Fearful Dogs 101
When working with a fearful dog, the golden rule is, do not approach the dog, let the dog approach you. Simple right? However it might take days, even weeks for this dog to approach you. And unfortunately, there is no short cuts here. When you are working with a 36 kg German Shepherd with very beeeg teeth, your approach with this dog becomes a bit more of a strategy session than just relaxing in a corner tossing treats, because even the movement of tossing a treat can get you in trouble.
Fearful dogs tend to be unpredictable, you never quite know how much they can tolerate. The best thing is to make as many observations about their reactions as possible. You have to be as mindful about your own body language as possible, because with a dog that you can not approach or touch, your body language and the dog’s body language is all you have to work with.
It’s like a dance, you have to respond to the dog’s body language with your own. Always keeping your approach non-threatening, keep your side to the dog, avert your eyes, move slowly, if you can not toss treats to the dog, drop them on the ground and slowly move to another area, if your dog is not comfortable with collecting them, do not worry he will eventually come and collect all the treats, so you can continue to leave treats everywhere where you stood. Keep your sessions short, and do not worry about not seeing progress the first couple of sessions, it comes with time and trust.
There is another reason why you need to keep your sessions short with fearful dogs, even if it looks like you are making progress, you have to stop. Your dog is already stressed just with you being there (not because you’re a bad person, not all fears are rational, but fears are fears). You giving the dog a break is a big reward as well. The dog learns that the session will stop, and he will get a chance to process what has just happened. He will be able to process that he did not get hurt, nothing bad happened and he got treats afterward. Slowly, his associations about having you in his environment will change and he will become more comfortable.
Getting back to smaller dogs vs. bigger dogs. We tend to be a bit harder on smaller dogs when it comes to them being scared about something. They are easier to handle, they are not as intimidating. But imagine if your fears were ignored because you are shorter than other people? It wouldn’t be fair if you were forced to ‘deal with it’ because you are shorter, would it?
So what is the next step? Well, check in with our newsletter next month and I will tell you.
By Tersha, Trainer