Walking a nervous dog can be a challenge, especially when faced with intimidating distractions along the way. A pup is suddenly stripped of its home comforts like its favorite puppy toys as well as peace and quiet from unfamiliar noises like loud traffic or the barks of other dogs.
But fear not, as certified dog trainer Melissa Goodman from Mission Pawsitive Dog Training has some invaluable advice on how to transform those scary encounters into positive experiences for your furry friend. By creating positive associations, Goodman ensures that her canine companions can conquer their fears and enjoy walks to the fullest.
"When socializing a dog, it’s not just exposure to new things," Goodman explains. "It’s about making sure your dog is getting positive exposure and positive experiences with all that is out in the world. Trash trucks are one of the scarier things your dog can encounter. They are big, loud, and lift other massive objects that also make noise."
Over on the Mission Pawsitive Instagram, she demonstrates how she turns intimidating distractions like a trash truck into a positive association with a young pup. As a certified dog trainer accredited by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Goodman's approach to transforming scary encounters into positive associations is rooted in expertise and experience.
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As a trash truck approaches, the puppy displays signs of anxiety, such as tongue clicks and momentarily stopping taking treats. To ease the puppy's discomfort, Goodman strategically tosses some of the best dog treats on the ground in the opposite direction, making the food more enticing and keeping the dog engaged in a positive manner. Gradually, as the truck moves further away, the puppy is able to observe it for longer periods without backing away, earning more rewards along the way.
For Goodman, every outing is a learning opportunity. She emphasizes the importance of pairing new, potentially frightening or overly exciting experiences with positive reinforcement. By rewarding the dog for watching and creating a positive association, she helps them navigate challenging situations. To make treats even more exciting, she often opts to toss them on the ground rather than handing them directly to the dog.
Goodman advises dog owners to remain attentive during walks and embrace any non-reactive behavior their dogs exhibit. "Remember that nothing in our world is natural to a dog, so always be ready to train, and if your dog doesn't have a reaction to something… reward it! Do not take that stuff for granted!" she advises. If reactivity is something your dog struggles with then take a read of our how to calm a reactive dog guide, which is packed with actionable advice.
So, the next time you venture out for a walk with your nervous dog, take a page from Goodman's book. Turn those intimidating distractions into opportunities for growth and positive reinforcement. With patience, consistency, and the right training techniques, you can transform your anxious pup into a more confident and contented walking companion.
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Jessica is Staff Writer at PetsRadar who joined the team after spending over a year writing for the brand’s sister site, Fit&Well. She is an avid dog spotter whilst out for her weekly runs and brings to the team a passion for creating informative and helpful digital content, which she has been putting to practice since graduating with a degree in Magazine Journalism in 2021.