Five Tips For Outings With Your Fearful Dog

fearful dogs Mar 20, 2023

 There is so much that goes into getting a fearful pup out on a walk successfully. You have to train them to be comfortable being touched, then having a collar or harness  and leash put on.  But you're not done yet! You still need to train them to be comfortable walking on leash, and then walking out the door.

When you've put all that work into getting your dog ready to go for walks, you really want those first outings to be positive experiences for both of you. Here are 5 tips to help you make those walks pleasant:


Tip #1: Choose A Quiet Walk Time And Location

This might seem obvious, but it's so important it can't be left out. Many fearful dogs find pedestrians, bikers, joggers, other dogs, noises, traffic, and any other kind of outdoor activity concerning. So avoid busy parks, downtown locations, residential areas when kids are leaving or returning from school, or any other busy settings for your shy dog's early outings. Instead, consider going out at off hours, and walking in more remote areas if it's an option.


Tip #2: Have An Escape Route

Sometimes your dog might become overwhelmed when out and about, despite your careful planning. You can decrease the risk of this happening, and have a "crisis management" option to fall back on, if you have an escape route to a safe "home base" available. During our dog Pancake's early outings, we stayed right next to the house with the front door open, and retreated back inside regularly to give him a break before he'd had too much. Later on, his hiking pack was his "safe space" he could retreat to.  Staying near your parked car can give you another retreat option.  

Make use of your escape route and "home base" often during early outings, BEFORE your dog gets anxious. This will help keep the outings fun for both of you.


Tip #3: Use A Long Line

If it's safe to do so, taking your fearful pup out on a long line (a leash that can be anywhere from 12-30+ feet long) can help make the outing more pleasant for them. With a long leash, it's much easier to give your pup the freedom to explore without the leash tightening. Many sensitive dogs seem to dislike the feeling of a tight leash pulling on their collar or harness. 

If you do choose to use a long line, it's ideal to attach it to a harness (rather than a collar), and to practice using it at home before trying to use it on an outing. It's easy for you or your dog to get tangled up in a long line. Proper long line handling is so important that we have an entire lesson on it in our training membership, Confidence Builders Club


Tip #4: Play Favorite Training Games

Does your dog have some familiar training tricks they like, like "hand touch", "find it", or "spin"? Incorporating training games into your outings can make them more fun for your dog. If your dog loves fetch, tug, or frisbee, try bringing toys along on your outings and see if your pup will play! 


Tip #5: Keep It Short

Since even the quietest, best-planned outings can be a little challenging for our fearful pups, it's a good idea to keep outings short at first. Pack up and go home while your dog is still having fun. Don't wait for them to tell you they've had too much. 

There are exceptions, of course. If your dog is having a fantastic time sniffing along a new hiking trail or park, by all means stay a little longer! Just try to end the outings on a positive note. 

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