We received our rescued dog Lukas when he was 8 months old. We then realized he was scared of cars and children passing by. Each time we walked Lukas on a main street with lots of traffic, Lukas would shows signs of fear. The same happened when Lukas passed near children at a school, special when they were riding a bike, running, laughing, playing football, etc.
Besides all the basic training a dog must go through (sit, stay, come, etc.) teaching your dog how to cope with traffic and children, among others, is very important to adapt your dog to city traffic and noises (such as construction) and specially children. This will minimize your dog’s stress levels and will enable him to learn that traffic is normal and the same for children. This is part of socializing your dog to cities and different humans around him.
How to know when your dog is scared of cars and children passing by? Some examples:
- your dog pulls immensely on the leash in some opposite direction to try to scape from the situation he is at
- your dog walks behind you to avoid exposure
- your dog has his ears low and backwards and he has his tail tucked in between legs
- your dog freezes by laying down or sitting and does not move in any direction
- your dogs barks and tries to bite the threat, showing signs of extreme violence to protect himself
How to train your dog not to be scared of cars and children passing by?
We will share with you our approach. Again, we continue using Victoria Stilwell approach, which involves the following steps in order to desensitize your dog (“to diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it”, Wikipedia):
- find a spot several meters way from the car motorway or children playground, try to have your dog in a waiting/siting position facing you. Talk to your dog in a friendly and soft tone even before cars or children are passing by. This enables him to focus on you, a positive and friendly person while cars or children are passing by. If your dog tolerates the cars and children, meaning he focuses on you while waiting without reacting to the threat, reward him with treats or verbal praise like “good boy” and touch your dog’s favorite spot. Then continue walking the route you where walking.
- walk back from the threat your dog is facing some meters and return forward. Most likely you need to do this several times and in the beginning you walk more backwards than forward. With time, your dog will walk more forward and that’s when you see progress. Reward always the walking forward towards the perceived threat either with treats or verbal praise. The use of clicker is also highly advised for recognition of reward behavior.
- once your dog starts to tolerate better and have less fear towards cars and children passing by, you can try the next step, which is to “Search the treat”. Before the car passes by, you call your dog and say “Search” and immediately throw a treat on the ground. If your dog manages to search and eat the treat, then it is a sign that your dog is no longer focusing on the threat but on the treat. That is then very good progress towards desensitizing your dog to cars and children passing by.
- a special attention needs to be done with children – never force your dog to interact with children unless he wants so
- if your dog smells a child, supervise him and if he has peaceful behavior, reward your dog with treat or verbal praise. Never leave your dog and child alone unsupervised! Beware of children behavior which your dog might interpret as a threat and teach your children how to approach a dog.
You will need to repeat this training as many times as necessary. We have been training our dog for months and still some fears are present. We walk every morning the same route, which passes by a car motorway and a school. With time and gradual exposure we can see progress. Be patient and enjoy your time with your dog, while walking and socializing your dog to human society!