Helping a dog through his fear

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Of our three dogs, only the female Irish Wolfhound is brave enough to walk out onto the dock.  Addie has fallen off the dock many times, and was also pushed off several times by the old farmdog (Pete, who is no longer living).  Maybe this is why she isn’t the slightest bit afraid to walk out there, because she finds the water refreshing.  One of Addie’s most favorite things is to “help” us feed the fish.  We feed the fish cheap dogfood from Walmart, and she likes to eat it.

On the other hand (paw), the labradoodle (aptly named “Doodle”) is afraid to walk near the dock.  Nothing bad has ever happened to him there….he just doesn’t like it.  In fact, he’s pretty much afraid of just about every new thing he encounters.  With gentle persuasion, he eventually comes around, and is afraid no more.  He is such a smart and brave dog…he just has a natural suspicion of anything new.  Recently, Dave took Doodle out to feed the fish, and worked with him a little to help him get over his fear of the dock.

Here’s a quick lesson on how to help a dog through his fear.

  • Don’t pull, push, or otherwise force the dog into doing anything.
  • Keep the leash loose, so he doesn’t mistake a tight leash for force.
  • Walk a few steps in the direction you want the dog to go, and then call his name.  Put a little food down, and keep gently calling the dog’s name.
  • Reward the dog with every step (albeit a small step) that he takes in the direction you want him to go.
  • Give him pats, praise, and a little food.  Tell him how terrific he is.
  • If he doesn’t make it all the way, don’t worry about it; you can work on this another time.
  • Gradual reinforcement is best.

Some people don’t like using food as a reward.  Dave has mixed feelings about it as well, because he doesn’t want the dog engaging in a particular behavior exclusively for a food reward.  We use food and cuddles, eventually working towards more cuddling than food.  We also never, ever, never give a dog any kind of reward while we’re eating at the dinner table (but that’s a blog posting for another time).

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