By Kathy Santo | Updated: April 11 2019
“I’m terrified of walking alone at night, so I adopted a dog. At first he was fine, but now he’s afraid too. What now?“
You may have inadvertently taught your dog to be fearful, which would actually be the good news, because if you can pinpoint what you did, then you can begin to undo it.
Unlike the owner who has food allergies and owns a dog with them, too, or the man who has high blood pressure and so does his dog, what you have is, I believe, a conditioned pattern of behavior, which can usually be fixed.
Of course, since most dog issues fall squarely on the human’s shoulders, now is the time for you to do whatever is needed in order to alleviate your own fears to avoid telegraphing “fear” to your dog. One very common mistake is for owners to tighten up on the leash when they’re afraid. This sends a “red alert” signal to your dog, who immediately responds by becoming worried or tense.
To make matters worse, if your dog had become fearful, and your response was “Oh no!! My dog is so stressed!!”, you’d unintentionally be creating even more stress for the poor creature! Instead, notice the times when your dog *is* relaxed on a walk, and praise and treat him for that. If he becomes fearful, speak to him in an upbeat voice, and calmly put some space between you and what he’s worried about. Don’t over-stress him by keeping him near something he’s afraid of too long, and make a point to take him to places where he can have as many positive experiences as possible.
In addition, I highly recommend walking with a self-assured friend and her like-minded dog in order to give both of you the confidence you need to walk confidently on your own!
Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.
In Waldwick, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.