Training for Dogs Afraid of Walks

fearful dogs Aug 23, 2021
fearful dog on walk

Is your dog afraid to go for a walk? Maybe your pup refuses to go out the front door, or freezes up and tries to run back once you’re away from home.  

In this week’s video I covered early “going for a walk” training with our fearful pup Pancake. At the beginning of training, Pancake was too afraid to go out the door for a walk.  Now, he enjoys long walks and hikes! I’ve included some clips of our training process in the video.

Before you can start with this training, your dog has to tolerate having a leash put on. We covered this training in a recent video

This is a longer video, with more audience discussion at the end. If you’re in a hurry, here are the highlights:


Don’t Force Your Dog To Walk

Training a dog who is afraid of walks to enjoy them can be a slow process. Your progress will likely be even slower if you push your pup too hard. What does “push too hard” mean, and how can you avoid it?  Two ways to avoid putting pressure on your dog that we talk about in the video include:

  • Don’t pull on the leash;
  • Don’t try to prompt or lure your dog to move forward using treats, if they’re scared.
But how can you tell if you’re pushing too hard? One important clue is your dog’s body language.  A tucked tail, pinned ears, tightly closed mouth, lip licking, and trembling are a few of the signs that your dog is scared.  In addition to body language, watch for the follow behaviors that might indicate you should adjust your training to make it easier: 
  • Reaching forward to take a treat, then immediately retreating;
  • Rapid and repeated scanning of the environment;
  • Stretching to get a treat without moving their feet. 


If you see any of these behaviors, think about how you can make the training easier for your pup. Maybe instead of asking for 2 steps out the front door, a half a step would be more doable? Or instead of being outside for 10 minutes, maybe try 30 seconds. 


Find and Use Whatever Makes Walks Easier

What do I mean by “make walks easier”? Even for a dog who is quite afraid of walks, there will probably be some contexts in which they are willing to venture a little farther from home. Or maybe, they’ll have more relaxed body language, or more sniffing and less scanning or freezing.  For Pancake, having our other 2 dogs out with him helped his training move faster.  Common helpful adjustments to training for walks include:  

  • Other, friendly dogs;
  • Particular people (your dog’s most trusted person perhaps);
  • Number of people on the walk (maybe more is better, or worse);
  • A favorite toy
  • Driving to a quiet park instead of training in your busy neighborhood. 

This might take a little experimentation, but identifying these “helping hands” can really speed up your training. 


Use Food Lures Carefully with Dogs Afraid of Walks

As you’ll see in the video, I did use visible food to prompt little Pancake to move forward away from the house- but very carefully. If you are going to use treats to try to lure your dog who is afraid of walks out the door or down the sidewalk, I recommend following these guidelines:

  • Drop treats on the ground, instead of luring with a treat in your hand;
  • Prompt/lure no more than one step forward at a time, especially in early training;
  • Use “ping-ponging”- prompt/lure one step forward, then toss the next treat back toward “safety”- maybe the house or the car, or wherever the dog is very comfortable;
  • If your dog is showing signs of fearfulness (see above for these), don’t try to use food to lure them even farther out of their comfort zone. Back up your training a little and try again with something easier. 


As with most work with fearful, reactive, or aggressive dogs, you’ll likely make faster progress, and feel less stressed and overwhelmed, if you have someone helping you.  Join our monthly training membership and have trainers “on call” to answer your questions, or sign up for private training, and get the support you need. 

If you try these tips and have success, or trouble, we want to hear from you.  Join our Facebook group and post your questions or comments there, or comment below!