What can we do if our dog is scared and anxious?
Today, we’re sharing five tips for nervous and fearful dogs that will help you overcome the problem.
When we adopt a puppy, we want it to grow up to be a happy, relaxed pet.
However, sometimes we end up with a dog scared of his own shadow or nervous around strangers.
Going back to my memories, I remember a dog our neighbors used to have – Duke.
The poor thing was scared of everyone and everything and would hide when someone would approach him.
Duke got better with time thanks to his owner’s efforts, but he never turned into a relaxed dog.
Hopefully, these tips will help your dog overcome his fears and become more relaxed than Duke!
Training Tips for Nervous and Fearful Dogs
#1 Comfort doesn’t make things better
The first mistake most owners do is that they try to comfort their pet when he is scared, afraid or nervous. It’s instinct, and I completely understand your motivation. But it’s the wrong thing to do.
Think about it. We reward our pooch with treats and affection when Duke does something we want him to do like sitting, barking, or “shaking hands.”
Duke can’t understand your meaningless assurances that the “terrible” thing won’t happen again. He relates his action (being afraid) with the attention he gets and draws a conclusion. You want him to be scared, that’s why you’re rewarding him.
Of course, you’re trying to convey the opposite message, but it doesn’t matter. The more you reward Duke’s nervousness and fear, the more anxious he would become. So, try to control your maternal instinct to rush and “save” your dog every time he seems upset.
# 2 Be the leader
One of the reasons why dogs get nervous or fearful is because you’re not acting as a pack leader. Why would it be a problem, you ask? Well, just like people, not every dog has what it takes to be a confident leader.
Imagine that you live in a strange world, which you barely understand and you are responsible for the well-being of another living creature. You’ll be nervous and jump at the first signs of trouble. That’s how a dog feels when you’re not projecting the right message.
But if there is another “grown-up” person, you won’t be feeling so afraid, right? Because you’re not the one, who has to make all the decisions. Act the part of the leader and Duke will feel much more relaxed and safe around you.
# 3 Keep your cool
Dogs have four options when faced with a scary situation:
We don’t want Duke to run away or avoid objects because he is terrified of them. We certainly don’t want him to feel cornered and react with aggression. Our purpose is for the dog to accept/ surrender to the stimulus.
To do that you have to remain call and project assertiveness. Your dog doesn’t need love and assurance that everything will be all right. You need to show him that there is no reason to be afraid, not tell him. Duke can’t understand a word you’re saying, but he understands actions.
Once he sees that you are calm and relaxed, he’ll think, “My pack leader is not afraid. Maybe nothing is terrifying going on.” So, Duke will gain more confidence observing your calm behavior and will overcome his fears in time as long as you are setting up a good example.
#4 Don’t show fear
There is one important rule when dealing with a fearful dog. Don’t feel or show fear. It will make things much worse because once your pooch feels your negative emotions, it will make him even more afraid of the situation.
“The pack leader is scared. Something horrible is happening!” That’s why Duke might act unpredictably, aggressively, or completely shut down.
What’s more, when you show fear, you might lose the position of the pack leader in your dog’s eyes. Then he has to step up and take the responsibility. And we already know what happens then, right?
#5 Don’t push too much
Your dog probably won’t ever become as sociable as those other dogs at the park. That’s all right. Take things slow and never force your dog into situations which can escalate quickly. Be patient, consistent, and calm. Pushing too much and forcing your dog to face his fears will reverse all the progress, you’ve made.
If your dog is afraid of strangers, you might ask friends to come to your house and completely ignore Duke. Once you’re certain that he is calm, you can introduce him your buddies. If he has a phobia of an object, gradual exposure to the trigger will make things better.
For very anxious dogs you can use dog calming aids after you discuss the situation with your vet. But as I said, don’t expect miracles overnight.
It’s heartbreaking to see that your pet is scared of ordinary everyday objects or that he is reacting badly to strangers. It’s most likely not your fault that your dog is acting this way. He might have never been socialized properly, or he might have had a bad experience in the past.
The important thing is to build the trust between the two of you and show your dog with actions that he is safe.