Why is my dog nervous on walks?

Nervous dog on a walk

(Q) I got my Border Collie as a pup. When I take her out she is very nervous with people, but especially dogs. Since we got her, she has never had any bad experiences with other dogs, but there is no enjoyment in taking her out and I feel she is missing out on the fun she could have.

(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: There's a strong genetic link between nervous parents and their offspring and this could be responsible for your dog's sensitive nature.

The number of other dogs the young puppy interacts with during the early weeks is also critical in the development of his social skills. Puppies can be frightened and overwhelmed very easily if they haven't had much prior experience and it doesn't take a particularly traumatic experience to put a timid puppy off.

It's very important that while you are building up your dog's confidence, you don't take her to places where she'll be chased by dogs. Instead, arrange to meet a friend with a friendly, quiet dog. Begin walking at a distance from the other dog (on a long lead so she is secure but doesn't feel trapped). Continue at a distance until your dog relaxes. Be jolly and reward her for relaxed behaviours. Try to encourage a game with her favourite toy instead of allowing her to focus completely on the other dog. Don't try to reassure her, as this will only reinforce her anxious reactions.

Over several sessions, you should be able to get closer to the other dog and then start to build up her confidence in interacting. She should never be forced to meet dogs.

You could also try a good trainer who may be able to help you train with their dogs or who may run a small outdoor class where you can train and play while giving your dog enough space to learn to relax.

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