How Do You Train The Fearful Dog?

tn-1You have determined that your dog is truly a fearful dog, now what?  Fears don’t go away on their own, in fact they often get worse if left untreated.  Dependent upon the cause and severity of the fear, that will determine how effective the training will be.  Often times owners will get false expectations assuming that there is miracle training out there.  They will assume their dog will turn out to be the perfect “Walt Disney Dog”!  Highly unlikely, no, extremely unlikely.  Your dog may be the one that will respond perfectly and totally “get it”.  Others you will see improvement, they may always have that underlying suspicion of everything, and you will have to learn to manage that behavior.

First and foremost you as an owner must learn patience.  First with your dog and the other with yourself.  It becomes often extremely frustrating as we don’t know how to make the dog understand they have no reason to be fearful.  Often owners will try to coddle the dog by telling the dog “it’s okay”.  Actually what you are doing is telling your dog it is okay to feel fearful.  You are reinforcing the behavior.  Some owners will have the reaction to just yell at the dog.  Yelling doesn’t work. If that is your initial reaction, please walk away.  Compose yourself, and then come back to your dog.  It is not worth the risk in damaging the dog further.  If you punish a fearful dog you will without a doubt make the situation worse.  So you decide, do you want it better, or do you want to push your dog further away?  The choice is yours.  I hope you make the right decision.

Your goal is to help build your dogs confidence.  There are many ways you can do this.  Just as we have certain things “we are good at”, so does your dog.  Try games, try agility, play fetch, take them swimming, absolutely anything that gets their confidence up.  Reward and praise.   I can’t stress that enough.  Dogs need feedback, unless you tell them they are doing it wrong, their assumption is they are doing it right.  Build them up, don’t tear them down.  They are already fearful, so you must be extremely careful not to add to those fears.  Go slow.  If you know your dog is afraid of a specific item, make a positive association to that item.  I literally have covered golf carts, lawn mowers, doors in cheese just for the dog to associate the item with a positive element.  Often you will work with what we call threshold training.  You start further away from the item the dog is afraid of and gradually work towards going closer, until the dog is no longer afraid.  Sometimes this could take months depending on the dog, and how strong the fear is built in their mind.

Nutrition also does play a role in your dogs fear.  Did you know that corn actually increases the hormone in your dog to make them more afraid?

Think about Thanksgiving dinner, why is it after everyone has eaten, we are all falling asleep?  You can thank tryptophan.  It is released in our bodies from eating the turkey.  It calms us, it makes us think clearer, it helps us ward off the state of confusion, that many holidays bring!

Often we think we need to give our dogs high protein diets, this will make them strong.  The problem we find is that if we give a fearful dog a high protein diet, it decreases the tryptophan in their system, thus making them more fearful!

There is a lot to the fearful dog situation, that is why I encourage you to work closely with your trainer.  You need to take the approach as not to assume.  I am sure we all know the saying that goes with the word assume! Please be careful, yet firm, confident, yet patient, loving, and stern with your fearful dog.  You are the one that will make the difference in their life.  The only one.

If you would like help working with your fearful dog or puppy on a prevention program, please contact us at 704-877-7821 or  Visit our website at

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