The Anxious Dog: Learning to Let Go of Fear

Shake. Bark. Growl. Bite. Believe it or not, these are all ways a dog shows his fear or anxiety. Here are a few examples:

“My Shih Tzu x Maltese barks at people who try to pet him.”
“My little bitch is in her second home, she is not very socialized and makes a lot of noise when dogs or people approach her.”
“My dog is afraid of life and does not want to go in the garden because of fear of the neighbors.”

Suppose your dog now knows how to relax and is ready to retrain. This is a slow and steady process that requires consistency and patience. Before you start, you need to ask yourself if you have the stamina and motivation to help your dog. If “yes”, keep reading.

Step 1: Stop rewarding fear

Imagine this: Your Maltese cross in your lap. A friend approaches and the dog starts shaking. To calm your pet, talk to it gently and pet it. The dog starts barking.

Sounds familiar?

OK, as good as your intentions are, you have accidentally rewarded the puppy’s fear. By calming her down, you made her understand that she was right to be afraid. But you shouldn’t scold her either. Always ignore any fearful behavior, and better yet, until she is recycled, take her to a separate room when visitors call, so that this behavior is not reinforced.

Step 2: Find a reward she will work for

I don’t like spiders. If you offered me cabbage in exchange for putting a spider in front of the door – forget it! But if the prize was a box of Belgian chocolates, you’ve aroused my interest.

Every dog has something he loves so much that he is willing to work for it. It can be food (sausage, ham, chicken, salmon, cheese… all sorts of things) or a game with a favourite toy. Find out which treat your dog absolutely must have, because it will be his motivation.

Step 3: Dilute the frightened thing

Suppose your dog is afraid of other dogs in the park. Your goal is to introduce an attack dog so far away that your dog doesn’t perceive it as a threat. Then you reward their bravery. For the dog that is afraid of people, ask a friend to stand at the end of the street or place it behind a fence (such as a screen). Or play a CD with the thunder at very low volume during thunderstorms? You know what I mean.

Step 4: Reward your lack of reaction

Her anxious dog sees another dog at the end of the street and does not react. Wow, that’s unbelievable – so tell her. Give him a reward and make a lot of fuss. Help him understand that good things happen when other dogs are around. Let the other dog get a little closer. Still no response? Double wow! Give another reward and more praise. Always end each session with a high, so don’t rush or take small steps. Give a secret signal to the other dog’s handler, and if your dog’s body language shows that he’s uncomfortable, back off the assistance dog. Direct your dog’s attention with a “sit” command. This way, you can reward the dog for sitting, rather than making him believe that his fear caused the dog to leave.

Step 5: Basic Beef Training

Back in a safe environment, improve your basic training. Hold regular obedience training sessions to ensure your dog “sits”, “falls” and “stays”. This will get the dog used to focusing on you, so that in scary situations you have a strong way to get his attention to distract him. Telling your dog to “sit” in a scary situation is very reassuring for him because he receives a clear message: “Mommy is in control”, which frees him from the need to be afraid. Be prepared for a long and difficult journey, but the price you pay at the end of the trip is a dog free of fear, so every tedious step is worthwhile.

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