Trainer Tip: Fearful Dogs.
How to help give your dog confidence.
Dealing with a fearful dog can be a very difficult problem. Dogs can and do overcome their fears with help. First off, if you do not have the patience and time, a fearful dog may not be the right choice for you and your family. Overcoming fear is very difficult and will generally take several months, but it is possible.
No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact.
This is important. A dog that is fearful will be very intimidated and scared of someone who reaches out to touch them, makes direct eye contact, or even talks to them. The first step in helping a fearful dog is to have any new people coming in to follow this rule. It is also helpful to be aware of your body position. Sometime even facing your body towards a fearful dog can be too much for them. Instead try to side-face the dog or sit with your back to the dog to help make them feel more comfortable.
Take it slow, but move with purpose.
Overcoming fear will take time, so take it slow. Make your movements around a fearful dog slow and calm, but move with purpose. Being hesitant around a fearful dog will make them more uneasy. Be calm but confident.
Use high value rewards.
A very fearful dog may not take food yet, but don’t give up. Use high value rewards such as stinky soft treats or real meat like turkey, chicken, or lunch meat. It the dog is comfortable with one particular person, use that person to help them get more comfortable around things they are afraid of.
No baby talk.
When children are afraid we tend to use “baby talk” around them. Saying things like, “Its ok…you’re ok.” This is NOT something you should do with a dog. Baby talking a fearful dog will actually tell them to stay in their fearful state. Instead remain calm and silent until the dog does something that is facing their fear, such as moving towards or taking food near the object or person they are frightened of. When this happens praise the dog with a calm “Good girl” or “Good boy.”
Food & water.
If a dog is fearful of a particular family member, have that person be the one to always feed and water the dog (and walk them if possible). I even encourage that person to mix a little something in their food, like a small amount of lunch meat. Use your bare hand to mix the food so that the person’s scent is also in the food. This will help the dog start to overcome their fear of that person.