Calming a Fearful Dog

 

Desensitization Technique

 

Begin by exposing your dog to a very low level or small amount of

whatever is causing his fear. For example, if he is afraid of bicycles,

start 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 moving bicycle.

 

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

be successful.

 

Counter Conditioning Technique

 

Counter conditioning works best when used in conjunction with

desensitization and involves pairing the fear stimulus (for example, a

moving bicycle) with an activity or behavior incompatible with the fear

behavior (for 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

him.

 

What Not to Do

 

Do not punish your dog for being afraid. Punishment will only make him

more fearful.

 

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.

 

Realistic Expectations

 

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,

barometric pressure changes, or changes in natural light. During

the desensitization 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 Veterinarian

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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