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Helping Your Anxious Dog or Puppy

Is your dog afraid of sounds, strangers, dogs, the vacuum, being touched?

Fearful Dogs Need a Kind and Methodical Approach to Healing Their Anxiety

So your dog has big feelings! Working with fear in dogs is very different from teaching your dog to have good manners or obedience. It is more like therapy than training and can require a lot of patience. It helps to remember your dog is not trying to be a “pain”, that he or she is actually suffering. 

The most important things to remember:
1. Don’t correct or punish your dog’s reaction - it will only make your dog more upset and convinced of his fears and it may make it harder to read what your dog is feeling (which can sometimes lead to “unprovoked bites”).
2. Don’t expose your dog to situations that he or she is upset about and figure he or she will “get used to it” - that is very risky and often makes it worse.

It really does help to have qualified professional help for this kind of work as it is challenging!

Guidance Dog Training’s Multi-Layered Approach:

  • Begin with an inventory of your dog’s fears. Is your dog afraid of sounds? Car? Strangers? Being touched on different body parts? What are the specifics? Take notes and video so you know where you are starting from.

  • Learn to understand your dog’s body language and find a way to reduce your dog’s stress while you figure out your training plan to teach your dog that what he is afraid of is actually a good thing. You might avoid the things your dog is afraid of right now and/or you might use a calming supplement. 

  • If your dog has a reaction: Stay calm and upbeat. Don’t try to correct the behavior as that will only add stress. Feel free to attempt to soothe your dog or even feed a treat.

  • Train useful behaviors: These are tricks that help get your dog away from the scary thing quickly when needed which can avoid big reactions and worsening of the fear. 

  • Use the following methods to heal the fears: 
    - Desensitization: Allow your dog to be in the presence of what scares him or her at such a low level that your dog hardly notices it. Example: playing thunderstorm sounds very quietly.
    - Counter Conditioning: Teach your dog that the scary thing now predicts food. For example: Whenever a stranger comes into view then he or she gets treats.

Tools for Success: 

  • Understanding “thresholds”: It is very important to stay in a low stress learning zone when exposing your dog to scary things. If your dog is barking, shaking, retreating, not taking the treat, taking the treat unusually roughly - then get more distance from what your dog is afraid of. Resist the temptation to come closer too quickly. Go Slow to Go Fast is a great mantra!

  • Learn about dog body language to help you understand your dog’s stress level or closeness to threshold:

  • Anxiety relief medication or supplements may be helpful: Adaptil (DAP), Thundershirt, Purina Calming Care, CBD or see your vet if your dog is suffering from chronic anxiety. If you need a vet behaviorist consult, this service is online and excellent.

  • Reduce daily stress load: Try to avoid what your dog is fearful of right now. For example, if your dog is afraid of the vacuum, simply avoid using it in your dog’s presence for now. 

  • Discover your dog’s fave treats: Try different foods to see which is your dog's absolute favorite: liver (pate?) cheese, fish, wet dog or cat food, meat baby food, pb, steak, chicken, hotdogs. For most of the training we can use pea-sized pieces of meat or cheese like chicken and string cheese but sometimes we want superpowers!

  • Favorite toys: Is your dog a toy lover? Tossing a ball or tugging are great options. But some dogs appreciate a few moments with a special stuffed animal. 

  • Marker word/clicker charge up: Ask your dog to do any behavior he or she knows, at the moment the behavior happens click a clicker or say “yes” and then feed a treat. Feed a treat each time you say the marker word or click. 

  • Behaviors to train that may be helpful for your dog when working around the thing he or she is afraid of: 

    • Find It: Toss a treat on the ground for your dog making the food reward more fun!

    • Hunt: Teach your dog to look for treats on the ground keeping them happily focused.

    • Catch treats or a ball on a rope or play tug - a fun way to focus your dog!

    • Heel: Get your dog moving and focused on you. 

    • Come when called and stay with you until released: A very useful basic behavior!

    • Look at That: Give your dog a cue like “Where’s the Person” and when they look, click or say yes and feed a treat. This helps your dog to associate the scary thing with something good. 

    • Leash Attention and Tension turn - pay attention to you while on a leash and when your dog feels any leash tension her or she turns toward you. 

    • For leash reactivity: Choosing the right time and place to walk, the right equipment for your dog. 

    • Wear a muzzle happily: if needed for safety. 

    • Safe Space: Teach your dog to be comfortable in a bedroom or crate away from what he is afraid of like guests. 

Note about training the above behaviors: If at any point your dog ‘fails” to respond that means that it is either too challenging or not rewarding enough. Try again at a lower level of difficulty or with a more yummy treat. Avoid repeating your cue more than a couple of times. 

Reach out for help with your anxious dog! 

Contact Us Today for a Free Phone Consult!

Quick & kind dog training help. Private, in-home sessions in NEPA and Zoom sessions worldwide.

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