If you have invited a fearful dog into your life, you are in for an exciting journey together.
There will always be highs and lows, and fear will shine through from time to time even with very good training and that is why it is so important to avoid mistakes that cost you trust and training progress.
In this article, I would like to introduce you to the 5 most serious ones that I come across time and time again.
1) Expectations are too high
If you’ve been living with an anxious dog for a long time, you probably won’t make this mistake (as much).
Nevertheless, we humans usually have dreams, wishes, and goals (which is a beautiful thing), even if we don’t always want to admit them to ourselves.
So there’s nothing wrong with wishing for or imagining something specific. The mistake is to want to realize your expectations too vehemently and forget the dog in the process.
Fearful dogs in particular often don’t live up to our expectations, because they can find very different things scary in very different situations and often need a lifetime of help and consideration from us.
So ask yourself whether your expectations and goals are realistic and compatible with your dog’s needs.
For example, there are many fearful dogs for whom a walk in the city will never be a relaxing experience and they are better off staying at home.
My advice regarding expectations is the safe way: forget them and replace them with one big goal… to improve your dog’s quality of life.
Then you can replace frustration and disappointment with joy at the small successes you achieve together.
2) Only work on the fear
At first, it sounds totally logical to train on fear.
But this is only half the battle and takes longer than a holistic program.
Above all, such a program involves building and strengthening trust between you and promoting your dog’s confidence and courage.
Because confident and courageous dogs face up to their fear, which makes training on the actual scary stuff much easier.
3) Triggering fear or even panic
Once your dog is trapped in fear or even panic, he will no longer be able to learn or associate the situation positively.
The most that can be achieved here is that the dog gives up and shuts down. He no longer shows any behavior but does not feel any better.
However, we want our dogs to feel good and make a lasting change. That is why it is important to dose the trigger during training so that your dog is aware of it and has strategies to deal with it. It is usually necessary to practice these strategies beforehand.
The benefit of this is that your dog will already associate positive emotions with the strategy through positive training and these will then counteract the fear in the scary situation.
4) No escape
One of the worst feelings is being trapped in a frightening situation. The anxiety increases and becomes more and more unbearable.
Imagine suffering from claustrophobia and being trapped in a closet.
However, this happens to our dogs much more often than it does to us, as they are secured with a lead. If we don’t realize that our dog is getting scared in a situation, we create a hopeless situation.
So watch your dog and offer him ways out early on.
These can be well-practiced signals, for example, or a calm retreat to more relaxed areas.
Sovereign leadership has nothing to do with being harsh.
Unfortunately, it is still all too often advised not to give in to the dog, to be more stubborn than him, to assert yourself etc.
This immediately leads to a serious loss of trust, especially in fearful dogs, and in no way improves the fear.
Of course, we do need some rules for living together.
But we can easily teach these to our dogs (whether anxious or not) in a friendly way.
Basically, the most important thing with an anxious dog (and any other dog for that matter) is to take a holistic approach.
Look at what your dog needs, how you can best support him, and what a common path looks like.
You can definitely be there for your dog, comfort him, and help him with a loving presence.
You can’t reinforce the fear, because your dog would have to want to be afraid… and who does that?
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