Want to help your nervous dog enjoy walks more? Expert trainer has the answers and they’re so simple

Dog on a leash looking nervously at something
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Every dog owner dreams of enjoying leisurely strolls with their canine companion, where both human and canine can bask in the simple joys of the great outdoors. However, for owners of nervous dogs, this dream can often be elusive. 

Anxiety in dogs can manifest in various ways, and it's vital to understand why your pet might be experiencing feelings of nervousness during walks. Common symptoms include trembling, excessive panting, pacing, avoidance behavior, and even aggression in extreme cases. Recognizing these signs and addressing them is the first step towards helping your dog enjoy walks to the fullest. 

Certified dog trainer Emily Fitzpatrick, who earned her credentials from the prestigious Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA-CDT), is here to offer guidance for dog owners struggling with nervous dogs. She recently shared her expert insights on the Misunderstood Mutt Instagram page, where she provides useful tips on recognizing and mitigating anxiety in dogs during walks. 

Fitzpatrick understands the challenges of dealing with a nervous dog firsthand. She shared her experience with her own dog, Goose, who she describes as a 'sensitive and shy baby'.

"He’s not reactive in the sense that he is going to lunge, bark, growl, snap, etc," explains Fitzpatrick, "He’s reactive in the sense that he will (maybe) bark and then flee the scene. He wants nothing to do with the things he finds scary. And his list of things that are scary is quite extensive."

In learning different ways to help calm a reactive dog, she has established a few things that help to soothe her dog's nerves on walks. Here are her simple yet effective solutions:

1) Using Treats to Capture the Good Moments

Fitzpatrick employs positive reinforcement techniques by using the best dog treats to reward her dog during walks when he exhibits calm and confident behavior. This approach helps to create positive associations with the outdoors, gradually diminishing his anxiety.

2) Letting the Dog Choose the Pace and Direction of the Walk

Rather than imposing your own agenda on the walk, she encourages dog owners to allow the dog to choose the pace and direction of the walk. This empowers them to explore at their own pace, promoting a sense of control and confidence.

3) Lots and Lots of Sniffing

Dogs experience the world primarily through their sense of smell. Allowing them to engage in ample sniffing during walks not only provides mental stimulation but also helps them feel more secure in their environment. Why not try a sniffari?

4) Using Predictable Pattern Games and High-Value Foods During Harder Moments

Fitzpatrick incorporates games and high-value treats to distract and engage her during challenging moments. This not only helps to reduce a dog's anxiety but also strengthens the bond between the owner and them.

Helping your nervous dog enjoy walks is achievable with patience, understanding, and Emily Fitzpatrick's simple yet effective techniques. By implementing these strategies, you can gradually build your dog's confidence and transform your walks into enjoyable experiences for the both of you.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

With over a year of writing for PetsRadar, Jessica is a seasoned pet writer. She joined the team after writing for the sister site, Fit&Well for a year. Growing up with a lively rescue lurcher kindled her love for animal behavior and care. Jessica holds a journalism degree from Cardiff University and has authored articles for renowned publications, including LiveScience, Runner's World, The Evening Express, and Tom's Guide. Throughout her career in journalism she has forged connections with experts in the field, like behaviorists, trainers, and vets. Through her writing, Jessica aims to empower pet owners with accurate information to enhance their furry companions' lives.