Updated: Feb 18, 2021
For particularly nervous dogs who may be sensitive to loud noises, other dogs, people and traffic, walking can be tricky and even dangerous if dogs are off a lead and decide to run home. So how can we help them overcome some of these fears to walk with more confidence? Can it be done?
The first rule of Confidence Club
Don’t pull your dog towards something they are afraid of. Imagine for a minute that you were terrified of clowns, it’s not necessarily rational but you are scared all the same. How would you feel if someone you trusted dragged you into a circus full of them, you probably wouldn’t trust them again would you? Well it’s the same for our dogs, we need to be their safe place. They trust us to look after them so if they aren’t happy with a situation, we should let them get some distance from it. Follow their lead – literally! If they pull away from something or someone, let them.
Second Rule of Confidence Club
Let your dogs observe from a distance and give them some tasty treats whilst they do it. If they don’t take the treat when they normally would snatch it up, then you are too close to the “scary thing” - create a bit more distance and try again. If you pair observing the negative thing with eating something tasty, your dog will eventually start to associate seeing the scary thing with tasty treats and it will become less threatening.
Third Rule of Confidence Club
Be interesting! Take toys, treats, talk to your dog, walk faster, slower, anything that changes things up. The more you can interact with your dog the more their focus will be on you and not their surroundings.
Fourth Rule of Confidence Club
Let your dog sniff! Dogs like to sniff- it is a naturally calming behaviour for them and they receive a wealth of information from using their noses. It is really mentally stimulating and actually helps to tire them out!
Fifth Rule of Confidence Club
Keep leads loose when possible. It’s our natural inclination to pull the lead tighter when we notice something that might cause our dogs stress, but unless it’s actually dangerous, we are just creating more stress and tension. A lot of dogs get into on-lead altercations because the lead prevents them from displaying and reading body language properly and they get mixed signals, which in turn escalate tension.
Last Rule of Confidence Club
Reward the behaviours you like. If your dog walks calmly past something that would normally give him pause, reward him! They need to know how awesome that accomplishment was. Remember that if you reward the things that you like they are likely to be repeated more often!