Help for Your Fearful Dog – Part 2

OK, so how do we help your fearful dog?

Our goal will be to create a happy association with the things that your dog thinks are scary. We want to teach your dog a new emotional response to these things. We want your dog to see one of his triggers and instead of thinking – ‘danger’, to think – oh goodie, where are my treats?

To do this, we want the sight of the ‘trigger’ (other dog, kids, stranger with a hat, etc) to predict happy talk and treats from you.

First, make sure you are aware of your dog’s triggers and are working at comfortable distance (per your dog’s ‘threshold’ discussed in Part 1). If your dog’s triggers are other dogs, you can work at a Vet or Pet Store parking lot at a distance where your dog does not react. Ideally, you want to work some place where the triggers appear and then disappear. We’ll use other dogs as the trigger example.

Have your dog hungry and have lots of very tiny, very high value food rewards. The instant you see another dog, observe your dog to catch him the instant he sees or senses the dog (this takes practice as often your dog will be aware of another dog before you are). The instant your dog notices the dog, act happy, say his name and say ‘cookies’ and feed your dog. Feed him continuously as long as the other dog is visible. The moment the other dog is out of sight, say ‘all done’ and stop giving your dog attention.

Practice this only for 15-20 minutes at a time depending on how often ‘trigger’ dogs appear. You want to keep your dog’s arousal level low and ALWAYS QUIT WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD! Your goal is not to test your dog to see what he’ll do or how close to the other dog you can get. Your goal is to keep your dog calm and happy in the presence of the other dog. Your goal is to PREVENT your dog from reacting as you are trying to teach him this new happy association. If needed, increase the distance from the other dogs by calmly walking away.

Next time we will discuss additional options for when you spot your dog’s triggers.

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