weird pre-walk dog behavior!
August 13, 2018 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Why does my dog, who loves walks, always act so nervous during the buildup to a walk?

My little dog generally loves going on walks. Like most dogs, I guess, it's kind of the highlight of his tiny life. He sniffs everything, he pees on things, he walks very fast with his little butt wiggling to-and-fro, you get the idea. HOWEVER, when he is getting ready for this walk, he acts like he's being prepared for the guillotine. When he sees the harness and leash come out, he shrivels up like a raisin and trembles. He usually has to be carried all the way down the stairs to take the walk. Once he's outside it's all butt wiggles and sniffs.

I guess I'm wondering if anyone else's dog does this, if it's a tiny dog quirk, or if it indicates something I should be worried about. Even better yet, if there's one weird trick that will make him feel more confident about going on a walk! We used to do the excited "wanna go for a walk?!" routine, but since his reaction was always muted at best, we kind of stopped making a big deal about it. Far and away, the leash and harness represent "a fun walk" more often than "going to the vet" or something else unpleasant.
posted by cakelite to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think this is pretty normal. My dog always tried to slink away and avoid eye contact when the leash came out, even though she enjoyed her walks. My mom’s dog runs off and hides under the table when she hears the leash, but it’s perfectly happy once the leash is actually on.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:05 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

What percentage of the time do you walk him right before leaving the house and leaving him alone?

My dog has some sort of sixth sense about when a walk is a "we're just going outside for a minute" walk versus a "I have to leave the house now" walk. She hates the latter but not the former.
posted by supercres at 2:09 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The dog I walk every weekday invariably does this. Like he's trying to get me to forgo the gear, so we'll finally stroll as equals.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2018 [14 favorites]

Best answer: My dog does this! I think it's mostly that she doesn't love actually having the harness put on her, combined with the fact that I need her to walk on my schedule, which often means that she was resting comfortably when I need to take her out.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm glad to hear someone else's dog does this, too. My pug is always happy once the leash is on but makes me chase him around to get him dressed.

In your case, could your little guy be afraid of the stairs?

In any case, I think as long as he's happy with the actual walk, there is not much harm done.
posted by rpfields at 3:09 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Personally, to "diagnose" whatever is scaring him, I would try to isolate the pieces as much as possible - experiment with pulling out the leash or putting on the harness or clomping around in your shoes (if you put them on when you grab the leash like I do) or doing any part of the routine (going out a different door? walking on the scratchy welcome mat?) in a different location at a different time not typically associated with walks to see if one is a particular trigger (no need to actually go on a walk, just do the one piece in isolation). There's definitely a chance that one of those bothers him even if the walk itself doesn't. If you can figure out a trigger, you can look at various desensitization techniques or, perhaps, switch to a new approach/routine without that element.

My generally walk-loving guy has been known to do this temporarily if he thinks the weather might still be bad, even if it actually isn't (he's NOT a fan of the rain.) Is there any trigger like weather or another dog or a weird sound outside that he might be worried about, until he gets outside and realizes it's absent?
posted by mosst at 3:39 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: What an adorable dog!
posted by cartoonella at 6:18 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Our dog used to hate his harness and try to avoid having it put on despite loving his walks.

Then I finally figured out that it didn't fit quite right (close, but not close enough), got one the right size, and since then no issues.

So maybe it's just your dog being a weirdo (which happens all the time), but look closely to make sure it isn't a case of the harness rubbing or pinching, since that is easy to fix.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:54 PM on August 13, 2018

Could he dislike the harness? Could it possibly be hurting him? My dog for a while was really nervous about his harness, even though he loved walks. Occasionally it would pinch him or slip. Maybe it's hurting him but once he gets outside his love of the walk overpowers the pain? Dogs are tough as shit and are generally good at powering through pain in a way that people are not.

Maybe the harness is scaring him, even if it doesn't hurt? My dog hated the one with the muzzle that goes gently over their nose to discourage pulling, even though he could open his mouth fine and it wasn't not hurting him.

Just something to look into. It took three tries to get a harness my dog loves and now he literally jumps into it! But he had to deal with a lot of pinching and discomfort to get to this point, unfortunately.
posted by Amy93 at 8:53 PM on August 13, 2018

This video might be helpful if the harness is what’s bothering him. If it’s some other aspect of the routine that he doesn’t like (maybe going down the stairs) you can use similar counter conditioning techniques to get him to become more comfortable. The channel is a good resource.
posted by mymbleth at 1:19 AM on August 14, 2018

I was lucky enough to get an incredibly well-trained lab mix who is smarter than most people but she also will lose her shit when she sees the leash coming out. I think they're just so wicked happy and excited and they act nutty.

If you were up to doing a bit of training you could probably desensitize the doggo pretty easily. I'd have him wear the harness more frequently and make putting it on fun and tasty so he just forms an association that harness=delicious treats.

Get really special treats like turkey or meatballs or bacon, sit quietly with the treats and the harness, and slowly work up to putting on the harness while feeding treats. Over a few tries, the dog should figure out the harness=good things. Don't always go for a walk to break the association of harness=outdoors.

He is a wee doggo-maybe the stairs are scary. You could try something similar with the stairs--hold a treat to get him to go down on his own?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:54 AM on August 14, 2018

Best answer: I currently spend much of my time with a chihuahua & a dachshund. I like to let the latter make a lot of noise & attempt to drag me under the garage in search of the woodchuck, & I just leave the door open for the former to toddle after us. I'm thinking the leash maybe the problem as mentioned above? Are you in a place where you can walk your (extremely cute) dog off-leash?
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 11:50 AM on August 14, 2018

Response by poster: I live in Brooklyn so no off-leash walks for us. He has basically zero recall so I'm not sure I would try it anywhere, anyway. I think that he just dislikes having things pulled over his head, he lets out a good squawk if you take too long pulling a sweater off him. Thanks guys!
posted by cakelite at 12:56 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe try one he can step into? (On the linked model, you'd unlatch the red overstrap first.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2018

Along with what Mosst suggests it might also be worthwhile to desensitize the dog to your walk routine a little bit by doing some or all of the parts of the routine without actually going on a walk.

It has a side benefit of not getting the dog quite as worked up when you're getting ready to go someplace without them.
posted by VTX at 1:41 PM on August 14, 2018

I see you've met my dog! Any time we need to get him in his walking harness he hides under tables and beds. Then when we manage to grab him he stiffens up, and afterwards barely moves while he tiptoes around all hang-dog looking. If we're the ones taking him out he's mostly fine because he goes out right away and has no problem being on leash. Other days he goes out with a dog-walking service and so he might need to get into his harness and wait around for them (we don't really want them to have to crawl under beds). In that case, when they put the leash on, which he allows just fine, he'll stop after he steps out the door and shakes uncontrollably. A bit of baby talking and they get him in their car and off they go for a day of adventure which he seems to love just fine. He loves the walks, just not the harness.

We've tried all kinds of harnesses and all manner of adjustments and it's the same reaction. He will also sometimes hide from just putting his leash on his collar, but only for my husband, never for me. My husband's theory is that it's a control thing - he doesn't like feeling like he's being controlled.
posted by marylynn at 11:27 AM on August 16, 2018

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