My problem is that Patch seems to be getting more and more nervous when outdoors - in the garden, or when walking, if he hears any noise, he either runs back into the house or won't walk and has to be carried home. Initially, his main interest was retrieving his ball, whether in the garden or out in the park, and this seemed to distract him from any sudden noise. However, recently even this activity isn't enough to distract him from a noise which I myself have barely registered, and the only way I can get him to walk is if my husband takes us in the car and leaves us somewhere from where Patch then leads us home - he has a highly developed sense of direction! I don't know if 'forcing' him to walk in this way is the right thing to do, as he rarely exhibits 'normal' traits when walking - sniffing etc - and usually heads straight home, head down, looking totally unhappy. Although he travels happily in the car, he is very frightened of traffic, so I try to take him where there is little or no traffic, but he still appears very nervous.
Do you think a pheronome collar, or 'thunder' jacket would help, or can you offer any other ideas so that we can make his life less stressed? We just want to take that frightened look from his eyes.
Thanks for any help you can offer,
Ellen Barker, by email
Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises...
I think you are reading the signs correctly, and Patch is clearly not enjoying the experience at the moment. Forcing is not the fairest thing to do and can make things worse. Firstly make sure your Vet has checked his health with this problem in mind just to rule out any medical causes, and it is probably worth asking them if they can refer you to an APBC behaviourist for specialist help. It might be that he did not get used to certain sounds and experiences in his earlier life, and so will need a very gradual and enjoyable introduction. Start by making a very clear list of the things that are causing him to behave in this way. It might be that he can tolerate certain sounds as long as they are not loud, or sudden perhaps. Alternatively it might be that there are other triggers when he is out, so note down as many things as you can to really start to get to grips with this problem. Keep a diary too as it might help to establish a pattern. You are right that dragging him through experiences on walks is not going to improve if he is feeling unhappy and will more than likely make him feel more anxious as time goes along.
You also need to make a list of things he loves to do and start to gradually pair the most enjoyable thing with the least ‘scary’ to build a nice link between the two. This is where expert help really does make a difference. It has to be done gradually and thoroughly and at each stage he needs to stay calm and happy, not become stressed or worried.
By all means use a pheromone collar or calming jacket, and consider approaching a TTouch practitioner as well, but these would be best used as support for the above behaviour modification work rather than relying on them alone.
Above all if you work on this gradually as I have suggested, he will learn to trust you to look out for him and this bond means that if he is ever in doubt, he knows you will be able to get him out of what he sees as a panic situation. He is lucky to have found such a caring owner.