Why is your dog behaving fearful or anxious?
Past experiences are one reason dogs develop fear. When something scary is experienced by a dog, some can just “shake it off” and move on. Others cannot. When this happens, some dogs will only be afraid of the specific scary “thing”. Others generalize. For example, it is not just “the” dog that attacked them that they show fear towards, but all dogs. Other dogs, it might be a lack of experience with something or everything. Not having ever experienced something can also be scary. What is it? Will it eat me?
Genetics also play a role. Some dogs just are “wired” such they have a harder time with life. New experiences, new people, dogs, environments, noises can be scary for them.
What does the fear look like? Might look like classic cower, shake, run away. Or it might manifest as aggression. Get scary before it gets me….or at least look like that and hope scary runs away. It might even be a mix of several different responses such as the appearance of curious with a “waging” tail, ears back, and a growl. Mixed signals are not uncommon with fearful dogs and can be confusing.
How do I help fearful dogs? By applying well established and well understood learning principles such as;
Operant Conditioning (teaches new skills with Positive Reinforcement.)
Classical Conditioning (create new or change existing associations toward what your dog finds scary)
Desensitization (your dog is exposed to “scary” at a non-scary level/distance)
While there is no one size fits all application of the principles, my approach generally starts with the following framework. Prevent your dog from experiencing “scary” as much as possible. Next, change your dog’s association towards scary, and train skills to handle scary.
Helping fearful dogs is a passion of mine, and is the reason I founded Jacks K9 Academy and I would very much like to help you and your dog.