I have a very lively, lovely five-month-old Border Collie called Ruby. She is very friendly towards people and especially dogs, but our problem is traffic! Wherever we go for a walk, we need to negotiate a busy main road, and even before we reach the pavement, she goes flat on the ground and also lunges at the traffic. We have to cross the road, and even if a vehicle is far off, she twirls round making it hard to hold her. I try to sound positive and reassuring although it has no effect — it’s horrendous! The vet said to play the sound of traffic indoors. She listens, but isn’t unduly worried.
Tony says: It sounds like Ruby is anxious about traffic. Stress (and sometimes excitement) can push a dog over the threshold where they are more likely to display breed-specific behaviours. Ruby is a collie and herding traffic is not a great idea!
Your vet’s advice is good and it’s a method called desensitisation. This is about showing a small piece of the problem, so it is not a problem (in this case the sound of traffic). However, you could also employ a technique called counter conditioning, which is pairing up the scary thing (traffic) with something pleasant so that traffic means good things.
On a regular basis, take Ruby to a quiet road and find a spot a little way from where the traffic goes by. Every time a vehicle goes past, you have to provide her with the best treat ever! In time, the traffic predicts good things and her fear should decrease. If she is not eating the treats, it often means she is too close to the trigger (traffic). Create more distance, which can be gradually decreased over time (this is desensitisation again).
Another good thing to pair up with the traffic may be a tennis ball or her favourite toy. Again, something good appears after the scary traffic. Holding the ball in her mouth may also help to appease her. Use a ball on a rope though, as you don’t want it rolling into the road. If vehicles start to predict toys and treats, they soon become less scary!
Tony Cruse – A member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers
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