1. Recognize that the dog is fearful
The first step is, of course, to recognize the dog is fearful in the first place.
If you know that already, well done for recognizing the signs. Hopefully, you will find the following tips helpful.
If you aren’t sure, you might like to read how can I tell if my dog is afraid? If the answer is yes, come back here for some tips. It’s important to know because one study found that 72.5% of dogs have at least one form of canine anxiety.
2. Help the dog feel safe.
Your priority with a fearful dog is to help him, or her feel safe. This often involves the management of fearful dogs.
It can look different depending on what the issue is. Maybe the dog needs a space of their own (like a crate or bed) where they can choose to go if they don’t want to be around any children or strangers in the house.
Maybe it means telling other people they can’t pet your dog because your dog wouldn’t like it.
Maybe it means walking your dog at certain times of day when you’re not likely to come across whatever it is the dog is afraid of (other dogs, strangers, bicycles, etc.).
Maybe it means having a predictable routine and giving your dog choices whenever possible.
It means devising a slow and gradual plan to help your dog learn not to be afraid. That might involve desensitization and counter-conditioning. You can read about how that is used to help dogs get over their fears of nail trims in my interview with Lori Nanan.
And maybe it involves finding a veterinarian who will work hard to help your dog have low-stress visits. See my interview with Dr. Marty Becker for more on the Fear Free movement, and check out my resources on helping dogs (and cats) at the vet.
3. Avoid punishing others.
Perhaps you already refrain from using punishment as the best kind of teaching is positive reinforcement, with more and more individuals realising this (for more on the research, see literature review recommends reward-based training or my dog training research resources page).
However, it is crucial to cease punishing your dog if they are already fearful because doing so runs the risk of making them much more frightened or terrified of you.
Any fear your dog has already stressed them out.
You don’t want to use aversive techniques to increase that tension.
Focus on teaching your dog what you would like them to do instead by providing positive reinforcement if there are any behaviors you would like to modify.
Use excellent dog training rewards to make a behavior strong and practice it frequently.
4. You can console your dog.
If you believe the comforting will make the dog feel better, go ahead and do it.
Not all dogs do; in some situations, some dogs would rather flee and hide, and that’s fine too.
However, some dogs will approach their owner and appear to be looking for solace.
Unfortunately, some dog trainers, including some well-known ones, have perpetuated the myth that you shouldn’t reassure a scared dog because doing so will only exacerbate their situation.
This is untrue.
You serve as a solid basis for your dog, meaning that your presence can comfort them in trying times.
So, console your dog if you believe they would appreciate it.
Gently pet them and converse with them in a cheerful voice.
5. Avoid pressuring your dog to confront their anxieties.
Some people advise forcing your dog to confront their anxieties.
Unfortunately, this is bad advice.
Some individuals believe that forcing your dog to confront their fear would help them acclimate to it.
Instead, kids might become increasingly sensitive to it and progressively more frightened.
Dogs may act aggressively to get rid of the frightening object.
Your dog might occasionally feel anxious or “shut down” (immobile due to fear). Additionally, if your dog is extremely excited, it is probable that they will start to react to other things in the area. (If your dog is terrified of thunder and you’ve noticed that during a thunderstorm, they start to react to other sounds, such as doors closing or noises from outside, you’ve seen this in action.)
Some experts advise hand-feeding a fearful dog every meal to help them warm up to you. The important consideration is if the dog feels secure enough to approach you.
It’s not very nice to make them approach you in order to acquire food if they are hesitant to do so. In the end, they must eat. Make sure they are okay being that close to you if you plan to feed them by hand. If the dog shows any signs of anxiety, such as trembling or a reduced body position, place the food away from you so that the dog won’t feel threatened. You can occasionally sit and throw treats while giving the dog the option to come to retrieve them while you are still there.
Similar to this, avoid tethering a timid dog to you to ease their anxiety.
This kind of leash prevents the dog from approaching what it perceives as a safe distance.
Keep in mind that you want the dog to feel secure.
Create a strategy to help the dog overcome their concerns rather than putting them in the dog’s face.
This brings up the next point.
6. Look for expert assistance
Don’t be ashamed to ask for assistance.
You will advance more quickly the sooner you begin.
It’s crucial to pick dog trainers wisely.
Here are my recommendations for selecting a dog trainer.
Don’t forget to ask your vet if your dog can also benefit from the medicine. They may occasionally recommend a veterinary behaviorist to you.
7. Stick with it for the long run.
Fear and worry can be difficult to overcome, and they sometimes never completely disappear (even if significant progress is made).
It’s crucial to realise that treating your pet may take a while, even though nervous dogs can still lead happy lives.
And it’s crucial to acknowledge and appreciate your progress’s victories.
It’s simple to forget how things were when you first started when we observe steady change taking place before our eyes over time.
You can see how far you and your dog have come by looking back.