Interested or overwhelmed? Which one is it?

I am taking Thor a lovely and super handsome 5 month old puppy/adolescent for a socialization walk this morning. The intent is to get him super comfortable with all sorts of stimuli such as cars, people of all types, but mainly men and children.  I park by a local and not too busy park where we have walked before, but today we are venturing downtown. Known in Santa Fe as “the Plaza”.

The walk towards the busiest part of town is not a long one but as I shortly found out, one riddle with enough mental stimulation for Thor that he is becoming a bit “unglued”. We are walking parallel to some traffic and the noise itself is making him feel restless. I notice at some point that he is placing his long body – front paws first on walls that are opposite side to the cars passing us by. Initially I thought that he was curious and that he wanted to see what was on the other side of the wall.

A few moments later I began to think differently! Thor is quite overwhelmed with the traffic and his placing of the paws on the wall appears to be more an effort to escape the busy sidewalk than an interest in what is on the other side of the walls.

We move carefully yet with speed to a bigger intersection. As we are waiting to cross the street, I press the pedestrian button. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT a forceful manly voice advises – the voice on the pedestrian signal. Poor Thor is trying to figure out who is talking and why so loud as there is no one next to us. He can barely focus on me and is not taking any treats, his eyes kind of darting in many directions.

As we approach a more ample street, Thor begins to relax and now he is chasing leaves as they fall to the ground in all sorts of shapes and speed. We get to “the Plaza,” our destination and there we see all sorts of people. Single people, groups of people, taking in all the historical buildings as they listen attentively to their guide. We approach a man that is playing a strange instrument.

Thor is getting paid often every time he sees someone; he tries to approach them or just interacts with curiosity with the environment. He is such a handsome dog that lots of folks want to know about him and they too give him a tasty morsel.

We are now heading back with Thor clearly enjoying his outing. The contrast is clear. Before he was mainly overwhelmed instead of curious, but now his demeanor is different. Relaxed body, open mouth, able to attend to me as I call him when he pulls on a leash, able to take treats instead of almost holding his breath with hesitation. As we approach the narrow and loud street that will lead us to the car, I begin to play a game of Find it!  This is a simple yet very effective game that allows the dog to move rapidly thru an area such as a sidewalk cafe, a nearby dog or even noise and traffic with something fun and specific to do. I make sure the treats bounce close to him and he is clearly having some fun – not missing one of them.

Yes, he is still aware of the traffic but I time my delivery of treats as the cars are passing by, but now Thor can handle the noise and all the commotion and he settles for sniffing leaves or eating treats.