What do you need to know about caring for your fearful dog?
- Fearful dogs are a huge escape risk and if they escape they can be really hard to catch. Make sure you have current tags and microchip information on your dog at all times.
- You will also want to make sure your fence is free of holes, objects the dog can climb on to get over the fence, and possibly add a baby gate to the front door if you don’t have a backup fence.
- Your fearful dog will need to have a calm environment to decompress from stressful triggers or after having just left a rescue or shelter. For some dogs this could be a few days for others; especially dogs coming from puppy mills or hoarding situations, this could be months.
- You should set up safe places around the house where your dog can escape from kids in the home or guests. These should be treated as no entry areas for children and other pets. Examples of these could be mudrooms, bathrooms, a dog bed in the corner, or under a table.
- Make notes as you discover things that trigger your dog’s fear. Keep a written list.
- If you know your dog struggles with fear it is important to understand that you should have a physical and behavioral evaluation done on your dog. You may want to ask your vet about prescription anti-anxiety meds to help your dog cope with daily life.
Rules for living with an extremely fearful dog:
- Your dog should have a routine; small changes can cause your fearful dog stress.
- Long walks same time every day, guided away from stress-producing stimuli.
- Avoid places like playgrounds, groups of people, and busy streets. You may choose odd hours to walk if you live in a busy city.
- If your dog is too scared to go on walks relaxation time in a fenced yard is another option.
- Continue to make notes about your dog’s progress and setbacks.
- Plan on doing a behavior assessment with a trainer about every 6 months to make sure you are on the right track.
- One handler, sorry! I would love to say this isn’t true and encourage everyone to be on board, but that isn’t what is best for your dog. Fearful dogs NEED to bond with a person, and being the center of attention may set this back. Bonding helps combat stress hormones. Bonding with one person is easier than bonding with 2 or 3 at once.
- Time is key, it is better to take too much time than not enough. The biggest mistake you can make is to push too fast or force your dog.
- Provide your dog with escape routes such as dog doors to a secure yard or garage for times of stress. Since successful fear aggression will become a self-reinforcing behavior. Dogs with escape routes typically try escaping first which will prevent your dog from learning to be fear aggressive.
- Always remember that no dog can learn while his brain is flooded with stress hormones. Stress hormones cause “brain freeze”.
Helping your fearful dog heal
Fear can be managed and healed, but not trained away. There are skills that you can use to help your dog when scared, but fear will continue to lurk deep inside your dog’s amygdala. Your job is to help your dog recover from fearful events quicker and experience fearful events less frequently.
- Work to build your dog’s self-confidence through positive training and gentle encouragement.
- When it is time to start trying to teach obedience to start with come, touch, and eye contact. These can all be useful skills for a fearful dog to learn.
- Be your fearful dog’s advocate. If you feel your trainer, vet, friend, or spouse is being too forceful have the courage to be your dog’s advocate.
What about adding another dog?
Fearful dogs often bond quicker to another dog and adding another dog to the home may help your dog with the process. Be picky if you choose to go this route. You want to make sure that the dog you choose is gentle, non-reactive, confident, and friendly. It should also be a balance of good with your dog and respect of your dog’s space. Set up several meet and greets BEFORE deciding on a dog.