We’ve all probably been called a Scaredy Cat at some point in our lives – maybe because we were too afraid to follow through on a dare, or because of an irrational fear of spiders , roller-coasters, etc. Fears are common among people and a part of life. We either learn to deal with them, or we learn to avoid fear-inducing situations.
What do you do, however, when you find that the dog you love dearly is a Scaredy Dog? It could be anything – fireworks, thunderstorms, strangers, children, even the vacuum cleaner – that sends them into a trembling bundle of fear. One of my client’s dogs happens to be afraid of the stove. Another client’s dog is afraid of dark places.
There are many different reasons why dogs develop phobias, but the reasons aren’t important. Once a dog has a phobia, “why” doesn’t matter – helping them to overcome it, does.
Dogs who are afraid need to know that they have a leader who is fair, consistent, and patient. It takes time to build the level of trust with a dog that is necessary to help him overcome his fear. But, trust me, it is well worth the effort.
The first step is to figure out exactly what your dog is afraid of, and you’ll know it because every single time that object enters his life, or that situation occurs, your dog will tuck his tail between his legs and run. He might give a bark or two, but you can distinguish fear from aggression by watching how close he gets to the object of his fear and by deciding whether there is an element of skittishness to his barking.
Next, check to find your dog’s “behavior threshold” – the point where your dog can still respond to obedience commands and will accept food treats. He may still be nervous, but he should be able to focus on you for the most part. This is where you will begin.
The tricky part with learning to be a leader, is learning to what “fair” means to a dog. Fair means that you understand their canine instinct, and that you allow them to express themselves while helping them learn new ways to cope, instead of finding new ways to avoid the situations.
What this means, in a real life situation, is that when the object of fear appears (and after you have established your dog’s behavior threshold), allow your dog to run away, but only to the point where you know for sure that they can reasonably focus on you, and will accept food treats. You may find yourself 10 ft. away, or 50 ft. This is your dog’s decision.
Next, it becomes your job to be upbeat and distracting. Ask your dog to to Sit, Shake, or any other favorite command your dog may have. Do not acknowledge your dog’s fear,and instead, reward with treats for completed commands. After a few times of listening to you and being rewarded, leave the fear-inducing situation completely. Your dog is learning that listening to you is much more fun than being afraid. He is also learning that looking to you for guidance when he is feeling a little unsure will be rewarding and positive for him, and that when he does, nothing bad happens.
The next time the object makes an appearance, try allowing your dog to run less far – even just 6 inches less. Remember – it is your dog’s decision on whether he is capable of listening to you and on whether or not he will accept food treats.
Stay consistent, fair, and very, very patient and in no time, your dog will forget why he was ever afraid in the first place.
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.