When I am working with any dog that is struggling with anxiety, fear or any stress that is caused by triggers in the outside world, then my first piece of advice is stop walking your dog. I recommend giving them a ‘spa break’ and let them decompress. This advise is met in two ways: either a huge sense of relief from the owner as that horrible daily activity has been removed from them or they just cannot see how their dog will cope with no exercise and have visions of them bouncing off the walls.
What every dog guardian discovers is however, that all dogs cope with, and actually enjoy their ‘spa break’ period. It might take a day or two for them to stop asking for a walk at that set time of day, however, with other enrichment activities that they can do at home, the dogs all start to sleep more, relax more and they let go of their stress.
I think we all can understand this response. For those people that have been working so hard during this COVID pandemic, wouldn’t like idea of lying on the beach, reading a book on a remote island with no one else around sound like heaven? If you’ve been home schooling your children or covering for work colleagues that have been furloughed or ill, you are properly very aware how your stress levels are raised, and that the slightest thing can push you over your threshold. You don’t mean do, but you can only cope with a certain amount of stress at once. Can you see the link to dogs that react to stress? They can cope at a certain point, but if you put too much on them, they will lose their cool?
This might look like barking or lunging or chewing the furniture etc etc. Your dog is just trying to cope with life and are dealing with it the best they can with the knowledge they have got.
Let’s talk through an example: Your dog is worried about other dogs being in their space. Every day they get walked and have to ‘face their fears’ when outside their house. That means every day they face a potentially scary and threatening situation. Can you imagine having to face your fears on a daily basis? If you are scared of spiders, and I knew this, but every day at 3pm I put you in a cupboard full of spiders, because it’s good for you (physical exercise is good for dogs) how would you feel about me? Would you trust me? Would you start to dread 3pm each day?
Of course, I would love your dog to have lots of walks, enjoying themselves, playing in the fields splashing in the river. However, sometimes this isn’t suitable. Sometimes your dog needs some down time. Sometimes a dog walk is actually making everything worse. No walks aren’t a long-term solution as it doesn’t address the underlying issues. These do need to be addressed by a professional qualified behaviourist. However, do think the next time you think you should be taking your dog out, is it what they would choose?