Updated: Oct 16, 2019
The most amazing experience or a disaster? Maybe both. Your experience living with a fearful dog can be an emotional roller coaster. When you first decided it was time to bring home another dog or maybe your first dog ever, you were filled with excitement. You start planning for your new best friend, you pick out a collar, their ID tag (gotta have the cutest collar and ID tag), their leash, their food bowl and water bowl, their crate, their bed, and the list goes on. Then you start thinking about the dog you want your dog to be and the things you want to do with your dog. You bring your dog home and you do it all. You're so excited, you have all your friends meet him and you do everything you think your supposed to do including walks through the neighborhood. A week or so goes by and reality hits you in the face hard. What happened to this sweet dog I picked out? Why is he growling and barking at everyone he sees? Or maybe he's hiding under a table when people come over. What do you do?
Living with a fearful dog can be a challenge, we that do it know we can't just just take them anywhere to board, if we can board them at all. We can't have a random pet sitter stay with them. It can be hard to go on vacations and hard to even leave your home with your dog because you now have this fear of what may happen. Is he going to bark, lunge or growl at someone? Is there going to be a day when he bites someone? Then what happens? What seems normal and easy for most dogs is a big deal for your dog and you. At times it can be emotionally draining.
It can also be extremely rewarding. If you are pointed in the right direction. The journey to finding that direction can be so frustrating you want to pull your hair out. I myself struggled with that journey. My first dog was afraid of people and dogs. He had aggressive tendencies when he was afraid. I have also fostered a fearful dog with aggressive tendencies when afraid. I have also worked with many fearful dogs. It has consumed me and I find helping these dogs to be extremely rewarding. So what do we do? How do we help these dogs have the best life possible when they are so afraid of everything? And how do we make our own lives better?
1. Keep your dog feeling safe at all times
Avoid any situations that may cause your dog to be uncomfortable. This may include walks in a neighborhood or busy area.
2. Allow him to control his fear
If he wants to walk away, get out of a situation, or make something stop happening to him, allow him to do so. Allow him to approach what he is afraid of only when he is ready.
3. Positive Reinforcement
Reinforce behaviors associated with his fears such as looking at it, moving closer to it, or investigating it. Make positive associations with his fears. If he's afraid of the hair brush you pair the hair brush with food.
Provide mental and physical enrichment each and every day. This can be puzzle toys, food hunts, nose work, at home agility/mobility training, fetch, tug, sniff walks in the woods, or learning new behaviors through positive reinforcement.
5. Pet sitters
Utilize pet sitters when going on vacations. If your dog is afraid of people, help your dog build a trusting relationship with one or two pet sitters and try to hold on to those individuals.
6. Veterinary Behaviorist
Seek help and guidance from a board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.
7. Behavior Consultant
Seek help and guidance from a Certified Behavior Consultant.
Mike Baughman, CBCC-KA