Resolving fear or anxiety in our dogs is a process and it doesn't happen overnight. Ultimately our dog determines how fast he can overcome his fears. It's not something that we can rush along at a pace that would suit our needs better. We have to be patient.
The most important thing to understand about fear is that for a dog, it is not a deep seeded trauma like it often is with people. If we experience a traumatic event, we will recall that event, relive it and re-traumatize ourselves over and over; which is why we people have a harder time recovering from such things. Our dog on the other hand, doesn't have that problem. She doesn't remember what caused a shift in behavior. If our dog was attacked at a dog park for example, we might see fear—often combined with dog aggression—develop as a result. Our dog adopted a different behavior because of this event but she doesn't remember the event itself. The changed behavior simply became her new normal and just as the bad event conditioned this fear into our dog; proper leadership can condition this fear out of her.
The other thing to understand is, as fear is just a behavior, we need to resolve it in a similar fashion, as we would with any other misbehavior. First, we have to communicate to our dog that we disagree with him being afraid, in a way he can understand that; second we have to give our dog an alternative behavior to mirror and third, we need to reward him for giving us this different behavior. We need to resist the temptation trying to comfort our dog in light of fear with petting and cuddling and instead lead him through it with calm and assertive leadership.
Resolving General Anxiety and Low to Medium Level Fear
- If our dog shows fearful behavior, we need to fully relax ourselves first and then give our dog a firm (but not harsh) leash, verbal or other correction that she understands to be a correction from previous training. We need to make sure, not to scare our dog but we still need to snap her out of the shaking or cowering, get her attention and ideally see her look at us for direction.
- If such a correction doesn't result in at least a noticeable change, we need to continue remaining 100% calm and relaxed; we might have to distract him more from his fear, which can be done by scent (let him smell a favorite treat BUT under no circumstance feed it to him while he is fearful), walking at a slow to medium pace (a moving dog has to focus on following), showing a favorite toy to get his attention, or something else to get his mind of being afraid.
- Continue remaining 100% calm and relaxed and being with our dog, keeping eye contact in an affirmative way but no talking or petting yet; we just need to be there with her and allow her to sense our calmness and relaxation, which will allow her to mirror it and calm down; this can take a longer time but will happen eventually.
- Only once our dog shows clear signs of relaxation can we reward him with petting or letting him have the treat we waived in front of his nose earlier.
- The full cycle of resolving fear is correction/distraction –> providing an alternate behavior (relaxation) –> rewarding that other behavior once it is achieved.
- This process will have to be repeated over and over in different scenarios and environments with changing stimulations. The fear will subside with time and proper leadership. We have to lead her out of her fear.
Extreme Fear Considerations
Some dogs exhibit extreme fear behaviors that require additional support. When we have dogs sleeping in their own pee and poop out of fear or throw up at random or shut down altogether, we need to find a way to break through to them first, before we can help them recover. The most important things remain patience and calmness but it might be necessary to temporarily feed some herbal relaxants to our dog to allow his mind to calm down enough to process our communication and sense us. A great product that seems to work well is Complete Calm by Green Dog Naturals. It seems to take about 45-60 minutes to take effect in most dogs, if provided in the recommended dosage per the label.
The idea is not to permanently drug our dog but to gain access to some sense of responsiveness to allow her to experience what usually scares her, in a more relaxed way; showing her that all is ok and she doesn't have to be afraid of these situations. The best approach is this:
- Starting with the full recommended dosage of Complete Calm for our dog (depending on his weight) about 30 min before exposing him to the stressful environment or event. This will allow him to calm down during the event. Then execute the steps 1 through 6 from above with a more relaxed and responsive dog.
- We continue by repeating this on least on five different occasions but only moving on once we have achieved step 4 from above (relaxation and reward).
- Next, reducing the dosage of Complete Calm to ½ of what's recommended and checking if we can achieve the same relaxation in our dog. If so, great, we move forward by repeating this for at least 5 times and moving on. If not, we step back by increasing the dosage to ¾ and work on that level for at least 5 times; if we have to, going back to full dosage and repeating for 5 more times before starting to reduce back down in ¼ decrements.
- Next, we move on by reducing the dosage of Complete Calm to ¼ of what's recommended and check if we can achieve the same relaxation in our dog again. If so, great, we resume by repeating this for at least 5 times and moving on. If not, we reset by increasing back up again and working more on higher dosages.
- We should avoid getting stuck on any level, always reducing down after 5-10 times.
- Once we succeeded with a ¼ dosage for at least 5 times, we need to get of Complete Clam and work on achieving step 4 from above without any herbal support.
We should not use Prozac or other chemical drugs like it to do this. Whatever product we select, should be natural, herbal and/or holistic in nature and again the idea is for them only to be used temporarily to allow for proper reconditioning from fear to relaxation.
In addition to any technique, we need to always remember that being a calm, assertive leader to our dogs is always the key to resolving problems over time.