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Training the Fearful Dog

One of the most challenging issues an owner can face is training a dog that is fearful.  Whether it is noise, other dogs, people or objects, it is important to be patient and help your dog through his issues. Here are some tips for helping your dog through his fears:

  • Health check: First, you should consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical or structural issues.  If an animal is in pain, he is more likely to exhibit fear behavior.
  • Finding the Trigger: Pay close attention and make sure you know exactly what your dog is afraid of so you can start taking steps toward addressing his particular issues. What stimulates your dog’s fear is called a trigger.
  • Patience and trust: Allow your dog to make the first moves and reward him for bravery. Never force your dog into any situation that scares him.
  • Positive Reinforcement: It is also important to use positive reinforcement methods.  The use of positive based training methods increase the bond of the dog and his owner by building mutual trust and respect. For instance, a trail of treats is a great way of getting your dog to approach things he finds scary.
  • Calming Gestures: When your dog is afraid, offer him the calming comfort he needs by removing him out of the situation or modifying the interaction.  Make sure your dog knows that you are his safe haven and protector.  It is especially important to not allow anyone else to do anything to your dog that you do not want, even at the risk of being impolite. There is a biological base for fear.  Each time your dog becomes fearful, there is an increase in the brain of the stress hormone cortisol.  When many fear experiences occur one after the other, this is called trigger stacking.  Your dog must be allowed to be in a calm environment after stressful interactions.  A natural antidote to cortisol is the hormone oxytocin, which is generated during calm petting and eye contact.
  • Caution: When a dog is extremely fearful, he can try to protect himself by lunging, barking or growling. If your dog has exhibited this behavior, consult a behaviorist as soon as possible.

For individualized training help and advice for your dog, enroll in the AKC GoodDog! Helpline, a seven-day-a-week training support service staffed by experienced dog trainers:
Get Your Free AKC eBook

Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

This program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. In CGC, dogs who pass the 10 step CGC test can earn a certificate and/or the official AKC CGC title.
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