Getting your anxious dog past gardens bristling with menacing, stamping, frothing, barking dogs is hard enough.
But if you have to run that gauntlet every day to get anywhere from your home, your dog’s anxiety will build and build.
Prompted by a question from a reader, I’m giving you today an excerpt from my forthcoming books devoted to improving the life of the Growly Dog: Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog.
As my correspondent put it:
“Some days going out is a noisy, barking, snarling (from one of the other dogs), tugging mess.”
If a friend wanted you to come to the edge of a 200-foot cliff to admire the view out to sea, you may be filled with terror at the thought. If he grabs you and drags you even one step nearer the edge you’re going to panic, shout, pull back from him. If he lets you go and allows you to get on your hands and knees, perhaps you may crawl a little closer to the edge.
Perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful view, and feel able to crawl a yard nearer the next day. This is a gradual process. Maybe that’s as near as you’ll ever get to the cliff-edge (you certainly wouldn’t get me standing at the edge!) and that will do.
This type of fear will never get better on its own
It will tend to grow and grow till quite possibly your dog resists having her harness and lead put on, as she knows she has to do the “terror run” as soon as you leave the house. I would suggest giving your dog a holiday from this stress, by taking her to your walking place in the car for a few days.
Once her hormones have settled and she’s not filled with dread at the front door, you can start giving her some control over the walk, by letting her make the decisions.
The only decision she can’t make is to join in the noise and dancing. If that happens it will mean you’ve got too close and you’re undoing the benefit of the few walkless days.
So you’re going for a walk around your neighbourhood and you decide that today is the day you’re going to work on passing the Barking Dog in the Garden at No.11. Usually you can only get past no.11 while dragging your screaming dog with you.
Your aim is not going to be to breeze past no.11 in a happy cloud (though that will come later - really!) but to give your dog time, at a comfortable distance, to assess the Barking Dog. Keeping mindful of traffic on this road, give your dog a good length of lead and let her just stand and watch no.11.
When she breaks off and looks to you for guidance on where to go next, allow her to wander a few steps. If she’s going towards no.11 slow-stop her and wait, with soft hands.
Empower your dog!
Let her make the decisions about when and where she wants to move, and only intervene if you can see things are going pear-shaped.
During this session you may get within a couple of houses of no.11 without any bad reaction from your dog, the Barking Dog barking all the while. Maybe that’s enough for today?
Make a note of the tree or fence you reached, and start a bit further back from that tomorrow. Maybe then you’ll get a good few yards further without incident.
And yes, one day you’ll be able to walk past no.11 - probably on the other side of the road - with happy smiles and a carefree manner from both of you! I am always pleased and proud when I walk my four past a yapping gateway we have to pass. My group of four includes two reactors. They cast a glance towards the yappers and carry on trotting by.
The essence of this system is to
- make haste slowly - progress at a pace which allows your dog to stay comfortable
- give your dog the power to make her own decisions
- mark good decisions enthusiastically
- allow your dog time to assess the situation - it’s often way longer than you expect!
- remember your object is not to get past no.11 but for your dog to stay calm and feeling in control
Remember the clifftop and your friend’s enthusiasm to share his pleasure in the beautiful view?
The view is not beautiful if you are terrified.
This is an edited extract from my forthcoming books Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog