Canine Fear/Anxiety Dos and Don’ts
Part III: Building Trust
1. Don’t kill yourself trying to figure out why your dog is afraid – or even of what in particular. When I began my training career I would take extensive histories of every dog I saw – their early puppyhood experiences, likes and dislikes, previous living conditions, past traumas, etc. The more experienced I became, the less each dog’s particular history influenced how I approached and carried out the rehabilitative therapy. Much more important than the why and even the what is how you deal with it right now, in the moment, from here on forward.
2. You do not need, nor will you ever be able, to desensitize/countercondition your dog to every one of his “triggers”. On the one hand triggers can be wildly varied, especially for very anxious dogs: they can be related to smells that we can’t sense, sounds we can’t hear, motions we can’t see, and memories we’ll never know. And there are always guaranteed to be triggers that you haven’t encountered, no matter how long and hard you’ve searched: my go-to example here is UFOs. Even if you work hard to expose your fearful dog to the vet, crowds, firecrackers, thunderstorms, and garbage trucks, I pretty much guarantee you that any truly sensitive dog will be terrified if a UFO were to zoom over the hill. You can’t prepare for that by exposing him to UFOs – but you can prepare by…
3. Build his trust. The best way I have found to increase the confidence and calmness of an anxious or fearful dog is to build his trust of you in stressful situations. Your goal should be to make him think, “Mommy, you better know what you’re doing – I’m putting my faith in you. I’m going to relax now and trust that you have this covered. Don’t let me down!”
The rest of my tips in this series of posts are aimed at creating this kind of trust.
Next: Part IV, Avoiding Avoidance