Unfortunately, many dogs suffer from anxiety during walks. This not only makes the walks a drag for the pooch, it often makes things much harder on pet parents too.
Luckily, there are some ways you can help out your hound when setting out for a stroll. Below, we’ll explain why some dogs experience anxiety during walks, share some signs of walking anxiety, and identify some of the solutions pet parents can put into practice.
How to Ease Dog Anxiety on Walks: Key Takeaways
- A lot of dogs suffer from anxiety during walks, but there are some things you can do about it. Potential solutions include things like calming supplements and tight-fitting clothing, as well as providing more exercise beforehand or having a confident canine join you.
- The first thing you’ll need to do is learn to identify the signs indicating that your dog is anxious. A few of the most common symptoms of walking anxiety include tense body language, lunging at triggers, and refusing treats — but there are scads of others we’ll discuss too.
- Dogs can be anxious or frightened during walks for a variety of reasons. In some cases, dogs may be frightened because of unusual sights, sounds, or smells, but in other cases, dogs may become frightened because they’ve suffered negative encounters while walking in the past.
Why Are Some Dogs Afraid During Walks?
As a pet parent, coping with dog anxiety can be pretty challenging. Not only is it tough to see your sweetie feeling frightened and nervous, but anxiety can also occur in intermittent fashion. And this makes it a bit unpredictable at times.
One day, your doggo may feel completely confident during your daily walks, before collapsing into a ball of fear during your next jaunt around the block.
So, it is important to understand why dogs sometimes become afraid during walks. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why Fido may become fearful, including:
- Unfamiliarity with the area
- Lack of experience walking on a leash
- The presence of people or other dogs
- Loud sounds (such as construction equipment or shouting)
- General, underlying anxiety
- Prior negative experiences
- Lack of socialization, with not much time spent outdoors
Figuring out the reasons your dog is afraid will not only help you make your pup feel better during walks, it’ll help you address the issue via training or management strategies.
However, to do this, you must learn how to recognize when your dog is feeling anxious. We’ll tackle some of the most common signs of canine walking anxiety in the next section.
What Are Some Signs Your Dog Is Afraid During Walks?
Dogs have a variety of physical and behavioral responses to anxiety. Here are a couple of signs to look out for that may indicate that your furry friend is fearful:
- Distractibility: While it’s not uncommon for dogs to become distracted during walks, anxious dogs often have an extraordinarily hard time focusing on mom or dad when walking. If your dog won’t focus on you at all or respond to his name when called, he may be afraid or anxious about something
- Reactivity: If you have a reactive dog that lunges, barks intensely, or bares his teeth at “triggers,” (stimuli that frighten him, such as other dogs or skateboarders), it’s likely that he’s fearful or stressed out.
- Body language: Your dog’s body language will tell you a lot about his state of mind. So, watch out for things like a tucked tail, flattened ears, and raised hackles during walks. If you note these signs, your doggo is probably anxious.
- Walking in a “chaotic” or disorganized fashion: If your dog is scrambling from one side to the next or in some other unusual manner, he may be suffering from fear or anxiety. Note that this shouldn’t be confused with pups who haven’t yet developed proper loose leash-walking habits.
- Refusing treats: Dogs are usually happy to take treats under most circumstances, but many won’t take them in stressful or high-alert situations. If Fido is refusing a high-value treat, it may be due to walking anxiety.
- Hypervigilance: Is your dog constantly looking to the side or behind his body? If your pooch is overly fixated and constantly “scanning,” it could be a response to fear.
- Pulling to go home: If your dog won’t stop pulling on the leash or only seems to walk towards home, this could be a sign of walk anxiety. This shouldn’t, however, be confused with dogs who pull on their leash because they’re happy and excited.
- Strong response to noises: Sometimes dogs give clear indications of stress by being visibly shaken by loud or unexpected noises. Now, any dog may jump because of a sudden noise, but anxious dogs will exhibit an out-of-proportion response to loud sounds.
- Collar or harness escape attempts: Fearful dogs may attempt to slip out of their collars or harnesses in an effort to escape the stressful situation.
- Putting on the breaks: Some fearful furry friends may stop in their tracks or “put on the breaks” frequently throughout your walk. In extreme cases, frightened dogs may even lie down and refuse to move.
13 Ways to Ease Dog Anxiety on Walks
If you believe your dog has walk anxiety, consider trying out some of these strategies to help your canine feel more comfortable. Just note that anxiety is a multifaceted issue, so you’ll need to take a holistic, positive, and patient approach while supporting Spot.
1. Refocus your dog.
One of the best ways to address canine anxiety — especially in cases when the anxiety is brought on by a specific trigger — is by refocusing your furry friend.
Essentially, you’ll want to shift your dog’s focus from the other dog or bicycler passing by and have him focus on you, a treat, or something interesting to sniff.
In fact, “treat scatters” are often an ideal solution in this case — just grab a fistful of treats and toss ’em on the ground for Spot to sniff out.
Note that some dogs won’t be able to refocus if they have “exceeded their threshold,” (meaning they are already freaking out).
That means that you’ll want to try to grab and hold your dog’s attention before the trigger saunters by or you’re forced to walk by something frightening. If your dog displays leash reactivity, meaning he only freaks out and lunges or barks at triggers while on leash, make sure to also read our full guide to walking leash reactive dogs specifically.
2. Create an enjoyable routine and lay on the treats.
Some anxious dogs just need to cultivate a more positive association with walks to feel better while heading out of the house.
The easiest way to make walks 10x more fun for your dog? Use treats – and lots of ’em!
If your dog freezes a lot during walks, try tossing treats a few steps ahead of you every five seconds or so. Click and treat whenever your dog continues walking after a long pause. Don’t be afraid to be super generous with the goodies!
Not only will treats keep the walk moving, food is also fantastic for lowering stress and calming dogs down. It’s hard to be scared when you’re digging into a mouth-watering burger!
Worried about your dog’s weight? No problem, just use your dog’s kibble instead of treats. You can even feed your dog his entire breakfast dinner via your walk! Just keep in mind that if your dog is hesitate and not eating, you may need to up the reward to more high-value dog treats like rotisserie chicken, hot dog pieces, string cheese, or liverwurst.
Also try instilling a routine where your pooch is rewarded after going out for a successful walk. For instance, you could consistently offer your dog dinner after coming inside from a walk. This might make it easier for your dog to create a positive association with walks if he knows he’ll be rewarded afterward.
3. Let your dog call the shots and sniff.
Another easy way to make walks much more relaxing and enjoyable for your pooch is to let him call the shots! Consider letting your dog lead the way, allowing him to choose which streets to explore and which spots to stop at and examine further.
Allowing your dog to make choices and use his autonomy builds his confidence and lowers anxiety! And no, don’t worry – letting your dog lead the walk doesn’t mean he’s the alpha (learn more about why the entire concept of alpha wolves has been completely debunked).
Your dog’s walk is likely his once chance all day to be outside and explore his environment.
Everything about your dog’s life is on your terms – when he eats, when he goes to the bathroom, what toys he plays with. Letting him choose how to spend one 20-60 minute walk each day is nothing but a kindness that will boost your dog’s confidence and security.
We also recommend letting your dog sniff anything and everything, as often as he wants! Dog’s primarily experience the world through their sense of smell, so it’s no surprise some dogs want to dedicate an entire minute to sniffing that weird-looking patch of grass five other dogs have peed on.
On top of just being the kind of nice thing to do, sniffing also lowers stress levels and anxiety, helping your dog stay more calm and collected on walks. In fact, one study has shown that regular nosework activities increase a dog’s optimism and improves welfare.
4. Give credit where credit is due.
Oftentimes, it’s all too easy for us to notice what our dogs are doing “wrong” versus what they are doing right. Most of the time, dogs just need encouragement, patience, and practice in order to blossom into their best selves.
This means you’ll want to praise your dog for any glimmers of confidence while walking, and reward him for exhibiting good listening skills, walking at a consistent pace, and keeping his attention focused on you.
5. Adjust the duration of your walks.
Anxiety isn’t an all or nothing proposition — it often builds over time. So, instead of going on really long walks with your anxious pooch, break your walks up into more frequent but shorter excursions.
Instead of a forty-minute walk, how about two twenty-minute walks? Or instead of an hour walk, try a 30-minute walk, a 20-minute walk, and a 10-minute stroll around the neighborhood in the evening.
Your dog will likely remain calmer during brief walks, which can help establish some positive momentum. This, in turn, will help reduce his anxiety about walks in general.
Shorter, more frequent walks will also help you determine what times of day tend to work best for Buddy, which will help you achieve your overall goals too.
6. Try the “Jolly Routine.”
The “Jolly Routine” is a training tactic that leverages the way our dogs monitor our own our emotions in response to their triggers. Essentially, it entails acting like a complete goofball when approaching something frightening.
So, instead of reacting with apprehension when you approach a trigger, you act happy — even silly. You should maintain very “loose” body language, you should smile (or even laugh), and you should talk to your dog in a silly voice.
It can feel strange to act this way (especially in public), but it’s a time-tested technique that works well.
7. Try a Thundershirt.
A Thundershirt is a tight-fitting, compression garment that helps a lot of dogs feel more confident — especially during periods of acute anxiety.
Thundershirts don’t work for all furry friends, but the company boasts a remarkable 80% success rate in their own trials. This means they’re definitely worth trying, as they’re a very low-risk, high-reward tool.
8. Experiment with different walking routes or times.
In some cases, the answer to your dog’s walking anxiety may be easy to fix by simply walking in a different location or heading out at a different time. However, it may take a bit of experimentation to find a time and place that work well for your dog.
In some cases, you may find that your dog is less anxious in the morning, before he’s had to deal with an entire day of triggers. In other cases, you may be able to fight off walking anxiety by avoiding triggers that are common to a given area or time.
Many owners of reactive or fearful dogs have more relaxing walks at night, when fewer people and other dogs are out and about.
9. Try calming supplements.
Calming supplements are another helpful tool in your quest for a relaxed canine. There are a variety of types to try, ranging from dog CBD oils and extracts to canine calming supplements made with herbs or synthesized dog hormones. Pheromone calming collars are another option!
Just note that while over-the-counter calming treats are a good first option, you may need to talk to your vet about prescription dog behavior medications if over-the-counter supplements (and the other strategies listed here) don’t work.
10. Set up a productive playdate.
Sometimes all a dog needs is a little encouragement from another confident canine. So, try to schedule a walk with another pet playmate who excels in loose leash walking. This may allow your pup to pick up on the positive cues put out by the other pooch.
Obviously, your dog can’t always walk with another furry friend, but even just a couple of “partner” walks can be incredibly helpful.
11. Desensitize your dog by observing triggers at a distance.
One way you may be able to improve your dog’s confidence level and squash anxiety is via something called dog desensitization training.
Essentially, this means letting your dog observe his triggers at a distance and providing rewards while he does so.
This can help you gently familiarize Fido with the things that frighten him and reduce the amount of anxiety his triggers cause.
This will obviously work best with dogs who’s anxiety stems from a specific type of trigger; it may not help dogs who are suffering from more generalized anxiety very much.
Just note that desensitization doesn’t happen overnight. You’re may need to keep at it for days, weeks, or even months before you see positive results.
12. Wear out your pooch ahead of time.
Exercise is so useful for so many behavioral issues that it’s almost a cliché at this point. However, the fact remains: Providing additional exercise before heading out can help calm some canines during walks.
We don’t just mean physical exercise either – mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise, so consider using puzzle toys and implementing canine enrichment activities before and after walks to burn off excess energy.
You can also engage in a vigorous game of fetch in the backyard or start employing some indoor winter dog exercises to wear your woofer out prior to your normal walks.
13. Invest some time in leash training.
Some pups simply have limited experience walking on a leash, and this can lead to pretty intense anxiety in some cases. So, you’ll want to make sure you take things slowly and introduce your pupperino to leash walking in a positive manner — especially if your dog has a murky history, which may not involve many leashed walks.
This may mean using your leash inside your home a few times before heading outside, and you’ll definitely want to provide him with plenty of praise and treats to help him develop a positive association.
14. Don’t get discouraged – remember, your dog is doing his best.
Walking an anxious dog can be a headache for humans. Whether you’re dealing with a dog who is constantly freezing and scanning his environment every few seconds, or a dog who startles at every sound, walking a nervous dog often takes much longer than walking a “normal” pup.
The owner also usually ends up in a heightened state as they constantly scan and look out for triggers that might frighten their pooch.
It can be tough, but try not to get frustrated and remember that your dog is doing his very best!
When I first got Remy, he was such an anxious, unsocialized mess that he would freeze basically every few steps. Walking him was a huge nuisance, as a normally 20-minute walk would take 40 minutes instead.
At the time, I would get pretty frustrated. I thought Remy was intentionally ignoring me, so I’d tug him forward when he would freeze, not realizing just how overwhelmed he was!
Remy didn’t display the typical signs I associated with a dog being frightened, like whining or cowering. But now I realize he was completely over-stimulated, constantly panting, freezing, showing tight body language, wrinkled forehead lines, and other telltale signs of canine anxiety.
It took a few months, but now Remy can walk his usual neighborhood routine without stress. New environments can still be tough though!
15. Work with a behaviorist.
Sometimes, you just have to call in reinforcements when you need a helping hand. And in this case, that means reaching out to someone educated in canine behavior. So, if you’ve tried several of the techniques discussed above without seeing any positive results, consider hiring a certified dog behavior consultant.
You can certainly do this from the outset, but most owners will treat it as a last resort.
Dog Walk Anxiety FAQ
Still having trouble soothing Spot? Here are a couple of frequently asked questions surrounding dog anxiety while walking.
Does anxiety make a dog pull on a leash?
Anxious or leash-reactive dogs may be prone to pull or lunge while on a leash. Thankfully, with patience and positive training, these challenging instincts can be reworked.
Why are some dogs afraid of walking?
Going on walks can be a fear-inducing activity for many dogs since they may be exposed to triggers. Others may not have much experience walking on a leash, which can lead to anxiety.
Why does my dog stop and freeze during walks?
Your dog could be stopping and freezing on walks out of fear or anxiety. Luckily, you can certainly retrain your pooch to walk continuously by addressing the source of his fears.
Can a dog suddenly become frightened during walks?
It’s not uncommon for dogs, especially puppies or dogs with a complicated history, to become frightened while walking. Try to identify your dog’s source of stress so that you can properly address the larger issue.
Walk anxiety is a fairly common challenge amongst our furry friends. Thankfully, it is something that can be addressed and improved with patience and positive training techniques.
Does your dog suffer from walk anxiety? What strategies have helped you the most? We’d love to hear your take in the comments below!