The most common reason for dogs freezing while walking is the triggering of a primal instinct. This primitive instinct may be prey drive, fear, irritation, or even aggression, but whatever the cause, you must address the problem head-on to help your dog move forward.
We have put together a quick guide to help you understand why your dog is freezing while walking and how you can help them to refocus. We will cover:
- When your dog freezes out of fear.
- When your dog freezes out of hunting instinct.
- When your dog freezes due to paw irritation.
- When your dog freezes due to aggressive or defensive posturing.
When Your Dog Freezes On A Walk Due to Fear
Fear is one of the most common reasons a dog freezes while walking. This type of freezing happens in one of two ways:
- Your dog freezes as soon as you reach for the leash
- Your dog freezes while walking with you
When your dog freezes as soon as you reach for the leash, it can be hard to know what has made them afraid. When your dog freezes while walking with you, however, the source of their fear is within a close range.
If your dog freezes when you grab its leash, you need to do some detective work to discover why your dog is afraid.
- Did something happen during your last walk that startled or scared your dog? For example, is your dog startled by loud noises? Was there a loud noise during your last walk?
- Has something significant happened that has shaken your dog? For example, was your dog recently attacked by another dog?
If your dog suddenly freezes while walking, pay attention to your surroundings.
- Is there an unusual noise?
- Was there a lightning flash?
- Did a motorcycle fly past?
- Is there a bear up ahead on the trail?
Something within the immediate vicinity has spooked your dog or at least unsettled them. This situation happens a lot with dogs that are skittish by nature.
After freezing in place, your dog may refuse to move forward – this frequently happens when something incites fear or poses a danger (or perceived danger.) For example, a bear on the hiking trail or a motorcycle making a loud noise.
Your dog may also:
- Freeze in place before scrambling to run.
- Freeze in place before pulling back to run to safety (and sometimes slip their collar.)
When your dog freezes with fear, the worst thing you can do is force them to face their fear by dragging them toward it or punishing them. The best thing you can do when your dog freezes out of fear is to talk to a behaviorist. A behaviorist will help your dog work through its fear slowly and with positive reinforcement.
When Your Dog Freezes On A Walk Out of Hunting Instinct
Some dogs freeze while walking due to a primal hunting instinct. This freezing behavior is most common in hunting breeds like pointers and happens when a dog catches the scent of prey.
After your dog freezes in this way, you might see a small animal like a squirrel. If you don’t see an animal, you can usually tell that your dog has caught the scent of an animal through its body language.
- Is your dog frozen in place while sniffing the air to the right?
- Is your dog frozen in place with its eyes locked straight ahead?
- Are their ears perked up listening to an unusual bird call?
- Does your dog have a front paw lifted while standing in place with its tail stiffened?
You do not have to train your dog to hunt for them to freeze when they smell prey. Freezing is often an instinctive behavior like spinning circles before laying down (also known as “denning.”)
You should not punish your dog for an instinctive behavior, but if you find it troublesome, you can create new behavioral patterns through distraction and positive reinforcement. For example, when your dog freezes and points, you can distract them with a favorite toy, and when they redirect their attention, give them plenty of praise.
When Your Dog Freezes On A Walk Due to Aggressive or Defensive Posturing
Your dog may also freeze during a walk because something has prompted an aggressive or defensive response.
For example, if a strange dog comes running toward you and your dog feels that you are under threat, it may freeze in place and take an aggressive posture. The hair on their neck may be standing up, they may bare their teeth, and they may growl.
In this situation, it is crucial to protect yourself and your dog. Suppose your dog scares the impending threat; slowly back away until you can reach a safe place. Do not turn your back on the danger – even if you can no longer see them.
If your dog does not manage to scare away the threat, a fight may ensue as your dog tries to protect you. Your first instinct may be to get into the battle’s middle – DON’T.
- Let go of your dog’s leash so they can run if needed.
- Get yourself out of attack range.
- If you can, scare the threat away before it attacks by making yourself look like a threat. Raise your arms to look bigger and shout. If the danger stops and starts to back away, start backing away yourself. Don’t turn your back, and don’t take your eyes off the threat (but avoid direct eye contact as it could be interpreted as a threat.)
- If you intervene, use a tool that you can put between you and the threat – for example, an open umbrella can shield you and your dog.
- Do not physically attack the threat – this may direct your attention and make you the target.
- Get to a place of safety (with your dog, if possible.) Do not turn your back on the threat.
When Your Dog Freezes On A Walk Due To Paw Irritation
Another reason your dog may freeze while out on a walk is irritation of its paw pad. For example, your dog may get a spikey burr between its toes while walking.
If your dog freezes on a walk because of irritation of their paw pad, they will likely hold their foot off the ground or show reluctance to put their foot down or bear weight on it.
If you suspect paw irritation caused your dog to freeze while walking, lift your dog’s paw and examine its paw pad. Look between their toes for burrs or thorns and check for any cuts or scrapes.
If paw irritation is a problem, remove any thorn or burr and cut your walk short. Once you get home, treat any cut with a pet-friendly antiseptic and see a vet for any severe cuts or injuries.
Conclusion / Summary
When your dog freezes on a walk for any reason, you must determine if that response is appropriate or something that needs addressing through behavioral modification. If behavioral change is necessary, the sooner you start, the sooner you and your dog can start enjoying your walks together!