Archie gets so scared in crowds that he screams.
People tend to think that giving a dog lots of exposure will ‘get him used to it’. Fortunately, Archie’s owners realised when they first took him into a town a few days ago that they needed to do something to help him before doing so again. They do all they know to do everything right for their dear puppy.
Archie is a beautiful little Miniature Schnauzer, not yet ten months old. They live in quite a quiet area and he’s unaccustomed to crowds.
Early exposure to the real world.
He was the most timid puppy of the litter and his lack of confidence will probably be genetic. With hindsight, he would have benefited from being much more actively habituated to people, vacuum cleaners, new things, traffic and the bustle of real life in general – but in a structured way – from a few weeks old.
Archie is a delightful little dog. When I arrived I could see how torn he was between fearfulness and wanting to be friendly. Fortunately the ‘friendly’ soon won.
He’s sweetly affectionate without being pushy.
A lot of things scare him. Where other dogs might bark, poor little Archie screams and whimpers.
He daily has to run a ten-minute gauntlet beside a busy road in order to get to the field where they let him off lead. Daily exposure isn’t making him ‘get used to it’ and in fact his screams are getting worse. He will try also to chase the traffic. He is trapped, held tightly by lead and collar, so attack can be the only form of defence left to him.
Slow, systematic work
They will work at getting Archie as confident, least stressed and stable as possible in all areas of his home life. This will give the best basis for working on his fears of people, dogs and traffic when out.
They will teach him strategies that will enable them to get his attention. Screams and barks directed at something or someone are less likely to happen when the dog is looking elsewhere.
The work needs to be done in a very systematic way, starting at the beginning.
Bit by bit they will be habituating, desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those things that scare him.
Walks themselves should be a bit different. For now they will take him to the field only by car while they work on his fearful reactivity to people, dogs and traffic, gradually and systematically.
Lead walks will be near home where it’s quiet and the distance from these threats can be controlled. The more short planned sessions they can fit in, the faster they will make progress.
Panic pulling and screams
They will carefully introduce Archie to comfortable equipment (even introducing the harness will need to be done very gradually). We will look at loose lead walking rather than panic pulling.
No longer will Archie have to endure this terrifying path past people, dogs and vehicles, a gauntlet to run that he has to endure daily in order to get to the field.
A successful approach to fear of traffic is to find a quiet side road and watch traffic passing by the end from a comfortable distance. Each vehicle will trigger food for Archie. The lead should be long and loose to allow him to feel he can escape if scared – by increasing distance. Bit by bit they will inch nearer to the traffic. On times I have done this, the dog is eventually walking happily along beside the traffic. How soon depends upon the frequency of the short sessions and how fearful the dog is to start with.
To Archie, the world out of his house is generally unsafe. When his panic and stress get simply too much, he screams. Fortunately he is fine with dogs he knows in environments he considers ‘safe’.
With time and patience he should ultimately be able to better cope with the world of people and traffic.