Seven Tips for Managing and Reducing Dog Fear
Dog fear can be caused by bad past experiences, lack of socialization or just an irrational phobia. Experiencing constant fear and anxiety can greatly reduce your dog’s quality of life, but there are many ways to manage your dog’s fear and make him more comfortable.
Tip One: Create a Quiet Place
If your dog is constantly anxious, he should have a quiet place to relax such as a quiet room at the back of your house or a crate. If he won’t calm down, put him in his quiet place for an hour or so with a bone and let him relax. Soon, you will find that he puts himself in there when he’s trying to calm down.
Tip Two: Desensitize Phobias
Desensitizing means reducing fear by gradually exposing your dog to his triggers and creating a positive association. For example, if your dog has a fear of thunder, get a CD of thunder noises and play it at a decibel where your dog pricks his ears but doesn’t show anxiety. Give treats as you’re doing this so he has a positive association with the sound. Gradually make the sound louder. Keep these sessions short and positive.
Tip Three: Condition a New Response
Counter-conditioning involves teaching your dog a new reaction to his triggers. For example, if your dog barks at other dogs, desensitize him to the sight of other dogs and teach him a behavior he can do instead of barking. The best command for this is “watch.” Then your dog will look at you when he sees another dog instead of barking. Any time he offers you this behavior, be ready with a reward.
Tip Four: Teach Lots of Tricks
The more distractions your dog has when faced with something scary, the better. Get him thinking. Teach him how to sit, down, shake, roll over, play dead, etc. Then, if he is faced with a really scary situation, he can focus on you rather than on the scary thing.
Tip Five: Protect Your Dog
Many dogs turn to aggression when afraid because they have learned that no one will protect them from scary things. If your dog is scared of other dogs, don’t let another dog approach him. Allow him to approach only if he wants. If a person is approaching you with the intent of greeting, step in front of your dog and very assertively tell that person no. Don’t put your dog in a scary situation until you have mastered the first four tips.
Tip Six: Consider Medication
If your dog is not responding to behavior modification, consult your veterinarian about a calming medication, like clomicalm or Prozac. Medications on their own are usually not as effective but, when paired with behavior modification, can give you a window where your dog is a little calmer and easier to train.
Tip Seven: Try Homeopathy
There are many natural products on the market that can help reduce your pet’s anxiety. The DAP diffuser works like a scented plug-in, except only your dog can smell it as it releases calming hormones in the air. There are also drops available, such as Rescue Remedy, that can be added to your dog’s food or water.
Since fear is a complex emotion, not all of these tips may apply to your dog. However, if you pick the combination that makes the most sense, you are on your way to a calmer dog.