Dogs can experience phobias, anxiety and be generally scared in different situations. Sometimes, this can happen suddenly in your home and without warning. Other times, especially with dogs being adopted out of shelters and rescues, they come into your home with those fears already established.
The reason for these experiences may stem from genetics. For example, dogs that are sensitive to loud noises or motion can become scared or phobic in cars, or during thunderstorms and fireworks in a single event. Most often, dogs who do show fear in certain circumstances are fearful because they have not learned how to accept those experiences during early puppyhood. Instead, they see those events as a threat to their survival.
Remember, dogs experience fight, flight or freeze like you! Think about different times you’ve been scared.
What did that feel like for you?
What were the persons, places or things that contributed to your fight, flight or freeze response?
Did you find ways of changing your mind about those frightening things?
If not, how do you handle situations when those things happen in your life?
The same questions can be used to address your dog’s fears. It’s now important for you to know what persons, places or things are triggering for your dog in soliciting a fear response. Once you’ve identified those triggers, you will want to help your dog change his mind about those particular situations and his conditioned emotional response.
Now you have the general understanding on where dog’s fearfulness stems from, so what to do about it, right?
This part takes time and at times a step by step approach of breaking down the situation so your dog first learns to habituate to the trigger at a very low frequency (sound) or intensity. Always making the association to the once triggering stimuli as positive and fun experience. You’ll do this by using what your dog sees as high value rewards.
For instance, some dogs cower, hide, freeze when they hear dogs barking. When helping your dog change his mind, you will want to control the environment. All this means, you’re ready to give the high value reward when your dog hears other dogs barking.
You may be wondering, how will you know when dogs will be barking? Well, you can find YouTube channels of barking dogs or record those sounds without your dog present. Once you do, you’re on your way of creating a controlled environment. You will control when the dogs will be barking by playing the recording when you have time to devout to training.
Training can happen during your daily routine, like say in between Netflix shows. All you would do is play the recording of the barking at a very low volume while rewarding your dog with his favorite things. The goal is for you to observe your dog staying relaxed (he continues enjoying his favorite rewards while this recording is playing). The goal is for him to feel comfortable. Never move too quickly that he experiences fear or becomes scared with those things you’re helping him change his mind.
Once you find your dog is becoming more comfortable with those situations, then you will gradually increase the volume which will raise the intensity of the sound. Raising the volume should be slow and done over several days. Raising the volume too much too soon can be frightening for your dog. So, when you have time to practice, and are feeling relaxed yourself, this will be a great time to work in some of this desensitization training.
Once you’re having success in the home, you’ll increase distractions by moving locations. Try taking the recording outside in your front or backyard. Always bring the high value rewards with you and reward when your dog stays relaxed and calm.
You may even encounter dogs barking at a distance. You can do the same training with real life barking, but remember, keep your dog at a distance from other dogs until your dog is showing increased comfort (one sign is your dog continues taking the high value rewards from you) with other dogs present.
Now, you’re on your way!