Respect the Fear, Change the Perception

We all have fears. Every single person has them, even the toughest of the tough and the baddest of the bad. We're supposed to have fears, it's what allows us as a species to survive. The problem is that many of us are mocked, or worse, for our fears, which only begets a higher level of fear or creates new ones. However, if we had the opportunity to work with someone we TRUST, who could TEACH us how to CHANGE our perception of what we fear, we could lessen or overcome that fear, thereby ENJOYING life even more.

So what does that have to do with dog training (or Canine Coaching as I call it)? EVERYTHING!! It seems that on top of the most ridiculous expectations we have for our companion dogs, like being perfectly polite, meeting and greeting every living thing with grace and diplomacy, being a friend to everyone no matter how poorly mannered or scary that person or animal is, reading our minds so they know what we mean and what we want whether we've said it or taught it or not, understanding perfectly what we say no matter the language or tone we've spoken to them in, basically expecting them to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (practically perfect in every way), we also demand that they NEVER be fearful of anything and if for some God forsaken reason they are, then they better get over it and right now! (enter Dominance theory, calm-submission, aversive methods, physical abuse, prong, choke and electronic collars, hollering, screaming, growling, throwing bean bags, hanging, "helicoptering," hitting, punching, flooding, etc.)

So tell me, how's that workin' out for you, huh? Not too much for your dog, either, I imagine. No kiddin' Sherlock, can't imagine why. Why is the simple question: because we're humans and we have a really hard time admitting to and dealing with our own fears let alone having a dog (or child) that shows fear. Darnit, having a scaredy dog (or child) makes us look bad! And with that, we've gotten right to the root of the problem: we've never learned how to RESPECT our own fears, have never TRUSTED anyone enough to allow them to TEACH us how to CHANGE our perceptions of what scares us so there's always something holding us back from ENJOYING our lives even more.

Whether an adult, child, dog, cat, or any other living species, fear is natural. We are all born with a baseline of fear (survival), are predisposed to others (nature) and accrue others through life experiences (nurture). There is only one way to learn from them and then deal with them: RESPECT the fear, CHANGE the perception. That means finding someone you can TRUST to help TEACH you how to CHANGE your fear and then ENJOY life. Do this for youself, for those you love, for your dog, cats, or whatever other animals you enjoy having as part of your life. Y'all will be better for it, believe you me. Amen.



tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

Positively Expert: Sam Wike

In addition to Sam’s work as a successful trainer and behavior consultant endorsed by Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training and the Best Friends Animal Society Community Training Partner Program, he is also a behavior consultant to the Monmouth County (NJ) SPCA and local rescue groups.


8 thoughts on “Respect the Fear, Change the Perception

  1. Mary Hancock

    I wholehearted agree with your article - for humans; but my Golden Doodle puppy, Gracie, is fearful of every loud noise ( I live on a major highway) to the extent that her whole body shakes and she runs for the nearest cover. I try not to be too sympathetic as I have read in all the training books, but she is terrified so I have comforted her, Do you have any suggestions? I am the one who is supposed to teach her that "all is well."

  2. cynthia swain

    Interesting reading; but it doesn't explain a method for non canine teachers to a method to work with.

  3. matthew

    You are absolutely right to comfort your dog. It is a myth you can reinforce your dog's fear by doing this. I have actually asked PhD behaviorists about this. Fear isn't a choice, it's a reaction to a perceived threat to one's safety.

    How you do this can vary from just sitting next to your dog to gently petting your dog. Though by its self, this of course isn't a complete solution. But if it reduces your dog's fear, it is a start.

    Anytime my fearful dog has a fear moment....I help him. how I help him varies with the situation, but I never just ignore him. His fear has not "grown" because I help him, it has actually reduced greatly when combined with other things you can do to help a fearful dog.

    For finding out more about what you can do to help your dog, I would suggest you check to see if one of Victoria's associated trainers is near you.

    Or jump on over to her forum.

  4. Kat

    Hi Mary

    Generally you'll need to reward your dog when she's calm and find ways to help her to be calm or reward minor improvements. Really it's too difficult to give advice on here without seeing your dog so the best thing to do is find a positive dog trainer in your area. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has a directory here: You should also read their article on 'How to Chose A Dog Trainer' linked to on that page.

    Speak to your vet first to rule out any underlying medical condition, but don't take advice on training your dog from your vet unless they're qualified in dog behavior (most just hear things anecdotally and aren't educated in current dog training methods). Vets can give you sedatives for your dog to use when there's something like an unexpected big storm that will terrify her, but if she's only a puppy then sedatives are probably unnecessary. You can try Adaptil Dog Appeasing Pheremone to see if that helps; it won't do any harm at least. Your vet may sell it or you can buy it online.

    Good luck, I hope you find a great trainer to help you and your dog.

  5. mary

    I have a fearful dog. Our trainer is very positive and I have used lots of counter conditioning with treats to work with her. It works. there are situations where she is so terrified that i don't treat her but comfort her but i take every opportunity to work on every situation she fears. Distance is key. always keep them below threshold. There is a very good you tube video by urban dogs on counter conditioning with treats and working with the distance. A good example of a reactive dog that can be taught positively. Sophia Yin also has some good information. Never scold your doggie due to fearful behavior. Just makes it worse.

  6. mary

    as an adjunct to my earlier message, check out you tube videos of urbandawgs counerconditioning; very instructive, useful and well done. it's laid out for you very well. lots of work but well worth it. am sure you could find a victoria trainer as well but our trainer loves those you tube clips. give them a try. expect to work for it!

  7. 4dogz282

    Excellent-when Anyone comes to the door my 4 dogs (Black and tan coon hound,Pitbull,mini Schnauzer,and Cattle dog mix) all begin barking and my Bully (Nathan) used to go after whichever dog was in reach-my wonderful gentleman companion would respond by yelling-no longer-between the spray bottle and calm voice things are slowly begining to change-as these are delivery people and living out in the country advance notice is not always possable-also we do not want to break the stranger alert completely-just manage

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Episode 837 – Beyond the Operant

Obedience training has long been the accepted path to teaching dogs’ manners, but the concept of obedience might be doing dogs a...

Episode 836 – Free Work and Adolescent Dogs

What is Free Work and how do dogs benefit? Dog behaviour expert Sarah Fisher joins Holly and Victoria to discuss how Free Work is...

Episode 835 - Major Biden and the Emotional Sink

After a second ‘nipping’ incident in the White House, Victoria is joined by Veterinary Behaviorist Sarah Heath to discuss why...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone