Updated: Jul 24
Imagine you've finally adopted a dog after years of saving money and planning for it. However, you bring your dog home and realize something really scares them, such as strangers or loud sounds.
Luckily, you can train fearful dogs to overcome their fears. Read on to learn more about helping your dog, from what to do first to what training techniques you can use.
Visit the Vet
One of the first things you should do to help fearful dogs is to take them to the vet. A vet can examine your dog and check for any medical conditions that may cause excessive fear.
For example, your dog may experience pain in certain situations. The pain may scare them away from going to specific places or doing certain things.
If your dog is older, they may get scared if they can't see or hear in a particular environment. Your vet can recommend a treatment to help your dog overcome a medical issue, which may help reduce their fear.
Talk to Your Family
If you share your anxious dog with family, you should talk to them. Make sure everyone is willing to work together and stay consistent with training methods and other techniques.
You might be willing to train your dog, which is an excellent start. However, if your partner doesn't want to try the same training techniques, all the work you do may not stick with your dog.
Everyone in the home should be on the same page, with the exception of young children. And if you have a regular dog sitter, be sure they're willing to train your dog.
Consistency is vital when training to help fearful dogs deal with what scares them. Make sure everyone can attend any training sessions with a professional and that you follow the same techniques at home.
Set Up a Good Foundation
Another thing to do along with training fearful dogs is to give them a good foundation in their life. Try your best to follow a similar routine each day, especially when it comes to feeding your dog and letting them out.
You should also give your dog good dog food so that they get the right nutrients for their age and weight. Finally, make time for your dog to get enough exercise to stay healthy.
Having a foundation in place can help you and your family stick with your chosen training methods. This is especially important when it comes to your dog's daily routine.
Protect Your Dog
When you're in the initial stages of training fearful dogs, do what you can to protect them from their fears. For example, you may need to speak up for your dog and tell strangers not to pet the dog.
If your dog doesn't like loud noises, you may need to move them to another room when you're using the food processor. Do what you can to minimize their exposure outside of training sessions, at least for now.
Of course, you can't always protect your dog from what scares them. When you can't avoid their fear, you can try to calm them down, either with a treat or physical affection.
You can use desensitization to try and train your fearful dog. This is when you slowly expose your dog to what scares them, but you start slowly enough that they don't sense the fear at first.
For example, you may play the sound of fireworks on the lowest possible volume if your dog doesn't like the sound. Over time, you may slowly raise the volume to help desensitize your dog to the noise.
If your dog fears something physical, you may start by placing that item far away or using a smaller version of it. During the following sessions, you can slowly move the dog closer to the thing that scares them.
Unfortunately, this method may take months or even years in some dogs. However, it can be an effective way to train fearful dogs not to react to certain things.
Try Classical Counterconditioning
Some professional trainers may have you pair desensitization with classical counterconditioning. With this training technique, you use positive reinforcement to get your dog to associate their fear with something they love.
Using the fireworks example, you might give your dog a treat whenever they hear a firework. Or maybe you give them their favorite toy when the sound starts.
As with desensitization, you should start exposing your dog to a low-level version of their fear. Each time you train them, slowly increase the intensity of the fear.
Over time, they'll start to realize that they'll get a reward when they encounter what scares them.
Work on Confidence
Another one of the best training techniques for fearful dogs is to help them be more confident overall. You don't have to involve their fear in the training.
Instead, maybe you focus on teaching your dog tricks, such as jumping over something. You can also train your dog to respond to their name or to do a simple obedience exercise.
All of these training methods can help your dog become more confident. When they feel confident, it can be much harder for them to feel scared, so they may handle scary situations better.
Maintain Their Training
After you've gone through various training techniques and worked with professional trainers, you need to maintain the progress. It can be tempting to quit training your dog.
However, if you give up completely, they may return to their fearful ways. If fireworks scare your dog, consider when fireworks may go off, such as on holidays or after major sports tournaments.
Then, you can make sure you can provide
your dog with their toy or treats. That can help reinforce the training you've done, and they can continue to feel better.
You Can Train Fearful Dogs
Fearful dogs can go through training to feel more confident and be able to handle their fears. First, you should consult your vet to make sure a health issue isn't the cause of the fear.
If not, be sure your whole family is willing to train your dog. Then, you can use desensitization or classical counterconditioning to expose your dog to what scares them.
Are you ready to start training your fearful pet? Schedule a private lesson with our trainers.
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