Q. My male border collie is so nervous that while on a lead, any strange and slightly loud noise turns him into a quivering wreck. When he's scared he barks continuously and tries to hide behind me. I now walk him twice-weekly for one and a half hours along busy streets to try and get him used to the general carry-on of daily life but I don't think he's improving. What can I do? C Phelps, via e-mail
A. Border collies are renowned for being highly strung, and if their energy isn't channelled into the right activities, they can become destructive. Nervousness is a serious problem in dogs and can affect all aspects of their lives, depending on what frightens them.
Nerviness is often inherited from the parents, especially if the parents were working dogs not used to city life, and it can get worse if the puppy is not properly socialised. Dogs give out signals when they are nervous, but their owners often don't fully understand their body language: look out for signs including lip-licking, yawning and sniffing the floor.
You need to build the dog's confidence. Firstly, stay away from busy roads until he's more secure and don't reassure him if he shows any signs of being uncomfortable – because this will just reinforce his behaviour. When you take him out for a walk, the more you give him to think about, the less worried he will feel. To start off, when he goes out, make him sit every few steps. When he sits, give him a treat. When he gets a little bit further, give him a quick game with his favourite toy. When he is totally focused on you, you can start getting closer to a main road. If he shows any signs of nervousness, remove him from the situation.
Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress or discomfort an early visit to the vet is always recommended