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Fearful Dogs

There are many reasons why a dog may be fearful. A dog may be genetically predisposed to fearfulness, poorly socialized or been frightened by a specific situation or experience. The cause does not necessarily affect the treatment but may affect the success of the treatment. It may not be possible to change the way a dog feels in a specific situation but it is possible through obedience training to change the way the dog behaves in that situation.

Signs of Fear

A fearful dog may display submissive body language such as his tail tucked between his legs, his head down with ears held flat and avoiding eye contact. They may urinate submissively or lose control of their bowels and bladder. Yawning, panting or salivating can all be signs of stress. Some dogs will bark or growl. Some will "freeze;" others will try to escape. They all must be handled with gentle guidance and patience. Fearful dogs often have a strong desire to "flee."


Maintain a Consistent time for the following daily activities: feeding, take out for housebreaking, socialization walk, and play.

Obedience Training

Training and structure to build confidence. Do not over compensate with excessive attention. "Less is more." Let him become curious about you. Care should be taken to ensure the dog cannot slip out of the collar or harness being used when walking outdoors.


Gradually exposing the dog to low levels of the fear inducing stimulus and praising for calm appropriate behavior. Reward with extra special treats and couple them with a specific sound such as a clicker or a specific word like "yes." This way you can eventually praise the dog for acting appropriately even without the treat or from a distance. It is important to gradually increase the exposure to the fearful stimuli. The dog should not become fearful during these exercises. You want to give the dog the opportunity to act appropriately in the situation. Reward the dog at the end of each exercise by taking him away from the stimulus. Gradually get closer with each exercise.


Use a Jolly Jingle: Establish a jingle you sing or whistle to the dog whenever you are playing and he is happy. Once a positive association is formed, sing this when in the company of a fear-inducing stimulus. This is the equivalent of the affect the ice cream man has on a child crying. The child knows something good is coming and stops crying.

Practice Obedience: While at a comfortable distance from the stimuli, practice obedience using treats and positive methods. This will cause the dog to focus on the task required of him. Do not use leash corrections or punishment. You will know if the dog is at a comfortable distance by his body language and whether or not he will take treats. Dogs do not typically eat when stressed.

Never scold the dog in the company of the fearful stimulus. Be patient. Never force a dog into a fearful situation.

If the dog is fearful toward a person in your house (typically the man of the house), that person needs to become the primary care giver. They should feed and walk the dog with as little interaction as possible. The rest of the family should ignore the dog. Being a social animal he will seek the attention of the person with the most interaction with him - the caregiver.


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