Young English BulldogJess is a very friendly one-year-old English Bulldog. Although bold and friendly with people and other dogs, she is unfortunately becoming increasingly fearful of certain things, with new fears being added to the list as time goes by. Just the other day on her walk she bolted when she saw a plane flying above with a vapour trail. She hates traffic. Now she’s become scared of the microwave beeping.

Their adult daughter was leaving as I arrived and had just been engaged in some rough and tumble play with the dog.  I can’t prove this, but I would be willing to bet that Jess’ jumping up at me would have been lot less persistent and frantic had this kind of play not just taken place.

Even happy excitement is stress of a kind and, overdone, fills the brain with an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. Fear is also a kind of stress and does just the same thing to the system. Because stress builds up, not only continuing to flood the brain even for a short while after the arousal has happened, these chemicals can take days to dissipate – particularly when they are constantly being topped up.

Although on the face of it seemingly something  quite different, one can see how too much rough or exciting play can directly affect a dogs fearfulness and nervousness. We know with ourselves that if we are in a highly emotional state we are for more vulnerable to tears, fears, hysterics and so on!

When Jess did eventually calm down she was peaceful. In many ways, if she were allowed she could be quite a placid dog. She is very accepting of certain things that might upset more highly-strung dogs.

This brings me to the next difficulty for this family. There are three young grandsons who come round every day after school. The youngest in particular loves to wind Jess up and he has even been injured – by mistake. She jumps on him and they roll around the floor. They treat Jess like an animated fluffy toy. From the moment they arrive there is a daily injection of high excitement.

The retired couple themselves strike just the right balance with the kind of attention they give Jess. With some new rules in place for visiting family she should be in a better state of mind where the work with desensitising to traffic and other scary things is concerned.

I suggested they made a chart for the little boy so he can earn stars or whatever kids nowadays like to earn – for keeping Jess calm. The children need positive reinforcement just as much as the dog.

It will be most logical to start by getting Jess okay with things in the house like the microwave and the noise made by builders across the road.

Where previously the lady felt that making Jess walk by a busy road would ‘get her used to the traffic’, it’s proved not to work, with her growing increasingly fearful. They will now be finding places where Jess is at a comfortable distance from vehicles and begin the strategies which will get her to feel differently about traffic. It may mean changing routines for now to something less convenient and it may not be quick – but it’s what works!

8 months later – review on Yell:  We nervously contacted Theo, The Dog Lady to help us with our English Bulldog puppy.Jess would drag us along the road, completely out of control. She didn’t enjoy her walkies and was terrified of just about everything. Traffic was a nightmare for her, everyday she adopted a new fear. One day while we were out walking, she became terrified of vapor trails from planes in the sky. She completely freaked out! Theo totally ignored Jess until she had calmed down, and no longer jumping up. The advise she gave us was invaluable, from changing her harness and lead which would give us more control, to suggesting a different food and how to use food from her daily allowance to use as treats. Every time we heard a car when on a walk Theo suggested throwing food on the ground so that she associated cars as something good. It has taken a while but Jess is a delight. She walks beautifully and although she is still nervous around traffic she no longer drags me along.Thank you so much Theo!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jess. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good.  One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).