My Pet World: Distract and treat for timid dogs afraid of cars
My son, who lives with us, has a three-year-old, 106-pound female German shepherd/boxer mix. She is a very sweet and loving dog, but very timid. We have a large fenced-in yard, which is where she typically goes. But we live at the end of a cul-de-sac and when we take her for a walk, she often gets afraid if a truck passes the cross-street and refuses to go. Often this will happen even if no vehicle passes, but you can see her looking down the block as if anticipating a truck coming by.
When we ask her if she wants to go for a walk, she gets very excited and runs to the door, but may stop within a few feet of the doorway once we get outside. Sometimes, she can be coaxed by raising her by her harness and walking her for a few steps, and as soon as she passes the cross street, she is fine and will walk as far as we can go. If we drive her past the cross-street and then take her for a walk, she is fine as well. She is also good at dog parks. She is somewhat sensitive to loud noises. Can you suggest any solutions? I hate to have to put her into a car and drive her each time we want to go for a walk. -- Scott, Oceanside, NY
Your instincts on how to handle this problem are right so far. Putting her in the car and taking her to a park is a good accommodation for now. Walking her at the quietest time of the day -- very early in the morning or later a night -- and introducing some training may also reduce her stress at that cross-street.
The goal is to distract her and keep her moving. Take her out when the traffic on the cross-street is fairly quiet. When she balks and stops, gently turn back toward the house, using her name and saying "heel." This will take her mind off the street for a moment and onto you to see what you are doing. Give her a treat to reward her for "heeling." Then turn again and head back to the street. Repeat this process every time she balks. Before reaching the cross-street, turn and go back to the house on the first few days of training.
When the number of balks reduces, walk her to the cross-street, but turn back toward the house right before you reach the street. Take a few steps, turn again and approach the cross-street at a quick pace. Use her name and give her treats as you walk through the intersection. Give her treats until you get her to a place where she feels comfortable again.
Not every dog gets past their fears, and sometimes you must make accommodations. But since this is only one intersection, I think a few days or weeks of distraction work will help her learn there is nothing to fear.
I read your column where Rich from New York wrote about his 17-year-old cat pooping outside his litter box. You suggested the cat could be arthritic. My mom experienced this problem with her cat, and found that a Rubbermaid container lid turned upside down with litter in it worked wonders. Her cat could easily get in and out of the litter with minimal discomfort. To address the extra litter outside of the lid, she used a throw rug underneath it. Hope this tip helps others too! -- Deb, Chicago, IL