5 Dog-Walking Problems & Solutions

Make your walks worthwhile and enjoyable — for both you and your dog — with these solutions to common dog-walking issues.

A Pug and a French Bulldog out for a walk.
A Pug and a French Bulldog out for a walk. Photography ©MightyPics | Getty Images.

Walking with your dog is supposed to be relaxing and fun for you both, but so often it is a struggle and anything but fun for either of you. Here are some of the top five problems and solutions dog parents often encounter on their walks. But you can take back the walk and make it worthwhile and enjoyable for both you and your dog.

1. Going “crazy” when you bring out the leash

Two dogs on a leash, one excitedly running ahead.
Does your dog go crazy at even just the sight of the leash? Photography ©K_Thalhofer | Getty Images.

Your dog has paired the fun of a walk with the leash, and some dogs go “crazy” and jump all over their owners or twirl around so quickly it’s hard to even attach the leash. Don’t begin a walk in that frenzied state, as your dog is already worked up. And a dog in that state is likely to want to go, go, go once you get outside. Re-set this scene.

Spend a week or two getting out the leash at various times but not going for a walk. Reinforce your dog when he’s near the leash and exhibits calm behavior. Work up to having your dog walk over the leash on the floor with no over-the-top reactions. Then do the same reinforcement as you attach and re-attach the leash several times a day but without heading out for a walk. The reinforced behavior should continue. The idea is to reframe what the leash means to the dog, and now you want it to mean either “Sit” or “Show me calm behavior.” When your dog gives you a calm behavior, then you can attach the leash and start the walk.

2. Pulling on the leash

Getting your arm nearly yanked out of its socket is no fun at all! Take a step back, and realize your dog isn’t pulling because he is a jerk; he’s pulling because he’s using his intensive sniffing skills or because he walks faster than you or because it’s simply fun for him. Start over by teaching your dog what a leash means in a controlled, boring environment.

I attach the leash to a quality harness on the dog in the living room and toss a delicious treat behind me as I take small steps forward. When Fido catches up and looks up at me wondering if I have more treats, I mark it with an enthusiastic “Yes!” and toss another treat behind me. Repeat inside your home and then move to your back or front yard (or balcony or hallway in an apartment). Once these exercises go smoothly and your dog understands, resume re-training out in public spaces.

3. All that sniffing!

Dogs are basically a nose with a body attached. Their world is nose driven and that’s because it is such an amazingly powerful thing. It may help to remind yourself as your dog is glued to the fire hydrant smelling and smelling the latest pee-mail, that other dogs use their noses to aid humans every day, such as cancer-sniffing dogs and police dogs. Trainers often beg dog owners to allow their dog to sniff on walks.

You can still set some ground rules. Some of my clients begin the walk with a short jog or fast walk where the dog isn’t permitted to sniff. They put it on cue, such as “Let’s run!” Then in the middle of the walk they slow it way down and allow the dog to sniff and sniff some more. That can be put on cue as well, such as “Sniff!” or “Smell time!” Other clients start off with a long smelling spree and then tell the dog that’s enough and that sniff time is over. The important thing is that for a dog, the smell of a walk is probably more important than gaining an elevated heart rate from a run.

4. Overreacting to other dogs

Two beagle dogs approaching each other as they walk on a leash.
How do you handle your dog reacting to other dogs while out on walks? Photography ©Christian Buch | Getty Images.

This is a big topic. Many books have been written about just this issue because it’s very common and can be frightening to observe. If your dog is “going over threshold” (barking, lunging, not listening to you) on every walk, you need the help of a qualified professional. Punishing a reacting dog is not the right solution and will make your problems considerably worse. Reactive dogs are doing what they do from a place of fear. We need to help them learn they are safe from harm.

I most often teach counter conditioning from a safe distance. A short way of explaining counter conditioning is to reframe what the dog feels on the inside about a threat or trigger. I want the trigger itself to cause chicken to fall from the sky. A reactive dog sees another dog in the distance, and that sight — the other dog — brings the dog at the end of my leash some terrific meat or cheese tidbit. All tidbits stop when the other dog (or skateboard, bike, car, etc.) is out of my dog’s sight. In other words, I want to pair yummy treats with the first sighting of a trigger. It’s important to get counter conditioning right, and human timing is paramount. Don’t hesitate to call in a professional, as the first few times you begin counter conditioning are the critical learning episodes.

5. Not paying attention to you

Your dog minds you beautifully at home, but walk out that front door and he seemingly goes deaf. What is happening? Being outside and smelling new things is highly stimulating for dogs. If we could see what they smell we would marvel that they listen to us at all! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, focus work begins at home in a controlled environment.

I love playing a focus game I call “Find it,” but you can name it anything you want. I sit inside my home in a chair with a cup or bowl of tasty morsels. I throw a piece of great-tasting food over the dog’s head, and he goes to get it. Just as he is gobbling it up, I say his name. The second I see his ears turning toward me after I call his name, I say “Yes!” and toss another treat over his body. I repeat until he gets very good at turning toward me when I say his name. Once your dog does this easily and reliably at home, practice it on walks.

Our dog’s attention is not a given. The more we train with high-value rewards to reinforce the behaviors we do want, the more those desired behaviors show up in the dog’s repertoire. With some time training at home, you and your dog really can learn to walk nicely together and both enjoy your daily walk.

Thumbnail: Photography ©MightyPics | Getty Images.

About the author

Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a professional dog trainer based in Utah. She is a force-free trainer specializing in working with troubled dogs. She is the author of The Midnight Dog Walkers: Positive Training and Practical Advice for Living With a Reactive or Aggressive Dog. For more information, visit phenixdogs.com.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you! 

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13 thoughts on “5 Dog-Walking Problems & Solutions”

  1. I got a puppy from a foster home too. My doggy had leash problems (Pulling, Barking, ), but we didn’t need to go to doggy school to fix them.
    Pulling) Get a harness that attaches in the front, and go for a walk. The front attaching harness makes it so that if he pulls, he gets turned to the side. Another way to fix this problem is to just stop walking when he pulls.
    Barking) This command should work not just on walks, but other times too. Pick your command word (I use “no bark”), and when they start barking, distract them with the treat. After they stop, say the command word and give them the treat. Repeat as with any trick.

  2. We got a rescue from TX – he walks great on the leash as long as we are heading away from home. When it’s time to turn around he digs his heels and refuses to walk toward home again! What causes this behavior and how to resolve?

  3. I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT, whenever I take him for walks, we have problems. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

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  6. Robert Galloway

    I know I will get condemned for saying this, but it works for me. Thank you Dogster for all the enriched information you provide and all the contributions from your, I should say our good, so here goes, I get more from you than if I had to read all the information you provide in Books. Thank you, Robert

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  8. I’m only 4ft 7 and I’ve a Miniature Jack Russell it depends on his mood if he’s feeling bad he pulls and I’m gone like a freight train if he’s good HES GOOD ?

    1. Don’t look at it as your dog being bad (as was written in the above article). He’s not being a bad dog. He simply hasn’t been properly trained and rewarded for walking at your side. It’s probably the hardest thing to master when training dogs. Be patient and consistent. Start training Inside, on leash. You’ll get there.

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