Truth be told, every day for every dog should be cake, icing, and gravy. For owners of fearful dogs, it can be very challenging to keep their dogs happy and comfortable. There can be many triggers that can cause panic in a fearful dog. Managing a fearful dog’s environment to be fear free can be like walking on eggshells.
Stress and frustration are a part of everyday life for all dogs. When working with a fearful dog, keeping stress levels low is an important factor in building confidence around triggers. New environments, novel items, dogs and humans not known to the dog, noise, unfamiliar surfaces, and many more situations can trigger fear. The trick to keeping stress levels low is to manage the intensity of the triggers. Managing speed, distance, movement and volume can be the difference between a traumatic experience and a mildly stressful experience. Presenting triggers at low intensity for short periods of time are a good start to building a dog’s confidence.
Good associations and rewards for confident behavior
Food is usually the best way to create good associations with scary items. Food is also an extremely efficient and effective reward for good behavior. We use rewards to reinforce behavior. Reinforcement means we make it likely for the dog to repeat the behavior. In the dog world food makes good friends… really fabulous food makes for really fabulous friends. Be careful. Food alone is not going to cure a dog’s fearful behavior. The trigger has to be low intensity when paired with a reward to make a good association. There are many other rewards available to make good associations with triggers. Play, additional distance from triggers, toys, running, and all motivating activities can be rewards for confident behavior or used to make good associations.
Taking it slow
Pushing a fearful dog usually causes avoidance behavior. I sometimes use the example of my day at the beach. I’m one of those beachgoers that takes an eternity to fully immerse myself in the ocean. If I can take it at my own pace, eventually I will get all the way in the water. However, if I’m at the beach with obnoxious friends that may push me in or splash me with cold water, I’ll completely avoid going anywhere near the water and I will camp out on my beach chair for the rest of the day. To keep your dog in confidence building exercises, you will need to allow your dog to work at his own pace. If your dog doesn’t want to approach a trigger today, that’s ok. You can present the trigger again tomorrow. Perhaps at a lower intensity, then reward any confident behavior.
Building confidence in fearful dogs can be very complex. Working with a qualified dog trainer can help owners navigate this tricky journey without traumatizing the dog.
Looking for a top notch dog trainer in Greater Fort Lauderdale? Please call Oh Behave Dog Training at 954-587-2711 now for a phone consultation.