Begin by exposing your dog to a very low level or small amount of
is causing his fear. For example, if he is afraid of bicycles,
with a bicycle placed at a distance of 100 feet from your dog.
Reward him for calm,
non-fearful behavior in the presence of the bicycle.
Gradually move the bicycle
closer to him. As long as your dog remains
relaxed, reward him with
treats and praise. If at any point the becomes
anxious, move the bicycle
further away and proceed at a slower pace.
When your dog can remain
relaxed in the presence of a stationary
bicycle, move the bicycle
100 feet away again, but have someone ride
it slowly by him. Again,
gradually increase the proximity of the slowly
moving bicycle, rewarding
your dog for remaining calm and relaxed.
Repeat this procedure as
many times as necessary, gradually
increasing the speed of the
This process may take
several days, weeks, or even months. You must
proceed at a slow enough
pace that your dog never becomes fearful
during the desensitization
process. If you move too quickly, you won’t
Counter conditioning works
best when used in conjunction with
involves pairing the fear stimulus (for example, a
moving bicycle) with an
activity or behavior incompatible with the fear
example, the dog remaining in the “sit” position).
Using the desensitization
technique example described previously,
while your dog is exposed
to the bicycle, ask him to perform some
obedience exercises, such
as “sit” and “down.” Reward him for
obeying and continue to
have him obey commands as the bicycle is
moved closer to him.
If your dog doesn’t know
any commands, teach him a few using treats
and praise. Don’t ever use
punishment, collar corrections, or scolding
to teach him the commands,
as the point of counter conditioning is for
him to associate pleasant
things with the stimulus that now frightens
What Not to Do
Do not punish your dog for being afraid. Punishment will only make him
Do not try to force your
dog to experience the object or situation that is
causing him to be afraid.
For example, if he is afraid of bicycles and
you force him to stand in
place while bicycles whiz by, he’ll probably
become more fearful of
bicycles rather than less fearful.
Never punish your dog after
the fact for destruction or house soiling
caused by anxiety or fear.
Animals don’t understand punishment after
the fact, even if it’s only
seconds later. This kind of destruction or house
soiling is the result of
panic, not misbehavior. Punishment will do more
harm than good.
Some of the things that
frighten dogs can be difficult to reproduce or
control. For example, if
your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, he may be
responding to other things
that occur during the storm, such as smells,
changes, or changes in natural light. During
process, it is impossible for you to reproduce all of
these factors. Another
example would be if your dog is afraid of men.
You may work at
desensitizing him, but if a man lives in your household
and your dog is constantly
exposed to him, this can disrupt the gradual
process of desensitization.
You need to be patient with your dog and
work hard not to become
frustrated during the desensitization process.
Consult with Your
Medication may help reduce
your dog’s anxiety levels for short time
periods. Your veterinarian
is the only person who is qualified and
licensed to prescribe
medication for your dog. Don’t attempt to give
your dog any
over-the-counter or prescription medication without
consulting with your
veterinarian. Animals don’t respond to drugs the
same way people do, and a
medication that may be safe for humans
could be fatal to your dog.
Drug therapy alone won’t reduce fears and
phobias permanently, but in
extreme cases, behavior modification and
medication used together
may be the best approach.