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Training a Dog to Not Be Afraid

Dogs may experience fear in certain situations, either due to temperament or past experiences. This is a guide about training a dog to not be afraid.

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December 9, 2015 Flag
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We have construction going on in front of our house. My puppy wasn't afraid of it until one morning she woke and jumped in bed with me and has been scared to death since. She won't go outside and she would always go outside no problem! She paces back and forth. I try to comfort her. It only works for a minute. What to do? Help please!

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    December 13, 20150 found this helpful
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    Try a thunder shirt. They are made for animals who are afraid in storms. They are very effective. You can find them online mostly

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    December 21, 20150 found this helpful
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    The worst thing you can do is try to comfort the dog. Things like petting her and cooing "Now, now, it's okay" are only going to reinforce her fear response. Why? Because she thinks you are praising it. You can help her get used to loud noise by ignoring it or pretending to ignore it. Simply go about your business. Ignore any unwanted behavior from the dog. It may be too late, but try it anyway.

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    August 30, 2012 Flag
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    Closeup of older dog.I have a 16 yr old dog that has always had anxiety issues. Lately it is out of control. I have a huge lawn for him to run and play in. I have always been able to just let him out without supervision. (He is way to scared to go anywhere.) He just runs around the house which has always been good exercise for him. He actually has a path.

    Lately he will not go outside, I have to drag him out with a leash. When outside he runs around the house to all of the doors ripping the molding off, chewing the door knobs, and jumping up and scratching the doors destroying them. He has torn all of the rubber molding off, so there are holes in the bottom of the doors. I am so afraid he is going to break the sliding glass window. I have tried blocking the doors with things, but he just destroys the stuff. His ultimate goal is to get back in the house. Even when I am outside with him he just walks at my feet tripping me.

    While inside he just paces back and forth causing him to breathe heavily so he throws up all over. He has started peeing and pooping in the house because he hates going out. At night he sleeps on the floor in my room (on his $150 memory foam bed). All night he keeps me up running around the room panting and acting as if something is spooking him. If I lock him out of the room he destroys the door to get back in.

    I have had him since a puppy. He has never been abused. I do have a crate that I keep him in when I leave. Lately it is the only place he can be because he is making me mental. I don't want to constantly leave him in there what should I do?

    By CB

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    September 3, 20120 found this helpful
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    It may be a kind of dementia since your doggie is so old. I recently took our 14-year-old Lab mix to the vet with the same issues, and the vet gave us some Valium for Max when he demonstrates his anxiety. The vet said that the issues could well be due to Max's age and mental status.

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    September 3, 20120 found this helpful
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    I have a Harrier dog that is totally spooked by most everything. A good friend suggested a Thunder coat. It was like magic, he has totally calmed down. The Thunder coat is totally refundable. Good luck.

    Ricky K.

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    April 7, 2008 Flag
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    Frightened DogI have a 1 1/2 year old Basenji. She is scared of everything! She gets scared of the wind blowing, sounds, people, leaves, lint, inanimate objects, etc. She doesn't urinate everywhere, but if it is bad enough, she will have leakage from her anal glands. She will run off and hide, shake, or get all weirded out by pacing back and forth with her tail down looking like she has no idea how to get away. What should I do? It is very frustrating!

    Melinda from Houston, TX

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    April 9, 20080 found this helpful
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    I would definitely discuss the situation with your vet. They do sometimes prescribe anti-anxiety meds for dogs, and this would probably help. You also probably have some dog "behaviorists" in Houston, and they deal more with psychological issues. (doggy shrinks)

    I give one of my dogs a product from Drs.Foster and Smith catalog (also have a website) called "Ultra Calm Biscuits". It is an herbal blend, shaped like a dog treat. It really takes "the edge off." But my dog is old and just recently suffers from anxiety. Since your dog is so young, you should probably try to treat the source of the behavior first, rather than just medicating the symptoms. Good luck! I am sure it can be helped.

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    July 2, 20100 found this helpful
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    I heard on NPR, "Calling All Pets" that there is a dog and.or cat pheromone that you plug into your electric socket like a night light. It releases the calming pheromone. (included is a web site info)I would give this a try. "What Good Are Pheromones to Me and My Pet?"

    Certain pheromones secreted by dogs, cats and horses are calming. Some of these pheromones are the type secreted by lactating mothers. These pheromones help the babies feel content, secure and safe. In addition, some calming pheromones help animals recognize familiar places. As a group, pheromones that have a calming effect on animals are referred to as "appeasing" pheromones. Scientists have created synthetic versions of these appeasing pheromones for use as treatments to help pets deal with anxiety and fear. The advantages of using pheromones are that they're not sedatives and haven't been found to cause dangerous side effects. Pet guardians don't need a prescription to obtain them for their pets. However, the use of any chemical affecting your pet should be approved by his veterinarian before you use it.

    There have been a number of studies evaluating the effectiveness of synthetic pheromones in treating behavior problems in companion animals. The results of these studies indicate that commercially available synthetic pheromones can reduce anxiety in many pets.

    Check with your vet or Google it online.

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    May 4, 2012 Flag
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    I took on a friend's female Bishon who is 2 years old. They bred dogs and she was one of their breeding dogs, but they had not bred her yet. They were getting older and need to get rid of the animals.

    She had very little human contact so they were not able to sell her. They were going to take her to the pound so I asked if I could have her. The first week was a nightmare. She wouldn't come near me and hid in the bushes, rain, shine, or cold. Little by little I got her to come in the house. It has been about six months and she stays in the house most of the time. She won't let me touch her except when she is in her bed and I can pet her. She will run up to me, but never closer than arms length. When she is outside she runs around in circles. She will stand in the living room growling for no reason at all. I was able to pick her up when some friends were here (I had to get her in the bedroom in her bed before I could pick her up).

    I took her into where they were and was going to show my friend how she was licking her self raw on her bottom. Well she did everything she could to get down and she pooped she was so scared and I let her down because she was way too strong for me. To get her to come into the house or a room I have to step away and then close the door after her. She will run around for hours.

    We took her out with my friend's other dogs to run in the pasture and she stayed up by the fence and ran up and down it and never came to be with the other dogs. In the car she is terrified. I had her clipped and they said she was scared, but other than that she was OK. My friend took her for a walk with her other dogs, all on a leash, and at first Daisy was fine and then out of the blue she went wild. She wasn't sure what to do, but try and calm her down and Daisy bit her. So she just kept walking and she felt the lead getting strange and looked and she was dragging Daisy so she picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.

    My friend keeps saying she is mentally damaged. I have been giving her magnesium, but it only makes her sleepy in the day and freaky at night. Can anyone tell me if they have ever heard of this before and is there hope for my Daisy?

    By Karen MC

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    May 6, 20120 found this helpful
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    Hate to say this but it sounds like your friend was running a puppy mill. I don't understand how this Bishon had no human contact. Your friend may have been hitting and punishing this poor dog. Bishons are extremely friendly and excellent family dogs so things are not adding up.

    Please give this poor dog time to start trusting humans again. It sounds like you are making progress but do not expect it to happen over night. It sounds like they may have hit her if she is afraid of your hands. Show her the back of your hands not your fingers. This helps to reassure a dog you are not going to hurt her. Her bed is her safe zone. She is licking herself raw because she is extremely stress out. Give her time to come to you.

    If we were being abused, we would have a hard time trusting again. Trust has to come on the dog's time not ours.

    You will need a lot of time and patience but once this poor dog starts to trust you, you will see her/him blossom.

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    May 7, 20120 found this helpful
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    Did the groomer clean the dogs anal glands? If not, then please take the dog to vet to see if that's the problem with the licking. If you live in a hot weather area she can also be having some hot spots and the vet can give her a shot to help with the itching. She can also be reacting to something on your carpeting.

    She should be spayed asap. If she was crated by the breeders then try bringing a crate into the house (take off the door), try adding one of your shirts or a nightgown with your scent on it for her to sleep on.

    Don't hold her, that is against her will and she might be scared of being abused. Be very careful about giving her supplements since you don't know if you might be causing damage to her liver or kidneys.

    Most of all, be patient, don't force yourself on her. Be calm around her, keep kids away. Try Petsmart or Petco and ask them about their all natural tranquilizers.

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    October 1, 2008 Flag
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    I have a 3 yr old mini Dachshund with 2 problems. She is my first non-rescue dog and I don't know what to do for her "reverse sneezes" and her fearfulness. The only thing she is not afraid of is people. If I wipe her feet of sand, she will shy away for days, etc. I have never seen a non abused dog as fearful as she is. Any ideas?

    Cheryl from Palomino Valley, NV

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    October 1, 20080 found this helpful
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    We have a dachshund that gets the reverse sneezes when he gets too excited. At my dog's social manners class when my doxie had them, the trainer covered both his nostrils for just a few seconds and the sneezes disappeared.

    As far as the other behavior, just love and lots of postive reinforcement, but remember that Doxies need gentle discipline - they are very smart and can become very spoiled very easily.

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    October 2, 20080 found this helpful
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    As a dog trainer, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is not to coddle the dog when she is acting fearful. Ignore the fearful behaviour, and only touch, look, and/or talk to her when she is acting confident. The biggest mistake people do is to try to soothe the dog with their voice and touch. The dog is actually getting rewarded for fearful behaviour and such behaviour will continue and escalate. And everyone in contact with her should follow this rule. Don't look at her, touch her, or talk to her unless she is being confident and calm. Let her come to you, don't back her into a corner unless you really need to get her for something (i.e. to keep her safe from something).

    Ignore the behaviour and begin slowly desensitizing her to the things she fears. Try to expose her to these fearful things in small doses. Start with far distance and when she can remain calm and confident, expose her to them for more time. Only when she has adjusted to this distance and time should you decrease the distance. When you decrease the distance, start with a short time and then extend the time. I hope this makes sense.

    Also be aware of your own emotional state. Dogs can smell our chemical changes in our bodies when we are stressed, afraid, nervous, etc. She will look to her leader for guidance. If the leader is calm and confident, then there must be nothing to worry about.

    About this covering the nostrils to stop the sneezing. I've never heard of this technique, and I can't imagine why you would worry about stopping it. Sneezing is often either a sign that the dog is in an excited state or a sign that there is something wrong with her nasal passages (i.e. infection, obstruction, irritation). Get it checked out by the vet just in case. You don't want to ignore a health issue. If it's not health related, then I'd leave it alone. Anything that can help you "read" your dog's emotional state is a good thing. You can then work to trying to teach her to calm herself.

    Good luck and I my last piece of advice is to read reputable books by trainers. Since you appear to have a shy, fearful dog, I'd recommend "The Loved Dog" by Tamar Geller (c.2007) and "The Dog Whisperer: a compassionate, nonviolent approach to dog training" by Paul Owens (2007, c.1999). This is not to be confused with books by Cesar Milan the Dog Whisperer on television.

    Here is an example of how to desensitize a dog to an object.

    Suppose your dog is fearful of the vacuum cleaner. Leave it out in an area of the house that is as far away from her and her normal area as possible. Usually the vacuum is making a lot of noise and is moving back and forth in a motion that in dog language can mean aggression. By leaving it out when it is not in use, it won't seem as threatening.

    When she is able to see it (from a distance) without reacting in fear (i.e. she steps toward it, she doesn't run away, she looks at it and there are no signs that she is afraid), then you can bring it closer to her normal area of the house, such as the kitchen or the living room. Leave in an area that is out of the way, but visible. It's important that you don't make a big deal about it. Let her see you approach it as you pass by doing something else, totally ignoring it and not drawing attention to it at all. You can try using treats, too. Leave some little bits of treats several feet away from the vacuum cleaner. Start with a distance that is as close as she will come to the vacuum cleaner. Don't make a big deal about the treats. In fact, you don't even have to let her see you put them there and you shouldn't say anything when she finds them and eats them. If she thinks the vacuum cleaner is making these treats magically appear, then that can work in your favour. Once you know that she is taking the treats, place the next treats a bit closer to the vacuum (i.e. 6 inches). In order for her to get the treats, she has to approach the vacuum cleaner on her own. When she gets the treat, she is being rewarded for her bravery and her mind is being "rewired" to think of the vacuum as a positive thing. Work slowly and eventually you'll be placing the treats directly beside the vacuum, on the vacuum, behind the vacuum. Once she is confident enough, you can try mixing things up (i.e. moving the vacuum to another location, placing the vacuum in another position, even slowly moving it back and forth without turning it on.) Work slowly and if she regresses, begin again to an earlier stage -- the point where she had her last success, and build on it. Use repetition and reward to boost her confidence but progress more slowly this time.

    I hope this example helps. The principles can be applied to other things she fears.

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    March 28, 2016 Flag
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    I adopted a Pom mix dog from a former co-worker about 7 months ago. My former co-worker doesn't run me as the abusive type, she speaks very gently and has a new born baby in her home, but I can't speak for everyone around her. brown dog sleeping

    I adopted Olive to be my 2 year old Pom-Chi's companion since my husband and I weren't home for 5 hours a day. Daisy, my 2 year old dog, right off the bat loved Olive, but Olive from the moment she was put into my arms seemed a bit off. She's extremely timid and hard to potty train. She is very loving and all that, but if you raise your voice by laughing she pees on herself and hides. I need help since I am so in love with her I can't let her go because of this. I want to help her in any way I can. Please help!
    Thank you and love always Olive's mom.

      Answer This QuestionWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
      March 30, 20160 found this helpful

      This dog is extremely anxious. She has been mistreated. I doubt your soft-spoken maternal coworker is the culprit. Perhaps it was the baby daddy. Or perhaps your coworker rescued the dog from someone else.

      It doesn't really matter who it was. I just recommended to someone else that when you're dealing with a timid rescue that clicker training is a valuable tool, and I think you would benefit from it as well. Clicker training is a positive, rewards-only training that relies on a conditioned response. Dogs actually like it. Here is one of the most popular clicker training courses: http://www.clickertraining.com/dog-training

      If this looks good to you, get some training stuff and get started.

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      February 24, 2016 Flag
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      I have a 6 month old Jack Russell who I bought from Gumtree 4 weeks ago. He is very nervous and growls at people when they come into my house. He is eventually coming around to me and my husband, but not my daughters and son. When they try to stroke him he wees a large amount and cowers on the floor or if we are sittting down he will jump onto our knee and not move. I don't know if he has been abused or if he is just a nervous dog. Is there anywhere I can take him to get him some help or a link on the internet I could look at. Thank you.

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        February 26, 20160 found this helpful

        A good start immediately would be a medical and behavioral evaluation by your vet for any medical problems. Then, some formal dog training classes will help in helping your dog's behavior and interactions with you and others.

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        January 18, 2008 Flag
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        My American Bulldog is 5 months old and he terrified of everything. He is scared of boxes, bags, my hands. I try to play with him and he run away with his tail between his legs. I don't know what's wrong but I am worried about him. If I try and ignore him he starts panting and crying. I don't know what to do. Will he grow out of this?

        Sophia

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        January 18, 20080 found this helpful
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        I'd suggest getting your dog in a training class right away. You need a class that has puppy play and socialization, as well as formal obedience. This guy sounds like he needs confidence boosting, so a class using positive reinforcement is a MUST. You don't say how long you have had the dog, but you need to try and make up some ground QUICKLY!! Start slowly and start doing things that are not too overwelming. Teach the pup to sit on your lap and jump slowly pet and massage him while talking softly. Use small food treats to make the experience a positive one. Small sessions several times a day are best and never force him to do anything. You want his experiences to be positive and confidence boosting, not scary and overwhelming which will make the problem worse. Does he walk happily on a leash? If not work on getting him to walk on the leash using the food treats as a reward. Avoid any harsh words or stearn tones and instead use a happy upbeat praising voice. Once you get into the class you might be suprised at his improvements! I'm sure the trainer can offer helpful suggestions to help him. I would also contact the breeder and ask some questions. Are other pups having this problem? The breeder needs to know to better understand their breeding program. Goodluck!

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        January 28, 20080 found this helpful

        Yes, the dog will pant and cry some but if they see that their leader is confident enough not to be concerned and focused on the offending item; they WILL come to realize the thing that's scaring them is nothing to be concerned about.

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        October 22, 2010 Flag

        Put a baby gate at the third step from the bottom of the stairs. Hide upstairs and call the dog to you. He will be able to go up the three stairs because he does not feel he will fall.

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        October 7, 2008 Flag
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        Should a Pit Bull puppy fear his owner? Should he be yelping out as if his owner is seriously hurting him? Should he be shaking in his owner's presence and hold his head low?

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