Fear/Anxiety Dos and Don’ts, Part V:  The Big To-Do(s)
Fear/Anxiety Dos and Don’ts, Part V: The Big To-Do(s)

Canine Fear/Anxiety Dos and Don’ts

Part V: The Big To-Do(s)

Finally, a few big “Dos” for your fearful or anxious dog:

1. Obedience exercises. Fearful dogs in trigger situations can be helped by giving them something else to focus on. Better than trying to distract with treats is to have your dog work for a reward. My favorite trigger situation obedience exercise is “lie down”, or even “over”/”on your side”. Down is calm, submissive, and trusting; showing belly even moreso.

2. Rewards. These have to come after #1, since many frightened dogs won’t accept treats. After refocusing and succeeding at an obedience ritual, they’re much more likely. Remember to use what I call “situational” rewards: whatever the dog would most like in that moment. Edible treats aren’t the only kind of reward! Try bellyrubs, verbal praise, hugs, walking, running, playing, throwing a ball, shaking a toy, and “long” rewards like bully sticks/rawhides.

3. Release. I end every obedience exercise with a verbal and sign language “release” command – e.g. “Ok!” with a snap and gesture. Properly practiced, the release command signals that he’s done with his work and now can go get that reward he’s been waiting for: e.g I encourage having your dog lie down and wait for every meal, then release him to eat. Likewise when entering a dogpark: he lies down at the gate, you open the gate and he remains down, then you release him joyfully in to run and play. The release itself becomes its own reward. Combined with whatever rewards he’s being released to, you’ve got a double-whammy of happiness!

4. Experiment. I recommend to everyone struggling with their dog that they experiment with new exercises, techniques, commands, and rewards. Every dog is different, as is every owner and every situation. There’s nothing like trial and error. I learn something new with every dog I meet.

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What are your experiences with fearful or anxious dogs? I’d love to hear!

3 comments

  • mary crouse says:

    We adopted “Max” when he was about 4 months old. He joined our older lab/shepherd mix who was 7 years old at the time. Max did very well in obedience classes. He was very good on the leash. Less than 3 years later, the older dog passed away very suddenly and Max hasn’t been the same since. He is still very obedient but is now very anxious and fearful on leash walks. He’s happy as a clam when he’s off leash. My husband doesn’t think we should walk him on the leash because Max gets too upset but I think we should walk him more in order for him to gain his confidence back. We adopted a younger lab mix who is very calm and even tempered hoping this would ease Max’s fears but it hasn’t. When he’s on the leash and hears kids playing basketball, eg, he begins pulling on the leash, constantly looking behind him and walking in circles ahead of us. What do you suggest? I feel bad that he is missing out on these daily walks. Thank you.

  • Lisa says:

    We adopted Kailana as a stray 18 months ago. She is a black mouth cur mix. She is anxious in various situations and I feel I have really let her down by not having the appropriate positive response to her struggles. She is only fearful/anxious on leash…which tells me she does not trust me to do right by her. That makes me so sad! She is constantly looking behind us and pulls to see around blind bends during our walks. She runs off to the side of the path if a bike/skateboard/stroller (anything with wheels) is coming toward us. She is uncomfortable walking with people behind us or in front of us during the walk. She doesn’t walk in a straight line but waves back and forth. She is very gentle when meeting other dogs and has no anxiety about them. It crushes my heart! But not walking/jogging is not the answer because she has so much energy and will bark constantly at home..finding things to bark at if there is nothing around. I appreciate your tips. I am going to put some new things into play to work on her trust in me. She has had trouble with allergic reactions to some foods so I have a difficult time finding the right treats for her. Any advice would be great! Like..how do I decide what martingale collar is right for her?

    • Anthony says:

      First of all I can tell she has too much freedom on leash, so she doesn’t feel like she has a leader. It’s like putting a scared 3 year old behind the wheel of a speeding bus! It also sounds to me like she’s wearing a harness. Try an all-fabric quick-snap martingale collar, when it tightens the rings shouldn’t come all the way together and touch (it should squeeze in from the sides). For one thing this is a “safety collar” she can’t slip out of. Then practice walking with a purpose, straight and fast, with her on short but loose leash behind you. Tug it if she drops back or plants her feet; tug her back to your side if she switches sides or pulls ahead; also block wtih your leg to keep her following. (It’s tricky 🙂 A sharp audio noise like “Tsshh!” can help refocus her also. Don’t avoid scooters and other triggers; walk right past them so she starts to learn they won’t eat her. Make every walk end at dog parks so she can run around and play and get rewarded for all that hard work. Get out out out, expand her trust and comfort instead of shrinkin her world up. Let me know if you’re ever in the New York aread, good luck and let me know how it goes!

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