Fearful Dog Training

Fearful Dog Training

Our first instinct is love them, pet them, and call them George.  Oh, wait that’s from an old cartoon.    But still, we think we just need to love the fearful dog  into trusting us and being more confident.

It doesn’t work that way.   Not even almost.

In fact, when you first start working with a shy or fearful dog, you really need to do just the opposite.   Become aloof.  Virtually ignore the dog (with a couple of exceptions described below).  Let the fearful dog figure out how to make friends with you.   It’s a little bit of Nothing

fearful dog
This poor guy is in the shelter — and so shut down he’s afraid to walk outside

in Life is Free (NILF).   And when the dog does problem solving on his own, he learns more and builds confidence.

Note:   this particular protocol is assuming your dog is not demonstrating aggressive behaviors.  If so, let’s talk before you continue.   Even then, remember implement these training behaviors only if you feed comfortable with them & with understanding that any dog can bite if pushed too far to fast.

Calm Your Energy

Cesar will tell you “No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact” – and he’s right.  Less is so much more in these situations.  And don’t feel sorry for the fearful dog.   This state of mind from you, will keep them in their fearful state far longer.

Managing the Crate: & Potty  (First 48 hours)

  • If you have a very shy, fearful dog who’s reluctant to come out of his crate, even to potty.  You may need to leave a leash on the dog so that you can guide him out, and have him leashed up while he’s outside.   You may need to consider a small chain leash to avoid him eating it.
  • When you approach the crate, approach sideways or with your back to the crate, kneel down and let the dog observe and smell you.  Know that the first few times you do this, he may not be ready to exit the crate at all.   So take a break and do it again.   Sit down and read a book, watch a movie, etc — just be near with no pressure on the dog.
  • When you get the dog out of the crate (using gentle pressure and release techniques), add a long line to extend the leash so that the dog can have some space from you and not get away outside.  (Remember also you need a very good, well-fitting martingale collar)
  • Let the dog out for potty.  Noting that some dogs may not pee, poop, eat or drink for a few days.   I usually worry about not drinking water or peeing about day 3, and not eating after about 4 days.
  • We don’t offer the dog food for the first 24 hours– he won’t starve, I promise.    Though sometimes we drop a very tasty high value treat in the crate when we walk away — just 1.  He may or may not eat it.  Why, because I want want Fido’s hunger to overcome his fear and work with me to get some food.

Sharing Space & Feeding Protocols:

  • Bring the dog out of the crate and close the crate door so he can’t retreat.
    • Phase I The leash should still be connected so he can’t run away.
    • Phase II take the dog to a small room where he can be unleashed and work this exercise again.
  • Sit down on the floor on a chair, angled to the side of the dog.    Don’t even try to talk to him or make eye contact.  Eye contact and talking to him my be too much pressure.  Don’t restrain him close to you — just on leash so you can guide him out of the room and back to the crate when needed, without having to touch his collar or him.    Hold out a hand of kibble.   Let the dog sniff and decide whether to approach you or not.   If he doesn’t approach you to eat, drop it on the floor  (remember no touch no talk no eye contact).   See if he chooses to eat.   If so, do it again.   If not, wait 10-15 minutes for the exercise to see if he settles enough to eat.   If he eats nothing within 15 minutes, put him back in the crate
  • Do this for a day or two for each scheduled feeding.   After you see good progress and a dog heartily eating his meal from the floor, eliminate dropping it on the floor.   And wait for the dog to take food from your hand.
    • DO NOT under any circumstance, breach your dog’s trust by trying to touch him during this exercise.   Simply let him reach towards your hand and take the kibble.   Continue refilling your hand until he quits taking food.  Again this exercise is a total of 15 minutes.      Put him back in his crate until time for potty.
  • Continue Phase 1 until the dog will approach you to eat by hand with little fear.    Once he’s doing that, move to Phase II and repeat this feeding protocol until the dog will come to you completely on his own accord to eat from your hand.
  • Note:  It takes as long as it takes. 

Beginning Training & Confidence Building

  • Keep feeding him by hand, but work on skills like watch me, touch, etc.
  • clear markers for getting it right and food reward.
  • Teach Place — and use it during reading time, dinner, etc.  Until you learn this well, have him tethered to you in the house when he’s out of the crate so that he can be included in daily life without feeling overly pressured
  • You are simply trying to start creating language and expectations for the dog.
  • Walk around the back yard with the dog tethered to you on a long line.

Facing the World Together

  • 1st Things first — be sure you have a properly fitted collar and a back up attachment for safety & the prevention of bolting away under fear.
  • Now that we have a little bit of trust in you, it’s time to head out to the real world.   And know that for your dog, it’s probably scary.   So you have to be confident for both of you.
  • If your dog is scared of riding in the car — see this blog.   Because if he can’t get where you’re going without fear, it’s not time to go.
  • Head for the park — not the dog park.  That’s another topic.   But a park where you won’t be so overwhelmed with crowds or off leash dogs.
    • Your first visit may literally be just sitting in the car and watching the world go by.    We call this duration work.  Remember, as in all aspects of our training, if he’s nervous at the beginning, you have to create calm before going to the next step or level of distraction.   Create success at each stage of the process.
    • When you have a dog calm enough and brave enough to come out of the car, don’t go far.  Just walk around, but be ready to return to the car quickly if it becomes overwhelming for him.  You don’t want to be miles away or have a ton of activities between you and the car if he has a meltdown.
    • Your goal is to just be present in these outings.   Observe and take in the environment, realizing that it’s not so bad.
    • The most you are going to ask of the dog is to move with you without flailing around or retreating.  If he cowers behind you, just move your feet to the side.  If you have been working on sit and watch me, ask for it with a high value food reward, give a jackpot reward, and leave!   It’s not mean to be overwhelming but an exercise in confidence building and trust in you.
    • You are the advocate for your dog.  That means holding him accountable to the command(s) you ask AND holding the people accountable to respecting his space and need to be left alone AND not putting him in a situation he’s not ready for.   It also means getting him in and out of the scenario under control (heel) – – like a strong confident handler.

Next Level Success & Life Long Progress:

Once the dog trusts you more and the environment is more trustworthy for the dog you start working the dog on obedience skills in public.   It’s not just about the observation anymore — it’s getting to work, learning something new, trying a new challenge etc – -in public.

Get out an get to work.

Author: The K9 Coach

The K9 Coach Carolinas Dog Training owned and operated by Dana Brigman, certified dog trainer. We specialize in aggression, fear, anxiety and dog behavior training. We are experts in dog obedience training.