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Monday, September 8, 2008

Scared to walk in traffic

Hi Jan,
We have a problem with our 13-month-old Vizsla named Cookie. She is usually a fun-loving dog, loves people and other dogs. However, we had a lot of trouble training her to heel. We finally felt like we had it down until the middle of the summer. Now when we walk or jog with her, she gets very nervous when big trucks, buses, loud cars approach on the street. She freaks out and runs way out to the front of the leash, pulls, then freezes when the truck or bus drives by. Her body language also shows a lot of anxiety (tail down, hunched over body posture). My husband and I can't think of any negative experiences that may have triggered this new behavior. At first I tried to distract her if I see these vehicles coming by calling her name and praising her if she looked up at me. I've tried to work on the leadership game with her but nothing hasn't seemed to work. Lately I've resorted to using the gentle leader collar on her, which helps but doesn't entirely solve the problem. We live in an area where we need to walk on a busy street before we can get to a quiet neighborhood. What can we do?

Chances are, there was no one incident that made an impression on her, but rather a combination of things. Dogs go through a bunch of psychological development stages when they're young, and at 13 months she's in the "Second Fear Impact Stage." The first "Fear Impact Stage" is from 8 to 12 weeks, and the second is from 6 to 14 months. This second period could best be described as "teenage flakiness." In large breeds, this period could extend longer since it's tied to sexual maturity. There is a fear of new situations, or even of old things that appear different to the dog for some reason. Deal patiently with this stage. Dogs should, for the most part, work it out on their own. If anything, it is better to ignore the whole situation than to reinforce the fear by praising the dog or petting her while she is afraid.

So far it sounds like you've tried the right tactics, even if they haven't been effective yet. The Gentle Leader is okay, but I agree with you that's not a permanent fix for any psychological problem. I'd use a short handle leash (the EZYDog Mongrel, pictured above) with a regular choke chain and walk her on that. The handle leash will help you hold her close to you (restricting her from going out in front or ducking behind), which should help desensitize her to the traffic by limiting her options. It will also allow YOU to relax more in those situations, which is necessary for her, since your tension exacerbates her own. Check with Manning Dog Training in Yakima to see if they still carry the EZYDog leashes. If not, you can see them at the EZYDog website,
To sum it up, get a handle leash, go for confident walks, ignore the traffic, and don't acknowledge her fear in any way. The situation will pass.


1 comment:

Daftoidbat said...

My Finn is an 8 year old rescue from Dogs Trust, he is brilliant in every way except walking out on the street, he is terrified of the traffic. Im not having much success, and have in the main walked in parks open spaces where he is fine.
But we are going on holiday for two weeks and he is coming naturally is there anything I can do?