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7 Effective Ways to Train Fearful Dogs

7 Effective Ways to Train Fearful Dogs

Fear is a natural reaction to a threatening event. It’s something common to all life forms. Dogs, like humans, can also be fearful, shy, and anxious. This is particularly true if they had been adopted from a rescue center or a shelter. A dog may be outgoing and excited to be in a new environment. However, the outside world can also be overwhelming for a fearful dog.

Dog training for fearful dogs can be challenging. Even otherwise normal situations can trigger a fear of strangers, other dogs, or loud noises. This can result in your dog displaying behaviors like pulling, food aggression, excessive barking, digging, or setting their territories. In cases like this, dog training becomes even more critical – not just for your safety but, more importantly, your beloved pet’s. This is where a good dog training collar will come in handy.

What Does Fear Look Like in Dogs?

How can you tell if a dog is fearful? Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a scared dog will help you acknowledge their fears and phobias before they worsen. It may also help you in avoiding a dog bite or an attack.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of fear in dogs to identify if your pet is extremely distressed about something in his environment.

Signs Your Dog MayBe Fearful Infographic

1. Growling

Some dogs will go on the attack hoping to scare the trigger away. This aggressive behavior may be driven by fear.

2. Panting

When dogs are hot, excited, or stressed, they pant. If your dog is panting despite not exercising, they may be stressed or anxious.

3. Body Posture Changes

Dogs typically carry equal weight on all four legs. A healthy dog with no orthopedic problems who shifts his weight to his back legs or cowers may be stressed. When dogs are frightened, they may tuck their tails.

4. Fleeing or Hiding

If met with an unpleasant situation, dogs may "flee." Fleeing is not only characterized by running away. A scared or stressed canine may focus their attention on something else. They may lick their genitals or sniff the ground. Ignoring someone is not respectful, but it is preferable to being aggressive. Do not force engagement with other dogs or people if your dog avoids it.

5. Avoidance

Some tense dogs suddenly move next to their owners to hide as a sign of avoidance. They might also compel their owners to get them to keep moving. They may try engaging in distracting activities such as digging or circling as a means of escape, or they may wander behind a tree or parked car.

6. Coat Shedding

When dogs are in the veterinary hospital, they shed a lot. Although shedding is less visible outdoors, such as when visiting a new dog park, it increases when a dog is agitated.

If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors, do not force them to engage with whatever is frightening. Your dog is expressing discomfort, which, if pushed, could result in snapping or biting. So, give your pup some room to breathe.

Be your dog's best friend! Keep a close eye on their body language and learn to recognize stress or fear signals.

What Causes Fear in Dogs?

Fear in dogs can be caused by various factors, including puppy socialization issues, age-related health issues, traumatic experiences, or even genetics.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these problems, but here are some of the most common causes of anxiety or fear in dogs:

  1. New environment - putting a dog in an unfamiliar place or situation
  2. Phobias and panic attacks - being unable to escape or to get away from the trigger, such as being locked in a crate
  3. No social exposure – your dog may not know how to react to other people and animals
  4. Separation anxiety - caused by a dog's history of abandonment, having numerous owners over time, being rehomed, or experiencing prior neglect

How Do You Properly Train a Fearful Dog?

The same basic learning principles can be applied when training a fearful dog. But you do need to make some adjustments.

Remember, fear causes aggression. We're all set to "fight or flight." It's a preventative measure. This mode is amplified in fearful dogs. Only employ balanced training methods. Never punish a nervous dog, or you risk aggravating the situation.

Illustrated Training Tips for Fearful Dogs Infographic

1. Desensitize

When fearful dogs see something such as a car, they jump to conclusions. They assume the car is dangerous and become terrified. Desensitization is a slow process in which the dog is taught to make new assumptions about the car and associate it with good rather than negative things.

2. Use the Best Treats

This is essential. It’s a good idea to surround the object that the dog fears with tasty treats to make it more appealing. When the dog musters the courage to approach close enough to see and smell the treats, the object acquires a new meaning aside from being frightening. Start taking it slowly and gradually. Because most fearful behaviors are deeply ingrained, it will take some time to unlearn these old associations.

3. Control the Environment

Pay attention to your dog’s triggers. In the car example, you may notice your dog reacting to it from a certain distance only. The first step in addressing the fear is pinpointing exactly when it is triggered. If your dog can handle a car being 10 feet away without reacting, praise and reward him for remaining brave.

Do note also that you should avoid dog training near loud noises. Your backyard or a relatively quiet park is always better than starting your training along a busy road.

4. Build Confidence

Teach your dog the "look at me" cue. This can be accompanied by the sit and stay commands. It’s a positive reinforcement command that will help keep your dog's focus on you when a scary thing or person approaches.

By teaching your dog that specific cue, they will start to see that the world is not frightening, which is very empowering. The more your fearful dog learns, the more confident he will become!

Participating in controlled dog sports such as agility and nose work is also advised. Controlled means that only one dog and one trainer are required at a time. This means fewer distractions and plenty of one-on-one time with the dog trainer.

5. Use Distraction

Plan ahead. Note your dog’s triggers. If, for example, they are frightened of large dogs, what will you do if you come across one on a walk? Yanking your dog away promotes the idea that something is wrong. Instead, keep a squeaky toy with you and use it as a diversion. Take the toy out and squeak it vigorously. When you have the dog's attention, praise him and have him walk to heel while you walk in the opposite direction of the perceived threat. This avoids reinforcing the fear and getting caught in a bind.

6. Practice Basic Obedience

All dogs need to have a solid foundation in basic obedience. Commands like sit, stay, or come not only let your dog learn how to behave, but training also lets them focus while exercising them mentally and physically.

Once they know the basics, you can reinforce the learning or start giving them more cues using an e-collar. In a low e-collar setting, you can invest 15 minutes twice a day practicing basic commands. Note that the e-collar is not used to punish the dog for aggressive behavior. Instead, the collar is used to reinforce an obedience command. It teaches the dog to focus on you and can be used in circumstances where your dog would otherwise focus on something they fear.

The following are some of the best e-collars for fearful dogs that can help you with balanced dog training:

FT-330 Finger Trainer Educator Remote Training Collar

The FT-330 Finger Trainer has a wireless finger button with a 12-foot range. Designed to copy one setting on the handheld Educator transmitter, the FT_330 can be used with either the tone, vibration, or the static stimulation option. It's a discreet training solution for dogs with mild and normal temperaments, making it ideal for a dog already fearful of training devices.


Mini Educator ET-300 Remote Training Collar Set in Yellow

There’s a reason why the Mini Educator is a must-have for dog trainers. This e-collar may be small, but it is more than capable of holding its own compared to bigger remote trainers. Perfect for small and medium breeds, this remote trainer is versatile enough to handle larger dogs. With a wide range of stimulation levels and options, finding one that works well with your fearful dog should not be hard. You can even choose between three design variants - yellow, black, or the Educator Zen.


Dogtra 200C Remote Training Collar

Dogtra shock collars are famous for being dependable and durable. The 200C remote trainer is just that. It has a 1/2-mile range suitable for basic yard and obedience training but still enough to take with you on longer outings. The waterproof transmitter and receiver can be used in hot, cold, wet, or dry weather.


Dogtra 200NCPT Remote Training Collar PetsTEK Edition

Dogtra e-collars mostly just come with static stimulation and vibration. This is what gives the Dogtra 200NCPT PetsTEK Edition an edge. This nifty little e-collar has a tone option! If you think your dog may not respond well to static, having vibration and tone is a huge deal.


SportDOG FieldTrainer SD-425X Remote Training Collar

The SportDog Brand may be popular for hunting dog collars. But SportDog e-collars are also great for basic obedience training. The SD-425X FieldTrainer is a great example. It’s a straightforward device with 21 levels of static stimulation, vibration, and tone. It’s also SportDog’s smallest remote trainer, making it easy to handle one-handed so you can always keep an eye out on your dog.


7. Work on More Advanced Commands

Teaching your dog more advanced commands helps improve their focus while also letting you manage your pet better. A solid recall, for example, is an excellent way to retain control. Fearful dogs are prone to bolting and running out of control, while a strong recall can bring the dog back to your side and out of danger.

You should also take note that if you notice that your dog starts to fear things that aren't genuinely life-threatening, the reactions can be unhealthy. A veterinarian or professional trainer should be contacted.


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