2. Bring your dog into the room, walking very slowly, and proceed until you think the dog is close enough to notice the leash but not be intimidated by it.
  3. When he notices the leash, give him his favorite thing, and lavish him with consolation and praise. Give him another treat, and put the leash away. Put the favorite things away immediately.
  4. Move your dog closer to the leash each time he gets comfortable with the prior distance, but only then.
  5. Eventually, you will get to the leash. Take it slowly.
  6. Just let them smell it the first day, and put it away.
  7. Maybe again tomorrow.
  8. Then, let them drag it around with them.
  9. Pick up the leash, and go to the door. Open it, and close it.
  10. After a while, open it, step outside, and see if he will follow. Do not force him. Go back inside, and close the door.
  11. If he is very resistant, go back a step or two, and proceed more slowly.
  12. This may take weeks or months.
  13. Eventually, though, you should be able to walk your dog.

This should work for you. In the event that you cannot make it work, you will probably want to look into hiring a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. A bit of training goes a long way toward fostering a great relationship between you and your dog.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.