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Why won't my dog go for a walk?
June 30, 2010 7:37 PM   Subscribe

What kind of border collie doesn't want a walk?

My dearest Hive Mind,

Indeed who would think a border collie would not want to go out for a brisk walk any chance she gets. For some inexplicable reason mine no longer wants to. I'm speaking to my vet and a behaviorist as well, but I can't pass up this resource. I was thinking TKCHRIST might have some insight especially.

My border collie Eleanor is five years old. We've been living on the near North side of Chicago for a year now. Her prior four years were pretty charmed: we lived in Missouri near all sorts of wild parks and hiking trails, and she went to work with me every day. This dog spent her first four years, at least after she grew out of uber-puppiness, with me 24/7.

Moving back to Chicago wasn't bad at first. She liked to go for walks and I have a dog park about three blocks away. Plus I was working from home, so more 24/7 exposure. On the weekends we go to the beach and play in the lake. She's always been a bit skittish about certain noises: thunder, loud motorcycles, fireworks, the sound of a gun, even loud hammering. She'd been pretty good in the city but this summer it's gotten worse. She doesn't want to walk. If I can get her out the door she lays on the sidewalk until I take her back inside. She'll go in the back yard, but she doesn't even really want to be at the dog park for more than about five minutes. She still loves the beach though.

What's weird is that she'll walk with others. If my upstairs neighbor is taking her similarly-sized dog for a walk, the four of us will go. This past Sunday she walked with my girlfriend and I about six blocks to a restaurant, and sat peacefully under my chair for an hour while we had breakfast. She loved the petting from people walking past and meeting the other dogs that came by. The same that evening, we were sitting outside of a pub and she was similarly relaxed, and calmly interested and greatful to anyone who gave her attention. Through no accomplishment of mine she's a really striking dog, and she gets a lot of attention from strangers, which she loves.

If I visit my parents in the suburbs she'll walk all over the place, even in town, and play in the woods behind their house. I took her to Nebraska a few weeks ago and she had no problems there. It's simply my neighborhood, or is it? It's not particularly loud. There are lots of couples and babies and dogs out all the time and she likes that. But the streets aren't loud and busy, there's not a lot of construction or car alarms or other disturbances.

I'm thinking it might be a separation issue. I've been working since April out in the suburbs. My commute is pretty long, in addition to the days. A few times a week I take her to a doggie daycare out near work so she has the car ride with me and then attention there. As far as I can tell she enjoys it, she jumps out of the car and goes to the door, and then careens for all her handlers inside. I don't think that's a problem.

Well if anyone has any thoughts I'd love to hear them. Thanks, and be well MeFites.
posted by MarvinTheCat to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Unless I missed something it sounds like it's just the dog park she doesn't want to go to any more.. Maybe she picked up some mysterious doggy signals saying "bad place" but she feels safe in a big pack.
posted by amethysts at 7:45 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Amethysts you may be on to something. She's incredibly me oriented and pack oriented. Nothing makes her happier than when my girlfriend stays over. All is then right with the world. At the park all the dogs play with each other; mine has no interest and just plays with me or other people. She could care less about chasing others or wrestling with them. She could be thinking if its just me + walk that means dog park = not interested, whereas if the girlfriend is along it's sitting outside or walking elsewhere.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:01 PM on June 30, 2010


I'm not your vet, but here are the questions, I'd start with.

Do you do ANYTHING different when taking her for a walk alone compared to taking a walk with neighbors? Collies are amazing, but they can be weirdly sensitive to changes in mid-adulthood. Try to look at life from 18 inches off the ground... has something in her environment changed?

Is she less active indoors? That is to say, is she different everywhere, or is this associated with going outside?

When you first noticed this, did you make a big fuss over her? Do you think it is possible that this is an attention seeking behavior?

Any other behavioral changes? Think about things like her approach to you when you walk in the door.

It is possible that your neighborhood hits that unpleasant valley between quietly serene and so loud that all the noises blur together; so that she notices and is bothered by the sounds she hears.

One last note, if you're able to find a good board certified behaviorist, it will help if you're able to get someone to take a video of the behavior.

Good Luck!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:06 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


has something in her environment changed?
The most drastic change in her environment has been the lack of me. The going from being around me 24/7 to me being gone for 11 hours a day. The city street I'm on isn't drastically louder or busier than where I lived in Missouri, though there is a generally greater density and volume of ... stuff.

Is she less active indoors? That is to say, is she different everywhere, or is this associated with going outside?
No not really. Still likes to play, still begs for cookies. Still does tricks.

When you first noticed this, did you make a big fuss over her? Do you think it is possible that this is an attention seeking behavior? No not really. I'm pretty even with her all the time. She's kind of like my wallet, if I go to the store, she comes. If I go see my parents, she comes. If I go eat outside, she comes. When I go to bed, she jumps up. (Yes, loser.)

Any other behavioral changes? Think about things like her approach to you when you walk in the door. Not really, though today she was at the back door when I came in. Usually she's just snoozing on the couch or bed when I come in. I have a webcam that I use to check in on her during the day while I'm gone and she's pretty mellow. Just sleeps a lot.

Thanks for your input!
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:18 PM on June 30, 2010


Okay, this is sort of (quasi-informed) speculation, but I'd say it's probably not a physical thing (your Vet can rule that out, if you don't mind paying for blood-work, etc). I'm guessing it's either a specific thing that happened when you first moved to the new neighborhood that maybe you didn't notice but Eleanor did, or a transitional difference that you're not recognizing, and more than likely a combination of both.

Border Collies (and other herding dogs) don't tend to enjoy the chaos of crowded dog parks as much as say, Labs or Boxers (for example) or other "team-oriented" breeds do. Did you ever take her to a dog park in Missouri? Was it as busy and overwhelming (from her point of view) as this one is? That may be why she doesn't like it there, and almost certainly explains why she prefers the beach/woods independent fun to massive dog play.

Also, thinking back over the past few months, was there a time when a loud motorcycle blew by or a car backfired or something near your house, maybe right when you all moved there? Could that be part of why she's spooked when you try to walk her.

I've half a Border myself (though a lot of her seriousness and focus on *task* is mitigated by the goofy ass Lab side of her), but I've noticed she certainly has a point of "okay, enough of other dogs/people, I'm ready to go home now and just be" and will let it be known. More so when she's hot or tired.

I can't offer any specific solutions over a screen of text, but maybe this will help you work out the puzzle. Good luck!
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:48 PM on June 30, 2010


I know border collies are hyper athletes, but are they also the type who need jobs? Maybe she needs to carry something on your walks? Get her a doggie backpack and carry a foldable water dish or your wallet or house keys or just nothing of importance at all, so she feels useful?

Another idea - could someone have yelled at her at the dog park, or could another dog have barked or nipped at her, thus making her afraid of the park? Same thing for something on your normal walking route. Maybe she stepped on a piece of glass or a cat looked at her funny, but it was when she was walking with just you, so now she associates walking with you with something upsetting or traumatic?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:57 PM on June 30, 2010


One more thing, before I go to bed, I'd be pretty comfortable ruling out separation anxiety issues here. The vast (and I mean pretty much without exception) dogs that I've known that have had anxiety issues don't exhibit any of the symptoms you're describing. Whether they're separation or noise-based, I've never seen them present when nobody's home but then flare up once the owner comes home. If anxiety were the issue, she'd be exhibiting signs of stress while you're at work, meaning destructive behavior (either environmental or self, meaning excessive licking/gnawing at paws/pads) or incontinence/loss of bowel control.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:12 PM on June 30, 2010


A single negative experience can turn a sensitive dog off on an activity; for example, I know a dog who won't go back in a car after she & her owner got rear-ended. Before that minor, mostly noisy, accident, going places was her favorite activity.

You've gone over some things that might have upset your dog. Here's another to toss in: could she have burned her paw-pads on a previous walk? It's getting HOT out there. If you typically take her for long walks she could have ended up with painful paws one of those times, and could just be afraid it might happen again. You can get dog booties for snow; I think you can get something similar for pavement.

If it's that she's put off by (something) that happened on one walk, and you can't manage to pinpoint it, the best way to get her past it is to have a few walks where (something) doesn't happen. If she won't walk with you, maybe you could borrow a wagon or something and tow her, until she relaxes and realizes that whatever it was isn't going to be a regular thing.

Watch her closely, too, see if there's a point in the walk where she gets more tense; maybe there IS something there that's bothering her. Just pulling something random out of the air, maybe one of the places you pass on regular walks put in one of those "animal repelling" high-pitched sound generators, or who knows what.
posted by galadriel at 9:17 PM on June 30, 2010


I know border collies are hyper athletes, but are they also the type who need jobs? Maybe she needs to carry something on your walks? Get her a doggie backpack and carry a foldable water dish or your wallet or house keys or just nothing of importance at all, so she feels useful?

This is a useful point. I did a lot of research before I got a border collie and knew precisely what I was getting into. But I've also learned a lot. They don't need quite as much physical exercise as they're hyped to need. What they do need is attention.

The first time my Mom accepted taking care of Ellie for me when I was away she was worried she wouldn't be able to give her enough physical exercise, or that she was too big for her to walk; my Mom is pretty small.

My Mom found her easy to walk because she's very good on a leash, but the more important thing is my Mom talks ALL DAY LONG. To anyone in range, dog or otherwise. Ellie loves spending time with her because she talks to/at her all day. For my Mom she's a true companion animal, in that when she's there she's her companion, talking, petting, etc. She doesn't need to run or herd, she just needs to be talked to and paid attention to, and occasionally pee and poo. And then I take care of the frisbee and ball and the rest.

But yes, I usually keep her balls and frisbees until we get to the park. Maybe I should give her the ball on the way out the door so she's expectant of what's to come.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 9:25 PM on June 30, 2010


Amethysts you may be on to something. She's incredibly me oriented and pack oriented. Nothing makes her happier than when my girlfriend stays over. All is then right with the world.

My answer is based on this and something an acquaintance of mine's female border collie, Australian cattle dog mix would do.

This acquaintance happened to be an attractive young woman who worked in a bookstore and took her dog to work with her most of the time. She had a steady long-term boyfriend, whom the dog loved, by my direct observation.

When a customer would attempt to chat her up when she was at the cash register, her dog would sit about eight feet away, and softly growl and whine, and make little yips and woofs, and if that didn't work would sometimes pull books down off the shelf onto the floor. This never happened with women customers. It was so funny and touching, but I could never allow myself to really laugh about it for fear of embarrassing the dog and hurting her feelings.

My guess is that the problem your dog is having is that you are getting a little too much action at the dog park and on these solitary walks, and she is determined to refuse to take any steps if that's what's necessary, out of loyalty to your girlfriend, and to head off even the remote possibility of a breakup of her happy home. And she's giving up a lot of pleasure to do it.

Quite a dog.
posted by jamjam at 11:46 PM on June 30, 2010


jamjam, that fascinating. And quite possible. Thanks for the reply.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 7:59 AM on July 1, 2010


Border collies + lack of attention, stimulation, exercise = depression and lack of confidence. Mine is this way too. Can you hire a dog walker? Can you take her to doggie day care to socialize?
posted by stormpooper at 8:05 AM on July 1, 2010


I'm going with Ufez Jones and those who suspect she just hates the dog park: she's a kind of "hike to country pub with friends and family, leisurely pint of bitter, hike back" dog, and the dog park is "crazy downtown nightclub rah rah rah". Like Ufez, when I think "dog park", I think boxers and labs and dobermanns and golden retrievers and the usual assortment of small yappy-type dogs. Not border collies.

You could potentially test it by driving her there, but that runs the risk of her associating the car with the evil dog park if that's what it is. Is there an alternative walk for her that starts from your door, and a very obvious way for you to signal that she's not heading there? That, at least, gives you the chance to work out whether it's the journey or the destination that's bugging her.
posted by holgate at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2010


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