Why is my dog scared of cars?
(Q) My six-month-old Springer Spaniel, called Belle, is frightened of traffic. We can’t walk to the park any more, we have to take her in the car. Sometimes we end up carrying her. She enjoys her walks as long as there are no cars nearby.
(A) Trainer Elizabeth Kershaw says: Six months is a very fragile age for puppies. They often go through a period when they show fear of a variety of stimuli. The best way to treat it is by ignoring it as far as possible. The worst thing to do is to confirm your pup’s worst fears by babying and overprotecting her.
Fear of traffic is not unusual and there is a temptation to use a technique known as flooding, which is asking the dog to face up to his fears by exposing him to them at relatively close quarters on a regular basis. However, I would suggest that instead you spend some time in a place where your dog can see traffic, but can be far enough away from it not to be frightened.
You will need to find the fail-safe distance at which she can tolerate cars and remain relaxed. When you have found this distance move a little further away still and play with her. Have her favourite toy available plus high-quality food rewards and get her to concentrate on you. Play football, retrieving, search games, and anything else you can use to keep her attention. If she stops and looks at the traffic you allow her a short period; say to her ‘Yes, that’s a car’, offer a food treat, move a little further away, and then carry on playing.
After a time she will begin to turn to you for a treat when she sees a car rather than panic. When that happens you can try moving five metres closer and continue the play — and so on until she can walk along your street. What you are trying to change is her perception of cars as frightening objects to something around which she gets rewarded. Continue to take her to the park by car until she is less anxious.