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Pet Bucket Blog

March 2020

Five tips for walking a fearful or anxious dog

 by bora on 05 Mar 2020 |
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Leash reactivity can ruin walks, but there are steps you can take to overcome Fido’s fears. Here’s how to help a leash-anxious pet. Dogs evolved alongside humans, but not all of our requested behaviors come naturally to our pets. Walking on a leash can make some pets feel vulnerable by taking away their ability to fight or flee in an emergency, leading to problem behavior known as leash reactivity. Fortunately, you can relieve your pet’s stress with a few simple changes: 1. Use tasty treats. One of the best ways to ease your dog’s leash anxiety is to use positive reinforcement. Feed Fido his favorite treat when another dog or person approaches, for example, to distract him from the anxiety trigger and help him form a positive relationship with the experience. Practice and patience are key in this type of training, so remember to be consistent and don’t give up hope if you don’t see immediate results. 2. Practice choice training. You can make walks a more positive experience by reinforcing good behavior. The goal of this type of “choice training” is to praise your dog for remaining calm in a stressful situation, such as when a strange dog approaches. As soon as you see an animal nearby, begin lavishing your pet with praise for staying cool and collected. As soon as he becomes reactive, however, withdraw your praise. This will let your dog know what type of behavior earns your coveted attention. Because dogs will often not eat when they are in a state of fear, this can be a good alternative to using treats for positive reinforcement. 3. Be consistent. Another way to relieve your dog’s anxiety is to keep habits as regular and predictable as possible. Follow the same walking route, which is ideally quiet, and try to walk at the same time each day, if possible. Keep your pet’s attention on you and away from his anxiety by incorporating a tiny unpredictable element into this routine, however. You can bring a toy along as a distraction or change your pace throughout the walk. This will help your dog tune in to you, rather than focus on his fear. 4. Teach your dog a target word: Another way to get Fido to focus on you during walks is to train him to use a target word or cue. When you see another dog or person approaching, use this signal to get your dog’s attention on you and away from the trigger. Reward him for listening with a treat and praise. 5. Choose your battles: We all like to overcome our fears, but sometimes the best way to prevent stress is to avoid the trigger itself. If you are not sure you can manage your dog in a high-stress situation, such as walking in a well-traveled area, it is best to avoid that situation altogether, until you feel comfortable. Safety comes first, so be sure you are confident in you and your dog’s ability to handle a stressful situation before you approach it. Working your way up to progressively more challenging walking environments can be a great way to boost your dog’s confidence, as long as you are patient with his progress.
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