Living With a Fearful Dog
Ironically I own a fearful dog and a dog walking company. My Bella was attacked 5 years ago by a large off leash dog. She was bitten in the neck. We’ve had to work on controlling her fear from the day after the attack when she was too afraid to leave our apartment. Now she is able to tolerate 75% of dogs in the neighborhood. She still randomly fears certain dogs and it is hard to predict so we often try to avoid new dogs on walks.
Have you recently purchased or adopted a new dog and thought he or she was going to be just like your last one… well adjusted, friendly, and full of fun. Instead, you got a pooch that is afraid of a long list of things. Your dog may have been abused, or had a terrifying experience, or may be naturally fearful. It doesn’t matter why your dog is nervous, living with a fearful dog is a rollercoaster ride – a lot of ups and downs.
It’s often isolating too. You can’t go to the dog park, take your pooch to a friend’s house, or go for a simple walk. It’s heartbreaking to see your friend terrified.
In most cases, fearful and reactive dogs need to work with a trainer or behaviorist that has had experience with this type of dog. Here are some tips to help you cope while working with a trainer. After all, you have to live with your pooch every minute.
Every dog has its own personality, and if your dog is shy or fearful they may never turn into a social butterfly. Training won’t “fix” your dog. Training will make most dogs better pets, help them understand boundaries, and give them some confidence.
Also, recognize that in most cases, a shy dog isn’t your fault. So don’t spend any energy chastising yourself – put that energy into your dog instead!
It usually takes time and patience to help a fearful dog become less afraid, don’t expect results by next week. There will be a lot of “2 steps forward, 1 step back” days.
Never punish a shy/fearful dog for their behavior; they can’t help it! Yelling, yanking, or hitting will not solve any of your pooch’s problems and may even make them worse. Teach your dog that they can trust you. Trust takes time, always be calm around your dog to create a positive, safe atmosphere for Fido. Spend time with your dog, be generous with praise and treats, and don’t force them to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing.
Make sure your best friend has a spot or two in your home where they can go to feel extra secure. For some dogs it’s their crate, others have a place in an unused guest room or a quiet laundry room. When your dog decides to go to their space, let them. They are telling you then need a bit of quiet time. Respect your dog, and they will eventually respect you.
Rejoice in the small victories your dog makes. When your dog only barks at the mailperson for 8 minutes instead of 10, congratulate yourself with the progress your pet is making – no matter how small it is. There are going to be a lot of tough days on this journey, days where you will probably want to give up, give the dog back, and call it quits. Take a deep breath and remember, fearful dogs will make gains, just very slowly. When they do make those gains, it is amazingly rewarding for you and your dog.
Most people who have fearful or reactive dogs talk about how lonely life can be for them. If you need support from people who understand below are some private Facebook Groups you can join to chat with people in similar situations.
With time, patience, support, and management you can help your shy or fearful dog feel safer in their world, and you’ll share an unbelievable bond.