Today was a beautiful fall day. The sun was shining, the air fresh.
My older dog is considered a bomb proof dog. I can bring him anywhere and he will be 100% comfortable with that. I can go out, and regardless of where I go I am confident that there will be no issues.  I can walk down the busiest street, sirens blaring, children yelling, and my boy will walk happily, tail loose and waggy, enjoying his time with me.
My younger dog, Joey, is the total opposite. He is now 4 years old and has had “issues” since the day I brought him home. There is not a single outing that we go on without taking into consideration the environment and how he may react to it. There are times when I will choose to simply leave him at home because I don’t have the time to deal with the unknown. Instead of looking forward to an outing, I am often anxious because I know there will be “work” involved and I don’t always know if it will be successful. We can’t just hop out of the car at the destination and go. 

Today, my husband, both dogs and I went to see an outdoor exhibit. It was held in a courtyard on a very busy street with lots of traffic passing by. I knew I couldn’t just park and walk.

This very simple outing required planning beginning before ever leaving the house. I never walk Joey on his flat collar when going somewhere new. He is always on his front clip harness because I know at some point he will pull in the opposite direction.
I always have food on me: although he doesn’t always want it – a sign of anxiety and a good gauge for me.
 
We parked in a lot on a side street. As soon as we exited the car the work began. Joey was on alert, head up, sniffing, hesitant.
I expected this and from that moment I was on my dog’s page. I didn’t know how long it would take to cross the street, to walk down an unfamiliar path, to walk up unfamiliar stairs, to cross a courtyard, to pass by tents.
I have always allowed him to take his time when encountering anything unfamiliar. I have never forced him to move forward but follow his lead. I move away when he wants to and closer when he says okay.

What Joey has taught me is that it is always necessary to ”be on the dog’s page”.

By being on the dog’s page, taking time, allowing him to move forward as he felt more comfortable, we were eventually able to make it all the way across the lower courtyard, past children running and dancing to the music of a live band, up 2 sets of stairs to the exhibits on the upper level adjacent to a busy street.
To be honest, at one point I called my husband, who was at the final destination, to say I didn’t think I’d be able to get up to the top level. 
Joey kept looking back towards the direction from which we came. 
We were on the lower level for probably 30 minutes. I would go two steps in the direction I wanted to go and 10 steps back. 
I called my husband again and told him to come back down because this wasn’t working.
As he approached, Joey got excited and started to walk towards him. I happily followed!
With the help of a hot dog in my husband’s hand and the desire of Joey to follow my other dog, he eventually followed them up the stairs. This was huge progress!!
The upper level required work as well but it was a lot easier and quicker. With another hot dog and patience we were able to make it up and down the stairs one more time.

It’s not always easy to be on the dog’s page. It’s tiring and requires planning as well as changing plans in the moment based on the dog’s comfort level. 
The outcome could have been very different if I forced him to go where I wanted when I wanted. I choose to be on his page because I believe it fosters trust and builds a strong relationship. I like to think he knows I will do my best to not force him into what he feels is an unsafe place.
I also believe by allowing him to do things at his own speed, he is building his confidence to explore the unfamiliar. I hope over time it will take less and less time for him to adjust.

There may be a day when I have no choice and I will have to force Joey to go somewhere he doesn’t want to but I am hoping trust will trump apprehension.