Fear is something that everyone deals with at some point in their lives. This is true for people and it is certainly true for dogs. Although fear is a normal, and often an advantageous response, it can become an issue when the fear is too great or is associated with an event that does not pose an imminent threat. This can be the case with dogs that are fearful of fireworks, thunderstorms, trucks or many other loud sounds associated with day-to-day living. The great news is that many of these fears can be lessened and even reversed through training!
For your dog to reduce their fears you need to help them change the underlying emotion they have about the event from fear to happiness. Currently, when your dog encounters the feared item (let’s call it the trigger), they experience fear. In turn, they may bark, cower, whine, shake, hide, urinate and even destroy objects. To reduce these behaviors, you need to help them change the emotion from fear to happiness or neutral. Here is a simplified version of how to change the emotion:
1. Expose to a less threatening version of the trigger (ex: thunder)
2. Pair the exposure with something they love (ex: delicious treats)
3. Repeat, slowly increasing the intensity of the trigger.
Although this process seems straightforward, there are some key variables that make it a tad more complicated.
Here are some tips for success:
1. Start with the trigger at an intensity where your dog shows no stress and no fear
● Ensure you use a low enough volume, or a far enough distance from the trigger, that your dog looks happy and relaxed.
● If your dog is yawning, licking their lips, lowering their head or looking for the trigger – the intensity is likely too high
2. Increase the intensity of the trigger in a non-linear fashion
● Ensure you vary how quickly you increase the intensity so your dog won’t predict the next increase
● For example Level 1, 2, 3, then Level 1,2, then Level 1, 3, then Level 2,3,4
3. Play the game in different spaces and at different times of the day
● Once your dog is comfortable will all the levels in one area of your home, move to another area
● Once they are comfortable all around your home move outside, then to different areas of your neighbourhood, and finally different neighbourhoods
Kristen helps train dogs with fear on a daily basis. She can help you create the best levels of intensity for your dog and teach you how to identify early signs of stress so you can effectively move through training. Simply visit smithcanineacademy.ca to book your private session with Kristen.