Helping a dog who lives in fear is a common undertaking—many people, knowingly or not, end up living with a dog who is afraid. To succeed in treating a fearful dog so that he can conquer his fears requires knowledge, consistent effort and extraordinary patience. It’s not easy, but it’s gratifying to see the difference in a dog who has been the beneficiary of this hard work. While it is an experience that is likely to have lows that are lower and highs that are higher than expected, many guardians report that it is immensely rewarding to work with their dogs and help them overcome their fears. As though we needed further convincing that dogs of all types, including the fearful ones, enrich our lives!
*In this study, researchers bred two lines of Pointers, purposely breeding one line that was “normal”— friendly, outgoing and capable of typical learning and training—and another that was extremely fearful (the so called “nervous Pointers”)—reacting to people by freezing to the point of being catatonic and showing exaggerated widening of the eyes. They also failed to explore new areas and froze in response to new sounds. (Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training Volume One: Adaptation and Learning by Steven R. Lindsay. The “nervous pointers” are described on pp. 191–193.)
10 COMMANDMENTS FOR GUARDIANS OF FEARFUL DOGS
1. Be patient—it can take a long time for dogs to overcome their fears.
2. Commit to helping your dog by putting in the time and effort to treat his fears.
3. Don’t force your dog into situations that you know induce fear.
4. Be open to the variety of techniques that may help your dog conquer his fears.
5. Handle any relevant medical issues.
6. Be gentle, positive and kind.
7. Never use punishment.
8. Protect your dog from scary situations.
9. Accept that many fearful dogs never become gregarious, gowith- the-flow types.
10. Love your dog for who he is.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.