In my last article, I discussed how fearfulness in dogs can be caused by genetics, mistreatment, trauma, poor socialization, and medical issues. I also discussed how humans can inadvertently cause or reinforce fearfulness in their dogs by using aversive training methods or by forcing dogs into overwhelming situations.
Of course, preventing the development of fearfulness in your dog is preferable. But if your dog is already fearful of something, your first priority should be managing your dog appropriately. By doing so, you can prevent the fearfulness from becoming more acute and set the stage for treatment. Here are some pointers for managing your fearful dog.
• Prevent Unmanaged Exposure. Whether your dog is fearful of people, dogs, bicycles or any other stimuli, it is important to avoid unplanned encounters with the object of his fear until you are ready to systematically deal with it. Dogs have a way of intensifying behavior that works. So, if barking at strangers or bicycles makes them go away, there is a good chance continued exposure to scary things will only further entrench or intensify your dog's behavior.
• Safety Equipment. If your dog's fearfulness manifests itself in an aggressive way (that is to say, if your dog growls, barks, lunges or bites), do not take these behaviors lightly. You are legally liable for your dog, and if it bites someone, attacks another dog, or lunges out in front of an oncoming car, you are responsible. Since it sometimes is difficult to control your environment (especially in public places), ensure your dog is on leash if there is any chance of encountering the stimuli that scare your dog. Muzzles also provide an reliable layer of protection if there is any chance your dog may bite.
• Containment. Everybody deserves a little peace of mind: you, your guests and your dog. Sometimes the best way to provide a calm atmosphere is to take your dog out of the situation. Putting your dog in another room, a crate or in the backyard can be an important step in preventing flare-ups as you prepare to begin training and behavior modification work with your fearful dog.
Once you are carefully managing your dog, it is time to begin systematically dealing with his phobias. Probably the most critical type of fearfulness to deal with is fearfulness towards people, as it is the most likely to result in a bite. In our next article, we will discuss managing your dog's interactions with strangers in a positive and safe way. Then in our fourth and final article, we will deal with fearfulness as it pertains to other stimuli.
About the writer: Thomas Aaron is a certified dog training instructor and the owner of FetchMasters, LLC in Denver, Colorado. He is a strong advocate of positive reinforcement training, believing it provides the most humane path to a well-trained dog and nurtures an appropriate and strong bond between people and their dogs. He has trained hunting hounds since childhood and currently specializes in off-leash obedience training, behavior modification and positive gun dog training. FetchMasters.com