Living with a fearful dog, you never know when something might ruin your day. For the most part, the places we walk are pretty safe as far as Risa is concerned. There is one place I pretty much stopped taking her because of the continuous banging noises she could hear on the trail. We weren’t there today. We were at Risa’s favorite walking place. Not even halfway through the walk, someone nearby set off some firecrackers. Risa was terrified. Her whole body trembled. Her ears were pulled back tight against her head; her tail pulled as far between her legs as it could go. She wanted outta there NOW. Unfortunately, we were not close to the car. And I hate the long walk back when Risa is in a panic pulling on the lead as we go.
I wasn’t sure what I should do. Comforting Risa has rarely worked; she just wants to leave. I tried petting her softly as we stood there but she was simply too panicked. I picked her up and headed back towards the car but stopped at a bench. At the bench, I held onto her for a while rubbing her shoulders and chest. She made it clear she wanted none of it, though, so I let her jump off my lap.
I decided that we weren’t going back to the car. I wanted to see if Risa could work through it so that we could finish our walk. I clicked her for offering calming behaviors and asked her for some nose touches. I knew she was not super stressed because she could work and was still taking treats. Had she been extremely panicked and refused food, I would have taken her back to the car immediately. But, because she was functional, we stayed at the bench.
After some time, she calmed down a bit. Her tail was not as tightly tucked and she was no longer trembling. So I decided to try and continue our walk. For a while, she really wanted to go back towards the car but she did not pull in that direction. She was willing to continue moving forward with me so we kept on going. I encouraged her to lock on to the squirrels and sniff the trees to help her calm down and refocus on the joy of walking. I even ran with her for a bit. As we reached the turn around point, she was much calmer. She was certainly not back to normal but she seemed less insistent about returning to the car.
I expected her to pull hard when we finally turned around but she didn’t. I did have to remind her a couple times that pulling on lead is not okay (by simply stopping or walking backwards for a couple steps). But she was clearly no longer panicked.
Unfortunately for Risa, there isn’t always an easy escape from the scary things. Today, I tried to help her learn to cope with the sudden scariness that life sometimes brings. I don’t expect her to never startle or to overcome her sound phobias entirely. But I hope, after today, she will feel a bit less panicked the next time a scary sound attempts to ruin our day. 🙂