Fearful Dogs. What can we do to help them?


This is Shelby.  She arrived very fearful and shutdown.  She wouldn’t look at you and you shouldn’t look at her.  If you did, she would run and try to squeeze herself into the smallest corner she could find.

How did she get this way?

At this point, it doesn’t matter.  We have to work with what is in front of us.

So we start building trust and a relationship.  Not through coddling her, or cuddling her, (which she is very uncomfortable with) but through soft, non emotional interaction.  Training.

For her, training means doing what we ask, (sit, down, etc…) even if you are uncomfortable.  We go super slow until she understands that we are going to do it even if she doesn’t want to.  We are gentle, but firm and persistent.  We use the pressure of the collar to get her to move and pretty soon, she sees that we mean no harm.  We do not ask her to be exuberant, we just move together, calmly.

Communicating with a fearful dog is tricky.  You can’t use a high pitched voice or sudden movements.  You can’t use a harsh voice or really any kind of physical touch.  They will not take food and do not want your affection.  I have found that using an e-collar (remote collar with muscle stimulation) is super effective and the dog seems to prefer it to any kind of physical touch.  The stim of the collar is like you saying, “hey, come”, without any touch.  We use the lowest level possible, just where you know she feels it.  This type of communication is what really begins the breakthrough.

Once we breakthrough the fear, the learning can begin.  With Shelby, the learning went fast.  She was smart and now could do more things.  She could take walks without flipping around every time there was a sound or movement.  She could lay on her place cot when people entered a room.  This may not sound like much, but for her it’s big.

We all feel sorry for dogs like this when we see them, but feeling sorry won’t help them.  Coddling their fear won’t help them.  We must help them get comfortable with the uncomfortable so they can take part in life!

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