5 Things I Want Anyone With A Fearful Dog To Know
As the pet parent of a fearful dog, I know that it can sometimes feel terribly isolating. I see other dogs that truly enjoy meeting new people and other dogs (my other dog is one of those lucky fear-free dogs), and I find myself wishing the same for my not-so-social dog. It's easy to get discouraged, but know that there are many people all over the world that are experiencing the same things with their dogs as you are.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as the pet parent of a fearful dog:
1. Your dog is never going to be a social butterfly.
The odds are, if you have a fearful or reactive dog, you may never be able to go to a public festival with your pup, or take him out to the dog park. With the help of a great force-free trainer, it is possible that your dog's fears can be alleviated, but even if your dog never becomes that social butterfly you hoped for, know that that's nothing to be ashamed of.
2. "Training" doesn't help.
Many people fall into the trap of believing that shy, fearful, and/or reactive dogs "just need training." Some trainers will even perpetuate this false notion in order to get your business. I can promise you that no amount of "obedience" training is going to change the way your dog feels about what he's fearful of. If I trained you how to fluently speak a foreign language, would it make your fear of spiders go away? That's about how relevant obedience training is to working with a fearful or reactive dog.
I'm not saying not to teach your dog basic cues. Teaching your dog to sit, stay, down, come, etc. will all be helpful when utilizing the techniques that will help with his fearful behavior. But don't expect those cues alone to change the behavior.
3. It's not (usually) your fault.
Perhaps you didn't properly socialize your dog as a puppy. Maybe he had a negative experience during his fear periods. But in many cases, people with fearful dogs are working with dogs that have poor genetics or that had traumatic events happen before the dog was in their possession.
Don't beat yourself up over having a fearful dog. I constantly find myself thinking "if only I had known this sooner" or "maybe if I'd done this, she wouldn't be so afraid." You should always be learning about the latest science-based training techniques to deal with your dog's particular issues, and it can help immensely to work with a reputable trainer. Do the best you can, steer clear of punishment-based training methods, and accept that you are going to make mistakes. You may not have created the problem, but you can be part of the solution.
4. There is hope.
There is more help than ever available for fearful and reactive dogs. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that you do your research when looking for a dog trainer. If you're willing to put the time and effort in to truly change the way your dog thinks and feels, you will see a huge change.
Many "trainers" will treat a leash reactive dog with "corrections" and punishment-based techniques that only worsen the dog's fearful response. Find out how I stopped my dog's leash aggression using only force-free techniques.
5. Fearful dogs are just as worthy as any other.
Having a dog that's not social can be isolating and frustrating, but I believe your fearful dog is just as worthy as any other of having a life that makes them comfortable and happy. It may not be the life full of dog parks and house parties that you dreamed of, but it can be a wonderful life, nonetheless.
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