The problem is out chihuahua is scared. She is a long haired 17 month old chihuahua. We learned that she is a bit overweight already and the vet suggested we take her for walks but as soon as we are out of sight of the house she goes berserk. Her tail is tucked firmly between her legs, her eyes are wide with terror and she walks in stops and starts. At one point sitting on the sidewalk and refusing to move at all. We tried to take her to a park, as it would be quieter and likely less stressful. While she is a little less scared at a park she still acts like the activity is one giant horror movie in which she stars.
This late in life, without any experience to draw from, particularly from as tiny perspective as her own, I’m sure every time she steps off the property the theme from Jaws is playing ominously in her mind and every squirrel looks like Freddy Krueger. Without early exposure, associated whenever possible with pleasantries, it can be hard on a dog (and dog owner) when faced with the unavoidable.
Most dog owners don’t realize how important a dog’s formative weeks are in preparing it for later in life. For example, many do not do “pretend nail clipping” with real clippers several times each day during puppyhood. This heads off every 6 weeks or so having some poor groomer or veterinarian pinning a panic stricken dog while at the same time trying to clip the nails on a flailing foot. Same goes for early introduction of the sound of electric clippers and hair dryers for those breeds requiring regular grooming.
Another unwelcome surprise can occur when people buy a dog in the pre-family period of their lives without considering a dog’s need for early exposure to children. Sometimes they believe it unnecessary because they don’t have, or plan on having, children. The truth is that all dogs sooner or later encounter children whether they be a friends or on walks and without early positive exposure the dog can be fearful, even aggressive.
It’s even important to build “all alone” time into a young puppy’s day to day and later in life as without that experience many dogs end up suffering from separation anxiety.
Some in the training world believe that this sort of thing can be over come with positive associations with incremental steps forward. That’s certainly a part of it but I think though that you have to be careful that the dog’s progress isn’t solely because it “forgets” where it is, or what it is doing because it’s focused on a treat or a toy used as a “distraction”. In order to develop real and lasting coping skills, part of the training must involve actually facing and triumphing over the fear even if it is in tiny bits and pieces. Sometimes this can be accomplished by simply teaching the dog to stay on a mat at home and then adding ever increasingly difficult distractions and then moving the mat into the yard and later at decreasing distances from the cause of its fear. There are other strategies that might be a better fit for your dog so I suggest you find yourself a good balanced trainer. This sort of thing doesn’t get resolved quickly but with some professional help it will save both time and stress.