My dog is a lab/spaniel mix (from what I can tell, anyways)-two very highly energetic breeds; while I don't think I can speak for the breeds as a whole, my personal experience with both labs and spaniels is that they can exhibit some anxiety issues and nervous behavior.

I also say "my dog" rather than "puppy" (even though she still acts like it whenever there are distractions around, jumping around in circles like the tilt-a-whirl at a carnival); she is seven years old.

It has always been a challenge getting her to walk without pulling on a leash-over the course of the past few years, however, she has gradually gotten better, as both her energy has declined and-I can only assume, despite the inherent anthropomorphization-she has become more comfortable with the routine of walking beside me rather than in front of me. This last has been a result of a long time effort wherein I refuse to continue the walk if she proceeds to walk in front of me, simply waiting until she returns to my side before the walk continues...which can sometimes take a while.

In addition to the leash work, during the course of the last year or so I have started to clicker train her to learn some tricks. While the use of a clicker has not been a cure-all, I believe that it greatly enhanced her understanding and ability to interpret commands. Before starting to train her with the clicker, she understood the basics-sit, stay, come, fetch, down, and drop it.

In just a year, she's learned shake (both paws, independently), lay on your side, heel, spin (for the other direction, the command is "nips"...ha), roll over, to touch objects which are pointed to, crawl, curtsy/bow, and-what I think is utterly amazing-has started to learn object recognition from words.

She is a very smart girl and I'm realizing it more and more; however, there are still situations in which I need to learn how to better manage her and control her stress/anxiety. Most of these situations concern other dogs; some concern rabbits, and others, perhaps, just the wind.

When walking, if she sees/smells/hears another dog, she instantly adopts that facial expression and body posture every dog owner knows means business. All words I utter from that point cease to have any effect on her. She's waiting to take off at the four-legged intruder who has alerted her senses-so much so that even if she hears keys or chains jingling from a distance she may start barking. And then there's the encounter where you try to hold the dog back as the two cross paths...

If we are sitting in a park, she barks at dogs crossing by as well.

Her energy seems to know no bounds-at seven years of age, we can spend hours at the beach or dog park and she still won't stop running around. Typically, this is in the form of fetch (she's the dog at the dog park who pays attention ONLY to the ball).

Anyways, the real issue is that I'm trying to get her to be more comfortable in situations where we might encounter other dogs-whether we are on our walks or sitting in a park. In the absence of dogs and birds and squirrels and rabbits, she usually looks around for something with which she can get me to throw in order to play fetch-if I don't, I suffer the consequences of her incessant whining and barking.

Anybody have any experience with old, anxious dogs?

  • 1
    Is your core question how to make your dog less reactive to other dogs? If so, most of your post is a digression, and makes it unclear what you're really asking.
    – CodeGnome
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 10:45
  • Seems like a lack of socialization.
    – Huangism
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 18:44

1 Answer 1


My elderly puppy (approaching 8 yrs old) sounds very similar to your dog. I've tried a number of things to work on her reactivity to other dogs and to get her comfortable in public in general, most have worked pretty well.

For reactivity to other dogs, the trainer I'm working with has me playing a game with my dog. When another dog appears on the scene and Tolly (my dog) notices him/her i say "Who's that?", (you can use 'look' or any other cue, but the trainer pointed out that phrasing it as a question automatically softens your voice) lure her to look at me and then give her a treat for looking at me. This teaches her that seeing another dog is an indicator of good things to come and that the correct behavior is to look at the dog, then look at me. Once she gets the hang of it you can just say "Who's that" without the lure. Eventually you can wean her off the rewards. Distance is a key factor here too. You might have to start this from quite far away (really as close as your dog can be to a dog without the undesired behavior happening), I know I sure did. Once your dog gets more comfortable you can decrease the distance between your dog and the distracting dog. It helps if you have a friends with dogs so you can more easily control the distance and timing.

For behaving in public in general the biggest thing that's helped my dog is exposure and experience (essentially desensitization). Take your dog into the kinds of public spaces that you want to enjoy with her and bring some of her favorite treats. Expect to stay for only a short while and don't be surprised if the first few times are a little rough. Check in with your dog often (at least every 30 seconds) and if she's being good and calm, reward her. Leave as soon as or if possible right before she starts to get prohibitively anxious.

The first place i took my dog was to a food truck gathering (lots of people, smells and a few dogs). She was embarrassing...pulling and tugging at the leash, barking at other dogs etc. I left after a few minutes without any food. Next time i brought her to a street fair and she was still anxious and lunging, but significantly less than at the food truck event. After a few of these kinds of events my dog was able to handle them with almost no barking and minimal lunging. We've only been working on this skill for a few months and now she's almost perfect in large crowds and pretty well behaved in medium/smaller crowd. If the places you want to take her to involve being stationary for longer periods of time bring something like a bully stick that she can busy herself with happily, that helps too. Good luck :)

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