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Thursday, September 26, 2013

How Do I Fix My Scared and Nervous Dog?

When we live with shy, scared or nervous dogs, our number one priority is safety.  Since scared dogs can be easily spooked, we need to keep them secure.  Which means air locks, double leashes, etc.. See more details here

Our next priority is keeping the home as calm as possible and keeping stress to a minimum. More details here

Then we start treating the individual dog.  Our goal with shy dogs should not be in fixing them. We should try to help them feel safe.  And sometimes just making them feel safe might even help them on the road to recovery.
We don't expect Jack Russell Terriers and Border Collies to be couch potatoes; we don't expect Basset Hounds to win agility competitions; and we don't expect pugs to excel at herding.  Turning our shy dogs into happy-go-lucky party animals might be a very unrealistic goal.

How do we help our shy dogs feel safe?  If our pet gets  nervous at the pet store, we simply don't take him to the pet store.  If our dog is afraid of strangers, we don't let strangers approach nor pet. (Actually, a lot of dogs can start to feel better about strangers once they learn that they are not required to interact with them)

But removing all scary things from our dog's life might result in a poorer quality of life.  If our dogs are afraid of walks, we might want to help them feel better about going on walks. Walking is just one example, we might want to help our dog feel better about car rides, thunderstorms, neighbor nose etc..

When we start working on our dog's fears - we need to work on one thing at a time and we need to avoid flooding our dogs.  Flooding is basically forcing our dogs to "face their fears"  - Flooding is stressful to our dogs; it can make our dogs more fearful and in some cases; we can even turn shy dogs into aggressive dogs.
See more on flooding here:

Flooding is the main thing we need to be cautious about when helping shy dogs.  Another area where we should exercise caution is using treats to coax. We need to be careful to not try to lure our dogs into scary situation using treats. More details here:

So if we can't flood and we can't lure with treats, how do we help our dogs feel better about scary things?  Through Counter Conditioning and Desensitization.  We start at a place where the dog is not scared, then let our dog set the pace.

Teaching a dog to like walks:

Teaching a dog to like crates:

Helping a dog adjust to the man of the house:

Collar and Harness Acclimation:

I also suggest joining the Yahoo Shy- K9s list and reading some of my posts there. Here is a list of some of them:

Other related articles

Living With A Shy Dog:

The Relaxation Protocol:

On Forcing Dogs to Meet Strangers:

Recognizing Stress:

Feral Dogs:

Petting a Shy Dog:

Calming Aids:


It's Okay To Comfort a Scared Dog:


Desensitizing Touching:

Everything by Leslie McDevitt - Books and DVDs
Laura VanArendonk Baugh's Fired Up Frantic and Freaked Out
Nicole Wilde's - Help For Your Fearful Dog
Ali Brown's Scardey Dog

Tell us about your nervous dog in the comments section below

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