Fearful Dog Training

Fear is a common problem among pet dogs these days. I get plenty of calls regarding dogs who arefearful or nervous of all kinds of different things, and some are just scared of life in general. When it comes to fear, dogs are fight or flight animals…so when they are scared either one of tFearful dog training stoney creekhose instincts will kick in. The majority of dogs go into fight mode, which is where you get what looks like “aggressive” behaviours starting to happen. When a dog who is “fear aggressive” lunges, barks, or bites they are not biting because they want to. They are biting because they feel they have to in order to get whatever they find scary to go away. Dogs who go into flight mode are simply fleeing from whatever makes them scared. Either way, both the dog who fights and the dog in flight lack one common thing and that is confidence.

When helping fearful dogs, the number one thing we have to remember is not to coddle our dogs. Almost always when I get a client with a fearful dog, they are petting them and telling them “it’s OK” whenever they get scared. When we do this, we are literally validating that the dog should be afraid of whatever it is that is scaring them. We are also reinforcing a state of mind that we actually want to change. Pretty much at any given time during the day there is an opportunity to train, and if you look at all the times your dog gets nervous and you reinforce that by petting and coddling then your dog will always be in that state of mind in the presence of whatever scares them.

The next component to helping your fearful dog is to take things slow and never force your dog into a situation that they are uncomfortable with. Dogs who bite out of fear do so because they are in a situation that is too much for them to handle and feel they need to bite to get out of it. Let’s say for instance your dog is fearful of other dogs. Usually looks like dog aggression when on leash, typically the dog is lunging and barking when they see another dog. Whether that dog is 10ft or 50ft away from you, you need to give the dog more space. You will need to figure out your dog’s threshold and stay below it. So if at 20 ft your dog reacts then you need to be more than 20 ft away from the other dog to stay below threshold. Work at this distance for a few weeks. Show your dog nothing happens when another dog walks by at a distance he is comfortable with. Once he is successfully walking past other dogs below threshold you can slowly start closing in the distance.

Next, you will want to think outside the box when it comes to training for fear. Instead of directly dealing with whatever scares your dog, focus on building your dogs confidence in other ways.  A great example is teaching your dog the place command and have them do place on all kinds of different objects. Confident dogs naturally are not afraid of to many things. So by building your dog’s confidence in general they will be able to handle more situations that would have been scary to them prior to training.

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