One thing that I have learned from years of working with insecure, reactive and fearful shelter dogs is the value of just being quiet. Just relaxing with your dog is one of the best things you can do for your dog’s emotional stability and well-being. And it’s not bad for you, either.
You don’t need to be a constant source of entertainment for your dog, and you don’t need to provide constant stimulation. In fact, it immensely helps your dog for you both to be in a mildly stimulating environment, like a park or green space, and just relax.
Anytime you take your dog for a walk, your pup is constantly receiving new stimuli. His nose, ears and eyes are taking in new information all the time you are out of the house, and his brain is actively processing all that data. You don’t need to do anything else, except be a steady and positive companion. I’ve found that being a quiet and calm influence in information-rich environments can help a nervous or reactive dog to find his “off-switch” and learn that he can live in the world without becoming anxious or over-excited.
When weather permits, take your dog on a walk to a quiet, pleasant place and just sit. Read a book – a real book with pages. Don’t look at your phone, get any work done, watch any videos or read anything that has a string of nasty and stupid comments at the end. Just relax and find your own off-switch. Let your dog sniff and explore within the range of his leash and do whatever he’s going to do.
After a while, you’ll find that he is just scenting the air, listening to new sounds and watching things that are interesting to him. If he’s being at all reactive to any of that, take him to a new spot and start over. It may take some time, but you’ll find that he will eventually sit or lay down and relax with you. Watch the shape of his eyes and the corners of his mouth, along with the position of his ears. You’ll be able to tell when he’s just quietly enjoying the day. With you.
This will do wonders for your relationship with your dog, and will help him to learn how to be less reactive to stimulus. If he sees that you are not stressed or bothered by the people, animals and things you encounter, he will take that as a reference for his own behavior. This is good therapy for you both.