By: Sarah Wilson

To work with canine fear successfully you need to remember two things. First, fear takes as long as it needs to take to go away. That means, drop all your expectations about how long it 'should' take for your dog to feel better. He'll get over it on his own terms, not yours. If you push him in any way, you will go back to the beginning or worse! Secondly, you cannot solve this problem by empathizing with him. If a plane is having engine trouble, do you feel better if the pilot sits with you and says, "What's the matter? Don't be scared." You need the pilot up there flying the plane saying, "Everything is under control. We'll be landing safely in five minutes." To your fearful dog you are the pilot, and he needs you up front flying the plane.

To resolve fear problems you have to model a normal reaction for your dog. If you want the dog to be happy, you be happy. If you want him confident, you be confident. He will take the lead from you, so don't let him down. In each situation, helping your pet to relax is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do. The 'Soft' exercise is designed to provide a very structured pattern for calming your dog. It requires practice, but teaching your pet to be mellow will serve you both well in adjusting to many situations for many years.

Do not try and force the issue. If he is scared of skateboards, people in hats or the trash can on the sidewalk, do not drag him up to these things. This will make him resist. A fearful animal is more comfortable approaching at his own speed. If he is hesitant, stand near the object or person yourself. Speak in a relaxed, happy tone. If he approaches, don't make a big deal out of it, just praise him warmly as he moves forward. If he chooses to withdraw, that's fine too, just stop praising him. In short, if he shows courage, reward him with attention; if he shows fear, ignore him.

Practice his obedience training. Work especially hard on the 'down-stay.' This will help develop his self-control. The more positive structure he receives, the calmer and more confident he will be. Fearful dogs need to think about other things; listening to and obeying you will help take his mind off his worries.

Setting up a self-rewarding system can help your pet conquer his fear. Many dogs are frightened of vacuum cleaners. I just leave one sitting out with treats placed all over it. It may take a few hours, but he'll start trying to get those treats.

If strangers are the fear, have the stranger sit down and ignore the dog. Lay a trail of treats from the dog to the stranger. Use more and better treats the closer he gets to the person. Then give your guest a few of the best treats to hold. If the dog ventures forward, do not look at the dog or say his name. Focusing on him in any way can spook him. As he comes closer you can warmly praise him. If he makes it to the stranger, great! Have the person toss a treat in his direction. If the dog accepts the treat, have the guest hold one out to him, still not looking at him in any way. If he takes it, wonderful! You're on your way.

If your dog is hesitant, you can speed up the process by not feeding him before the guest arrives. Skipping a meal will not harm your dog (unless you have a tiny toy who is prone to hypoglycemia), but will make him more eager for the treats. Also, find a treat he really likes. One frightened Rottweiler would only work for meatballs. Messy, but effective. Cheese, boiled chicken, biscuits, or freeze-dried liver treats are more the norm.

Sarah Wilson

"With more than 20 years as an author, lecturer, educator and trainer (and a lifetime as a dyed-in-the-wool animal nut) this work is both a calling and a pleasure for Sarah. Approachable, fun, and no-nonsense, she is known for her positive, approach to problem solving between people and their pets."

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