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Fearful Dogs: What can you do?


Daisy-A fearful dog no more

Daisy-A fearful dog no more

Having adopted a fearful dog myself (my puppy mill rescue dog, Daisy), I can tell you that I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. Forcing a fearful dog to face it’s fear is NOT the best method to address this behavior.

With Daisy, I let her set the pace and become comfortable around whatever she was afraid of at the moment. I let her take her time (many times she would watch other dogs and then when she saw that they were able to approach the fearful item, she would too). Forcing the issue is never a good solution – for you or the dog. If you do force them to approach the object or person, the dog usually ends up becoming more fearful and you end up feeling guilty. Not to mention that now you have lost their trust as a result.

When working with young puppies at the shelter, I will often knock on the fire hydrant (hard to believe, but it is one of the most common things that young dogs are most afraid to approach at the shelter). I let the dog keep his distance from the object, but also let him hear the metal sound that comes from my knocking on it, and wait to see if he wants to approach it for a sniff. If not, then we move on. Again, I let the dog set the pace.

Knowing what to do with a fearful dog can be difficult. Understanding dog behavior and non-threatening training methods is a start. A friend of mine, has a great website that contains lots of resources for working with fearful dogs. She also has an e-book that you an purchase for a nominal amount. If you have a fearful dog, I encourage you to check it out. Better that you know HOW to deal with a fearful dog the right way than risk creating a fearful dog that has fear aggression issues down the road.
Good luck!

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  1. enchantrezz1920
    May 11, 2009 at 4:49 PM

    Great advice. Thank you.

  2. May 11, 2009 at 5:20 PM

    Great post, Mel. Your fire hydrant knocking reminds me of a funny experience I had about a month ago. While out on a neighborhood walk my flighty basenji, Sigmund, became jumpy and afraid of a plastic bag on the ground half filled with dirt and flapping in the breeze, which was lying next to the sidewalk. As I usually do under these circumstances, I stopped and took a few moments to walk him through this situation, clicking & treating him for looking at the baggie, then getting very excited when he gathered up enough courage to go sniff and touch the “scary” baggie. As we went on our way, I heard some muffled laughing from across the street, and heard someone say, “Why in the world didn’t she pick that darn bag up if she was so excited about it??” Needless to say, I had a little ‘splaining to do so that I wouldn’t thereafter be known as the Weird Bag Lady of St. Paul. 🙂

  3. May 11, 2009 at 10:37 PM

    That’s hilarious Colleen! Didn’t you just chuckle to yourself afterwards?

    BTW – have done the same thing before with a bag flying in the wind.

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