My son, who lives with us, has a three-year-old 106-pound female German Shepherd/Boxer mix. She is a very sweet and loving dog, but very timid. We have a large fenced-in yard, which is where she typically goes, but we live at the end of a cul-de-sac and when we take her for a walk, she often gets afraid if a truck passes the cross-street and refuses to go. Often this will happen even if no vehicle passes, but you can see her looking down the block as if anticipating a truck coming by.
When we ask her if she wants to go for a walk, she gets very excited and runs to the door, but may stop within a few feet of the doorway once we get outside. Sometimes, she can be coaxed by raising her by her harness and walking her for a few steps, and as soon as she passes the cross street, she is fine and will walk as far as we can go. If we drive her past the cross-street and then take her for a walk, she is fine as well. She is also good at dog parks. She is somewhat sensitive to loud noises. Can you suggest any solutions? I hate to have to put her into a car and drive her each time we want to go for a walk.
– Scott, Oceanside, NY
Your instincts on how to handle this problem are right so far. Putting her in the car and taking her to a park is a good accommodation for now. Walking her at the quietest time of the day – very early in the morning or later at night – and introducing some training may also reduce her stress at that cross-street.
The goal is to distract her and keep her moving. Take her out when the traffic on the cross-street is fairly quiet. When she balks and stops, gently turn back towards the house, using her name and saying “heel.” This will take her mind off the street for a moment and onto you to see what you are doing. Give her a treat to reward her for “heeling.” Then turn again and head back to the street. Repeat this process every time she balks. Before reaching the cross-street, turn and go back to the house on the first few days of training.
When the number of balks reduces, walk her to the cross-street, but turn back towards the house right before you reach the street. Take a few steps, turn again and approach the cross-street at a quick pace. Use her name and give her treats as you walk through the intersection. Give her treats until you get her to a place where she feels comfortable again.
Not every dog gets past their fears, and sometimes you must make accommodations. But since this is only one intersection, I think a few days or weeks of distraction work will help her learn there is nothing to fear.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, children’s author, syndicated pet columnist, and pet expert with more than 30 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal