A comprehensive guide to helping shy, anxious, or fearful dogs, written by a canine behavior expert. Easy to follow, step-by-step instructions and photos.
IS FIDO AFRAID? NEVER FEAR—HELP IS HERE!
Some dogs are afraid of strangers, or would rather hide than play with other dogs. Others are normally confident, but cringe at the sound of thunder, or run for cover at the sight of a brush or nail-clippers. And some would rather serve the cat breakfast in bed for a month than visit the veterinarian!
“Help for Your Fearful Dog” is a comprehensive guide written by a canine behavior expert who specializes in helping shy, anxious, or fearful dogs and their frustrated owners. The book includes easy-to-follow, step-by-step behavior modification programs, and is brimming with specific, immediately useful tips and techniques. Based on scientifically sound, positive methods, the information is presented in a conversational, often humorous style, and is illuminated by photographs and illustrations, making it accessible for even the first-time dog owner.
Topics include root causes and prevention, establishing a Firm Foundation program, human and canine body language, essential skills to teach fearful dogs, and desensitization and counterconditioning basics. Behavior modification protocols are included to address 15 specific fears including those of people, dogs (which can display as fear-reactive “aggressive” behavior), sounds, touch, motion, nail-clipping, vet visits, and being left alone. Helpful products are recommended throughout, along with specific applications for fear issues. Included too is a discussion of pharmacological intervention, and a section on complementary “natural” therapies. Whether you are the owner of a fearful dog, or a trainer, shelter worker, rescuer, or dog lover, this book will allow you to help fearful dogs to live a better life.
Anxieties, Fears and Phobias
Anxieties, fears and phobias are all part of a continuum referred to as “fear.” Very mild anxiety characterizes the low end of the spectrum. Next we find mild, moderate, and then intense fears, and finally, at the far end, full-blown phobias. While the general term “fear issues” is used throughout this book, it is important for you to understand the distinction between the three:
Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, an anticipation of future danger—in other words, a concern that something bad might happen. Anxiety may occur for no apparent reason; some dogs are anxious in new environments or when meeting unfamiliar dogs or people. Although anxiety in unfamiliar situations can sometimes be traced to lack of early socialization or genetics, the cause is not always obvious.
Anxiety is often the product of past unpleasant experiences. A dog who is afraid of other dogs might feel anxious on walks, vigilantly scanning the streets ahead, muscles tensed, anticipating the appearance of another dog. A dog who has been summoned by his owner in an unpleasant tone of voice and then been harshly reprimanded will surely be anxious whenever he hears his owner use that tone of voice.
Anxiety differs from fear in that anxiety is not dependent on the presence of a specific fear-inducing thing or person. Again, anxiety deals with what could happen, not what is happening at the time. Words such as nervous or skittish may be used in place of “anxious.” Treatment for dogs who are anxious in general includes helping them learn to relax, providing strong leadership and a stable home environment, and teaching skills that build confidence.
Fear is a feeling of apprehension as well, but the emotion is associated with the actual presence of the thing or person that frightens the dog. Dogs may fear people, other dogs, objects, sounds, motions, or even specific environments. Fear and avoidance are natural, healthy responses in appropriate situations. For example, dogs naturally fear fire, and will flee in the face of a blaze. Dogs and other animals fear that which is unknown or unfamiliar—an instinct designed to keep them safe.
Many fear reactions are not instinctive, but learned. The good news is, if a fear has been learned, there is a good chance it can be unlearned. Let’s say your dog has come to fear having his nails clipped because he had an unpleasant experience when being groomed. By exposing your dog to the nail-clipping process in a gradual manner, along with pairing the clippers and associated actions with something pleasant (for example, super-yummy treats), you could help your dog overcome his fear of nail-clipping. (This is discussed in detail in Chapter 38.)
Phobias are profound fear reactions that are out of proportion to the actual threat. A dog who is thunder-phobic, for example, will panic at the sound of thunder and may take blind flight, unable to think clearly, crashing into anything in his path. A dog who is truly phobic about being left alone may cause mass destruction, or if left in a small, confined area such as a crate, may thrash about wildly and even self-mutilate. Whereas fears tend to develop gradually, phobias are sudden and intense from the start and require only one exposure to induce the full-blown reaction.
Phobias do not improve with gradual repeated exposures in the way that many common fear issues do. Management—making sure the dog does not get exposed to the thing that sends him into a panic—is the first line of defense. In some cases phobias can be addressed with behavior modification and management, often in conjunction with complementary therapies that may include pharmacological intervention. In other cases, behavior modification is not possible and management and therapeutic intervention are the only solutions.