We are often told to face our fears to help overcome them. We are told we need to rationalise our fears. Many have heard of people jumping out of planes to destroy a fear of heights, holding spiders to relinquish arachnophobia and the list goes on. While tackling a fear or phobia head on may work for humans because we have complex reasoning, this notion can be lost on our canine companions and when forced into situations that trigger fear, it can inadvertently make it worse for them.
A dog can experience fear or anxiety for a variety of reasons, even things that we would never expect could warrant frightened behaviour (i.e. brooms, vacuums, and umbrellas). Often it is a matter of lack of exposure during early development or a negative experience during crucial development stages.
Despite your best efforts to expose them and ‘get your dog used to it’, forcing your dog to face unsettling situations (whatever that may be) is a big No-No. In many situations forced interaction will make your dog regress, build fear, and even shape undesirable behaviours.
Forcing a dog to socialise with others when they demonstrate fearful, defensive, or anxious behaviour. They will not learn to behave better around dogs. Listen to your dog and respect their feelings.
Throwing your dog in the pool if they do not respond to coaxing or show interest in swimming. As a result, they can develop a fear of water.
Dragging your dog toward to ocean when they pull back. They will be even more reluctant moving forward.
Chasing your dog around the house with a vacuum cleaner.
In some cases, people find it amusing or funny that their dogs reacts to something, will film it and post it up on the internet.
Forcing your dog into an experience that triggers anxiety or fear more often than not can make it worse.
Each dog is unique and as much as we would love for our animals to dive paws first into everything life has to offer and embrace all situations, dogs can have reservations and this needs to be acknowledged and respected. As dogs do not speak English, we cannot explain to them that everything is going to be ok. Once we identify situations that our dog is not comfortable with, it is up to us to have their back.
This is not to say that your dog will never be able to play in groups or swim at the beach, it just means that you need to introduce each situation with care and consideration and only progress to the next level of exposure when your dog displays confident behaviour indicating that they are ready to persevere.
Now, we are not recommending you shield your dog away from everything they may be unsure of or approach with trepidation. It is important that you work on these to help your dog become more resilient, but you must have the patience in order to do this correctly.
This can be time consuming, and at times almost frustrating but forcing your dog into a situation they are not ready for is the equivalent of sending someone with a fear of public speaking to face a crowd of thousands and expecting them to cope.
With correct technique and plenty of well-timed praise, your dog can begin to feel confident in certain situations. How long this process takes is like asking “how long is a piece of string”? For some this process will take a matter of minutes, for others it can be weeks or months. It is important to be careful with the timing of your rewards, praise and interactions as a poorly timed reward or praise can sometimes make the fear response worse.
If your dog displays fearful or anxious behaviour, speak with the team at Found By The Hound. Our expert Trainers are especially skilled at identifying the root cause of behaviour and can give you the tools to troubleshoot.