When Anxiety Stops You Walking Your Dog
Anxiety Walking Dogs
Do you feel anxious when you walk your dog? Does anxiety stop you from walking your dog? Do you feel you are letting your dog down? Do you plan your routes carefully, walking at quieter times of the days? Or does, just, the thought of walking your dog make you feel sick and nervous?
I can tell you that, when it comes to off lead walks, this is me. It has got to the point that I no longer enjoy off lead walks and even struggle if I go on a walk with someone else. So you aren’t alone.
I wrote about no longer enjoying walks with Barney and Sandy and why this has happened to me, you can read about it here.
After posting this blog, I had a lot of comments on social media from people who are feeling the same as me, for many different reasons and they are all valid.
Helen Motteram ~ Social Paws
So, I contacted Helen Motteram of Social Paws, in Cheltenham to see if she could help us anxious owners with her knowledge and experience. Helen, who has a BSc Hons in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, has made it her life’s work to
‘help hardworking pet owners who own a reactive or anxious dogs help get their dog’s confidence back and start enjoying their walks again.’
I have followed Helen (Social Paws) on FACEBOOK for a long time and her posts always resonate with me. Not only am I anxious on walks, but Sandy, our beautiful rescue girl, who is fearful of pretty much everything, is also anxious. I am conscious that my anxiety may not be helping Sandy, or me, for that matter.
Helen kindly offered to answer some questions, to see if it might help my readers.
Q&A With Helen Motteram
Michelle ~ “How does anxiety affect humans and dogs?”
Helen ~ “Anxiety can make humans feel helpless, holding us back from pushing forward with our business or personal engagements. Like dogs, we can become so anxious that we ‘shut down’ often owners mistake this for a happy dog or one which is tolerating the situation.
The main difference is that we have more control over the situation, we can cancel that social engagement, or not take that new job, but often dogs are made to endure situations they are not happy with, sometimes this is through a lack of understanding of their body language or simply as it makes the life of the owner more convenient.
But sometimes it’s simply not possible to reduce all stressors, especially when life gets in the way. Take Christmas, family engagements, a simple walk in the park with a friendly Fido coming out of nowhere. Life is not a bubble, however, we need to be aware of all situations and limit stressors and yes it’s ok to say no to that family event if it means yours dogs welfare could be compromised.”
Michelle ~ “How do dogs sense when we are anxious? Does this only happen when they are on lead?”
Helen ~ “Sometimes we often start to tense the lead when in a challenging situation, the tension runs down the lead and is often picked up by the dog. On other occasions, we may try to avoid all other dogs. This can lead to erratic behaviour and the inability to simply enjoy the walk. Our voice may change, our body posture and our hearts begin to beat faster.”
Michelle ~ “Why do you think humans/dogs are more anxious these days?”
Helen ~ “I think there is this pressure to have a perfect dog and our lives have become simply too busy. There are so many potential stressors and a walk in the park has lost its feel of a social engagement. There are many good dog owners but sadly still a lack of education and legislation in my opinion. Some see puppy parties as an opportunity for a ‘free for all’ and aren’t aware of simple body language/social etiquette. I think education should be more readily available when rehoming or buying a new puppy.”
Michelle ~ “Can you suggest some ways in which you can help a nervous/scared dog?”
Helen ~ “If you are out on a walk and see a dog owner struggling, give it space. Try to walk on an arc and not towards. Step back if you need too and never walk directly towards. Help be their wingman.
If you own a nervous dog I recommend seeking advice from a force-free/ethical accredited dog trainer or behaviourist. For the dog to become more confident, controlled setups with calm stooge dogs is advised.”
Michelle ~ “Are there ways in which the owner can deal with anxiety on walks, rather than the avoidance?”
Helen ~ “I recommend finding a quiet field with a boundary you can practice outside of, or finding a stooge buddy. This could be a friend or dog owner you can share parallel walks with. Remember distance is your friend.”
Michelle ~ “Can you suggest ways in which you can bond and connect with your dog which are fun, when not on walks.”
Helen ~ “I love using enrichment and trick training. This could be a simple game like go find it – hiding treats around the house to a puzzle game. Teaching a spin, touching your hand or even answering the phone are lots of fun and build the bond.”
Michelle ~ “Can helping your dog deal with anxiousness help the owner?”
Helen ~ “Yes by helping your dog you can feel much more confident on walks. You will feel motivated, inspired and excited by seeing small improvements. But remember this is not a race. Take things slow, don’t be too hard on yourself!”
Michelle ~ “Do you have a case study, you can share, of a dog and owner you have helped?”
Helen ~ “I worked with Binx and his owner for 2 years. We did a combination of rehabilitation walks, fun games and stooge setups. Binx can now be walked in a group situation and I saw him the other day walking calmly down the road. Two years ago we struggled to even walk down the road.”
Michelle ~ “Do you have any suggestions for further guidance, books, courses that may help anxious dog owners?”
Helen ~ You can find further help at the following places;
- FACEBOOK group: Reactive Dogs (UK)
- IMDT – Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (particularly dog to dog aggression and rehabilitation)
- Janet Finlay book: Your end of the lead (her company is Canine Confidence Academy)
- DTC College ~ The Dog Training College
- ISCP – The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour
- Secure Dog Walking Fields
Where You Can Find Helen
I would like to thank Helen for taking the time to answer my questions. I found Helen’s answers very interesting and thought-provoking.
I hope you find them helpful in dealing with anxiety when walking your dogs. It is good to know that there are people who can help your dog, and you, so that you can start to enjoy walks with your dog again.
Please share your thoughts and comments with me, I enjoy hearing from you and your experiences.
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