The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.

Concentrating solely on walks is missing a big part of the picture.

nervous dogIndie is generally a nervous dog. She reacts when dogs get too near – but it’s not all dogs, not every time and not in every location. It’s variable. Near to her home she is worse.

On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.

However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.

We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.

This ‘trigger stacking’ is cumulative.

If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?

She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.

They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.

If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!

They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).

At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.

Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.

Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where fear is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)