Helping Your Dog Overcome Fears
Dogs can be afraid of a number of things…loud noises, other dogs, strangers, riding in the car…it’s natural to be afraid of some things. But you don’t want Fido to be fearful all of his life, you’ll want to help him/her overcome his fears.
Fears can be reduced and/or eliminated by counter conditioning. It is important that you approach this process with an attitude of calmness and patience. Remember…slow progress is progress!
It is also imperative that you get the sequence of monster/conditioner in the right order.
We’ll use an over-simplified, hypothetical example to illustrate how to do this. This is the setup:
Think of someone who is terrified of spiders. This is a person who rarely eats chocolate, but LOVES chocolate. Spiders are the scary monster (to your dog this could be the car, another dog, a person wearing a hat, etc.). The chocolate is the counter-conditioner/reinforcer. Be sure to use a treat that is wonderful that your dog never gets unless the scary monster has appeared. (Do NOT feed chocolate, raisins or grapes to your dog.) You may find cheese, the Turkey Treats, boiled chicken or something else very special. If your dog refuses the treats, you need to find a treat of more value, and/or move the dog farther away from the “monster”.
CORRECT Sequence of events
You point out a spider to the person. Be sure it is a long distance away so the person isn’t overwhelmed. You then hand the person a piece of chocolate, tell the spider go away and it leaves. Repeat.
What does the frightened person learn? Spiders produce chocolate, a very good thing! Without conscious thought, the person, with repetition, begins to salivate for chocolate when they see a spider.
WRONG sequence of events
Hand the person a piece of chocolate then say, “Oh, look there! There’s a spider.”
This would teach the person that chocolate makes spiders appear! OH NO! This would be counter-productive to them overcoming their fear. It actually makes them afraid of the chocolate and the spider.
Brave things to reward your dog for doing in the presence of a monster:
- Look at you.
- Look away from the monster.
- Look at something or someone else.
- Stop barking, even momentarily.
- Shaking is if wet.
- Pawing the ground.
- Taking treats.
- Peeking (if hiding)
“Remember, if you do not make the conscious choice to be the Trainer…you are by default, the Trainee.”
As a dog trainer, I believe that the most effective method of dog training revolves around teaching your dog what you want them to do, how to behave, how to act in their environment, and what appropriate behaviors are, under given circumstances and situations.