Whether your dog is fearful or out of control, we are going to use force-free methods to turn your dog into a "thinking dog" that works with you. If your dog is fearful, we will turn the trigger (person, dog, cat, object, and/or sound) into a positive experience using desensitization, classical and operant conditioning. Additionally, we will teach your dog impulse control to instill confidence in the fearful and control for the dog in need of manners.
Desensitization means you’re going to start with the trigger at a distance and at low intensity (for example, if it's a sound it would be far away and at a low volume). When your dog can deal with that level of scariness, you will gradually increase the intensity of the trigger (again, if it were a sound, you would gradually increase the volume and reduce the distance). NOTE: If your dog is sound sensitive, check out the desensitizing CDs we have available in the "Shop."
Classical counterconditioning means you’re going to change your dog’s underlying emotional state from fearful to happy by associating play and/or succulent treats with the scary trigger(s)
If you've adopted a fearful dog recently, it is crucial to remember that less is more. You've adopted this dog out of the kindness of your heart and we humans want to "make it all better" by lavishing the fearful dog with attention and even hugs! This will make you part of the problem not part of the solution. Do not pressure your fearful dog:
- Join your dog in a calm area of your house. Make yourself comfortable and relax with a good book.
- Occasionally, glance sideways at the dog but do not stare.
- Peridodically, gently toss some extra-special treats in the dog's direction.
If you've had your dog for awhile and it is exhibiting fear reactions, the key to helping your fearful dog is not focusing on why but understanding what
the triggers are and how to manage the fear through leadership.
Key elements to our methodology:
- Identifying your dog's triggers and thresholds
- Learning your dog's body language:
Don't know what your dog is trying to tell you? Are you "hearing" what she has to say? Dogs communicate via body language -- a language many of us can't read. If you have a fearful dog, it is extremely important that you can read her body language. When your dog is afraid, she wants to run away or scare off what she's afraid of. BUT, before she gets to that level, she tells us of her discomfort via body language. Let's start learning this language by observing your dog when she is calm. Check out her stance and her ears first. (These are more overt signals and, therefore, are easier to observe.) A fearful dog will stand either lower to the ground and lean back (wanting to run away and not be observed by what she's afraid of) OR make herself taller and lean forward (to scare off what she's afraid of).
- Understanding calming signals:
Dogs are great communicators; unfortunately, we humans miss half the conversation! Turid Rugass, an internationally renowned trainer and writer has identified a communication system ("vocabulary") she calls "calming signals." Dogs try to use this system with us humans because it's their language -- they figure all dogs know it, we should too! They use calming signals particularly in situations in which they feel uncomfortable (e.g., when your dog feels trapped or someone sounds angry) or even when they feel we are uncomfortable (e.g., you are nervous about company coming over).Turid has identified at least 30 calming signals. Some of which include:
•Sniffing the ground
•Turning away/turning of the head
•Walking in a curve
As our dog's advocate, it's important we become well versed in the language of calming signals. Why? Because if you are intent on introducing your dog to a person/situation and she starts telling you via calming signals that she's not ready, then don't force her! She is telling you she'd feel safer at a distance. Start observing and learning these calming signals to become a better advocate and friend to your dog. Once you start to communicate better, you'll better understand past failures!
- Using impulse control and busy work, including nose work
- Implementing calming tools
- But, most importantly, becoming and remaining a calm, consistent leader and advocate for your dog!