"Screw you guys-- I'm goin' home."
June 30, 2011 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Why is my dog suddenly freaking out on walks and sprinting home? (I don't use a leash)

I have a yellow lab/chow mix, female. She is 7 years old. I adopted her, at the Humane Society, when she was 2. I have almost never used a leash on her-- except for a dozen or so times when walking in the city or in crowded areas.

She's ultra-loyal, has never had any discipline problems, is not aggressive to people or other animals, always listens, never runs away, and, when we've had a yard, has always been able to be let out to use the bathroom without getting tied up at all.

She also isn't overly social with dogs-- at dog parks, she enjoys exploring, but mostly keeps an eye on us humans, stays relatively close, and is much more interested in fetching a frisbee or tennis ball than in chasing, playing, or hanging out with other dogs whatsoever-- I tend to describe her as "thinking herself to be a human."

We live in Capitol Hill, Seattle-- our block is quiet and clean, and when we circle the block with the poop-bags for their routine walk (which we, of course, do 2 to 3 times daily), we don't directly encounter other people, pets, or rodents 4 times out of 5, I guess. When we do, they usually just yap about the husky for 30 seconds and take off, and she (the chow/lab) just waits patiently, does her own thing, and sticks with the pack when we continue walking.

When we go out for these bathroom/stretch/exercise walks, it's me, her, and our siberian huskie (who is leashed, because while he is utterly loyal and loving in his own ways, the urge to hightail it, and to flutter his social butterfly wings, tends to take precedent for him). So it's the huskie on a leash, and the lab/chow tagging along leashless (she most often doesn't even wear a collar; we've lived in the country for much of her life, and the habit has just stuck).

We also hit the dog park an average of once a week. She's accustomed to social situations like parties, band rehearsals, as well as camping at national parks and walking in forests, on beaches, and staying in hotels-- just about anything you could imagine, she's accompanied us for-- and the only timidity or aggression that she has ever, ever displayed toward anyone or anything is an old landlord that I had that, for the life of her, she refused to give up her belief that he was a kitten-killing fascist or whatnot and always growled at him.

Oh, that, and she's a very effective guard dog when it comes to being a growling/barking presence when there are people on the other side of doors and car windows.

Sorry if that's a book worth of info, but I figured that background on her habits and demeanor are probably necessary and will help cut down on clarifying questions. Here's my question:

Usually we circle a one to three block loop on the twice-daily walk; I try to give them a little varying stimulation on their time outside. Once recently, though, we-- the dogs and I, in the fashion that I've described (male huskie on leash, female lab/chow walking along leashless)-- have had to huff it ~7 blocks to our parking spot to pick up the car (onstreet parking is brutal after 6pm the previous night), and my chow/lab suddenly, when we got within 2 blocks of the car, stopped in her tracks and shot a look at me as if to say,

"woah, okay. hold on. I'm not up for that-- this is getting dangerous. I'm gonna head back-- I'll see you guys later!"

and she started walking home! I'm very specific with her language-wise, and, as I've described, she's great at reading a room, at understanding what's happening, and at behaving appropriately and humbly whatever the situation, and I've never seen her get struck with a notion outta left field like this before. So I started following her, questioning/commanding/negotiating/whatever with her, to which she complied, but only briefly, then within seconds, she started heading home again.

The only out-of-the-ordinary detail of that walk (besides the non-routine distance that I was requiring them to walk-- which is something we've done plenty of times before without incident), was that she had uncovered a KFC drumstick stashed in a bush fairly early in the walk, which I had snatched and thrown away with the poop bags.

This behavior occured a second time recently-- this time on our run-of-the-mill, 1-block circle, after just two legs of the block-- and, as a last detail-- the point at which she turned, shot me a concerned look over her shoulder, and headed towards home was the same point at which she had snagged that KFC drumstick on the day that she ditched the long-walk.

What are the known possible causes of her sudden, rare, uncharacteristic, unnegotiable abandon of the walk? thanks
posted by herbplarfegan to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Is it possible there's some sort of noise she's hearing that's upsetting her, that you can't hear, and maybe isn't bothering the other dog?
posted by symbioid at 3:57 PM on June 30, 2011

Okay, I know this isn't what you are asking but for the love of all that's good please use a leash when you are walking your dog. Anything can happen - she ducks under a hole in the fence because she smells "friend!" and gets eaten by a much larger dog. She freaks at a weird sound and runs into the road and gets crushed by a semi. She runs up to a dog-hater. Dear god please leash your girl!
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:03 PM on June 30, 2011 [30 favorites]

Response by poster: I might doubt it, though it's tough to compare the motives of the dogs when it comes to that, since the huskie is always on a leash. Usually, the huskie just says, "let's walk further, you wimps! I'm not even breaking a sweat!" and, on the morning walk, for instance, I need to gently pull him back on course so we can get home and the humans can go to work. In the afternoon, I tend to comply and let him have some freedom to chase the bliss a little. As any other time, the lab tends to just be up for whatever we're doing.

There seems to be a pretty uniform spectrum of noise-level on all the blocks concerned, especially when we're walking, which tends to be at 8:30am for the first instance, and 5:30pm for the second instance-- at least to my certainly comparably weak human ears.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: (that was a response to symbioid's 6:57PM comment)
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2011

I wonder if she smelled something that freaked her out. Is the other dog smelling the same places?
posted by Foam Pants at 4:07 PM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: Dear god please leash your girl!

Thank you for the conscientious admonish-- we are truthfully on a hard line to getting her a nice come-along and getting her strapped into it regularly. This is a valid concern; thank you.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:08 PM on June 30, 2011

Best answer: If you look at it from a canine''s perspective, it's probably that he gets a lot of scent cues that he's in another pack's territory, and his danger anxiety ramps up a notch. This would be kind of reinforced by what you said about isn't overly social with dogs and don't directly encounter other people, pets, or rodents. There's probably scents telegraphing "killer dog pack around the corner!" You're probably looking at some sort of obedience training to reinforce his obligation to take his cues from you, and/or socialization with other dogs to improve his confidence with other dogs and curb some of the anxiety on the walk.

And yeah, I will have to second leashing him, at the very, very least until the unpredictable behavior is gone.
posted by crapmatic at 4:19 PM on June 30, 2011

he/her ... sorry, I am not following all of the details on this very well
posted by crapmatic at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2011

With a dog, it's most likely a smell or a sound - neither of which you're probably able to register yourself plus the source may not be something in your line of sight. It may remain a mystery forever.

It could also be something electrical. Some dogs seem to be really sensitive to nearby ungrounded wires or things that produce a lot of static electricity. Again, you might never know - it could be under the sidewalk, behind a wall, up a pole, anywhere.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:26 PM on June 30, 2011

Did you startle her when you snatched the drumstick? Maybe she thought there was something scary at that location.

Also, have her checked out by the vet for anything that might cause her pain after she's been walking for a while. I discovered one of my dogs had arthritis after she started cutting her walks short.
posted by lazydog at 4:37 PM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: She is due for a vet visit; knock on wood, but yeah. She tends to chill out and sit down with us at the dog park much, much earlier than she used to.

On the first instance of this-- the long walk, something I didn't mention:
I actually picked her up and carried her to the rest of the trip to the car, and she didn't protest or insist that I put her down at all-- she was fine with being carried the rest of the way, but was outright insisting that it wasn't tenable for her to walk it.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:40 PM on June 30, 2011

Best answer: My dog will quickly turn around for no apparent reason on his walks. Sometimes, he doesn't like the look of the motorcycle cover in the wind. Sometimes, he is concerned about the bark of a particular dog (though he doesn't mind the barks of other dogs). Sometimes, he's just tired of doing the walking thing, and would rather go home now (especially in the summer). I think I've said it before, but guessing a dog's motives is rather a moot point. Unless you see other behaviors that don't conform to the norm, you can probably just write it up as a personality quirk.
posted by Gilbert at 4:41 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that it could be a sound/smell that you can't hear/smell. But could it also be that something bad's happened to the dog in this particular area when she was out of your sight?
posted by hnnrs at 4:57 PM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: That's not entirely to be ruled out, but it would have had to happen very quickly when she wasn't in my immediate line of sight-- as in, within 15 seconds tops-- when we were on a previous such walk.
posted by herbplarfegan at 5:01 PM on June 30, 2011

You have a really smart dog on your hands, I think.

She made that one mistake-- getting in the car the day they dropped her off at the Humane Society-- but you won't catch her doing that again. The bush the second time reminded her of the first time.

You could test this explanation by parking the car a ways away and walking toward it with her another time.
posted by jamjam at 5:09 PM on June 30, 2011

Response by poster: Ordinarily she recognizes the car when we're on walks, even when we're just arbitrarily walking past where it's parked, and she'll "ask" whether we're getting in-- she loves going for rides, as many dogs do.

She made that one mistake-- getting in the car the day they dropped her off at the Humane Society-- but you won't catch her doing that again.

I don't think I understand what you're talking about here.
posted by herbplarfegan at 5:20 PM on June 30, 2011

I think what jamjam is saying is that something she strongly associates with "car" is "jail" and she'll be damned if she's going back there! But that was five years ago so it's doubtful.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:22 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tumid dahlia's right: I was imagining that walking to the car that time reminded her somehow of the fateful day she was taken to the Humane Society.

Tumid dahlia's also right about that not being terribly likely.
posted by jamjam at 6:42 PM on June 30, 2011

Have her checked thoroughly at her vet visit. Sometimes an inexplicable change in behavior can turn out to be a health problem.
posted by catrae at 5:26 AM on July 1, 2011

If you were someplace more rural than Capitol Hill, I'd wonder if she were smelling bear or cougar.
posted by Ellemeno at 8:31 AM on July 1, 2011

Best answer: Another thought: dogs are generally very invested in their routine, and once a routine is set they can be get distressed about altering it (or insistent that things go the way they usually do).

As an example, on all the streets around our house we normally stick to one side of the street for one reason or another; on Street A, we are on the right side of the street more than 90% of the time, because the neighborhood grocery and bodega are each on that side, and it's also the side we use when en route to nearby parks. So, not only is it the side of street we normally use, but she usually gets treats from the owner of the grocery and WOO! park! so she's also conditioned to thinking that walking on the right side of Street A may very well lead to good things. The pharmacy is on the left side of Street A, and we don't go there much. If I do try to walk with her on the left side, she is constantly pulling insistently at the leash to cross over to the right side (and she doesn't normally pull). She really hates walking on the left side of that street.

Now, she's also a dog we take everywhere, so she's used to all sorts of different stimuli and new locations with no trouble. But this walking on the left business on Street A is different and disturbing because it's an offense against The Way Things Should Be Because That's How We Do Them.

It may be that your dog was upset about the expected typical walk turning into a something unexpected (whoah, we don't go this far/this direction/this speed/whatever), and now she is concerned that you might change the walk pattern again, and she's heading you off.

Just another possibility.
posted by taz at 12:10 AM on July 2, 2011

Don't even ask me about Street B, where there's a cafe that we often frequent, and where she gets tons of fawning attention and delicious tidbits from customers, and where most beloved SkyDaddy (also known as my husband; our dog is "Sky") sometimes stops on his way home from work, and we go meet him. Don't even ask me about recently trying to pass by Street B cafe instead of stopping in, and the most cringingly embarrassing episode I've ever had with this creature. Don't even ask how fun it was to have to literally *drag* her past two full houses of side-by-side outdoor cafes under the eyes of dozens of patrons clearly convinced that I was some kind of horrible animal abuser. omg. Don't even.
posted by taz at 12:22 AM on July 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older A guthub for Clearcase? Clearhub?   |   Thanks to my boss's beanplating, I am getting an... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.