Working With Fearful Dogs

By: Terrie Irvin,  T Touch Practitioner, tsirvin@comcast.net; 713.301.2794

Dogs can be fearful for many reasons.  It can be an inherently skittish breed (Chihuahua), have suffered some kind of trauma, people around them do the wrong things when something that might be fearful occurs (such as coddling the dog when it shakes), or they have never been exposed to the world around it (living in a backyard its entire life).  There are many extremes of fear which can result in aggression or health issues.  It is important to remember that every dog put in the right situation can bite, but it is how we react to what the dog tells us if we will get bit or not.  When working with fearful dogs, we always want to be careful not to trigger a bite.  Once a dog bites it is easier to bite again. Especially if the person reacts incorrectly to the bite.

Working with fearful dogs takes a lot of patience. After you have gained some trust with a dog, and have hopefully figured out some of the fears or what is driving it, you can work on those fears specifically using different creative ways to face the fears and make them positive experiences. For instance, you can use “flooding” which is basically just putting the dog in the situation that scares it and calmly stay with the dog until it works mentally through it.  You can use treats if the dog will take them or a calm “yes” with a smile every time the dog attempts to calm itself.

You can also practice “positive association” with treating, but it must be precise.  You don’t want to treat at the wrong point, and reward the bad or fear behavior.  So if I am afraid of kids, every time I see a kid I get a treat (let me stress—not from the kid).  So , you could go stand by a park where you are likely to see kids, and every time you see your dog has made eye contact on a kid, say a cue word—such as “kiddo” and treat the dog while quickly turning the dog the other way and stay excited like it was an awesome thing.  Do this day after day and your dog will start looking at you for that treat when they see a kid.  Does this mean your dog is now fine for kids to run up and pet—NO—it means the instant fear reaction is squashed.  It is important that you cannot treat your dog if you miss it seeing the kid and it reacts in any fearful way, such as hair goes up down the back or it starts shaking.  Just break the dogs attention onto something else, but no reward involved.  So it is precise in that you have to que the dog with the treat and word “kiddo” before the dog reacts.  I just noticed the kid and mom says “kiddo” and I get a piece of steak.  Wow!!

There are many methods that can be used, but these are a couple of positive ones you can try with your own fearful dog. You can be more effective by ensuring the dog is on the right diet and using alternative methods such as essential oils, herbs and TTouch to help calm a fearful dog while doing any training methods.  I wish you the best with your fearful dog.  Find a trainer that can help your dog enjoy life!

3 Responses to Working With Fearful Dogs

  1. Annvi

    February 10, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thanks! This is a great article! We are fostering a corridor of cruelty dog. These are good tips for us!

  2. Kevin Jordan

    February 20, 2010 at 7:54 am

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  3. Dog Pedic

    June 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Excellent article. I lost my dog when I was a kid and did not want to get another one.. but now I’m going to make the leap again and just want as much advice as possible… thanks