Every day, dogs encounter obstacles in their world that cause them anxiety. These can include loud noises such as thunder, other people, other dogs, smooth floors, storm grates, car rides, etc. A fearful dog can be a challenge to handle, as it is difficult to take them out into the world to share new experiences with them. They may pant, whine, or tremble, or may show submissive behaviors such as tucking their tail between their legs. In some cases, they may even bark or bite to defend themselves.
Canine fear can be caused by a number of factors, including their temperament, lack of proper socialization as a puppy, sickness, or memory of past experiences. However, regardless of the cause, the solutions are similar.
Control The Environment
One of the easiest ways to control your dog’s fear is to control their environment. For example, if your dog is afraid of new people, it may be best to crate them when people come to visit your house, or leash them in a safe area. However, this is not the best long-term solution, as it does not address the root cause of the dog’s anxiety.
Dogs pick up on human emotions, and can actually smell the amount of cortisol that a person puts out. When they become upset, you as the handler need to remain calm and confident, showing the dog that you are relaxed, and that you have the situation under control.
Desensitize The Dog
Desensitization is the process of gradually introducing the dog to the external stimulus that is causing them anxiety. Through training, the dog is slowly exposed to things that cause them fear at a low level, then the exposure is gradually increased until they get used to the object, person, or animal. During this exposure, the dog is rewarded with treats for focusing on the handler.
In our Masters Of Commitment program, we desensitize dogs to all sorts of external stimuli, including cars, people, other dogs, bicycles, etc. We start with the dog and the stimulus far apart (and sometimes with the dog facing away from the stimulus), and teach the dog to focus on us. This shows the dog that we are in control, and that they can trust us to handle the situation. We’ll gradually decrease the distance between the dog and the stimulus, rewarding for focus along the way.
Build The Bond Through Training
Teaching your dog basic obedience commands such as sit, down, come, etc. will help you communicate, which will show the dog which behaviors are positive, and which are negative. Regular training will also help your dog become more in-tune with your body language, and allow you to become more in-tune with your dog’s body language. Furthermore, you will be able to properly channel your dog’s behavior to more suitable reactions when they are scared.
If you’d like to take it up a notch with your training, you can get into dog sports such as agility, tracking, rally, barn hunt, etc. These will help boost your dog’s confidence, and will allow them an opportunity to overcome challenges with you by their side.
Helping your canine friend build their confidence will take time and a lot of dedication on your part, but will be worth it when you have a dog that you can take anywhere. Be patient as you work with your dog to get better, and you’ll be happy you did in the end.