Seeing your dog confused or frightened can be heartbreaking. Just as we would do with a small child, we want to comfort our dog, letting them know that they are safe and sound. Unfortunately, much of the time we are not reassuring them as much as we think we are, and may, in fact, be adding to their anxiety.
When a dog is fearful, it is often because they don’t have a strong pack leader. Dogs feel secure when the pack leader is calm and in control, but fearful dogs are lacking that support. This frequently comes as a result of a misunderstanding between you and your pet.
Dogs in this situation may have the kindest, gentlest people imaginable as their owners, who want nothing more than to see their beloved pets enjoying life, happy and carefree. Unfortunately, they do not understand that they are adding to their dog’s stress.
Imagine yourself as a child. You and a younger sibling are in a stressful, frightening situation. Your younger brother or sister latches on to you, looking for support, but you are frightened and unsure of what to do. What would put you at ease and make you feel more secure? In most cases, that would be the presence of one of your parents. Why? Because you would know that they are there to take charge, make decisions, and keep you safe.
Your dog wants the same things. They want to feel safe, but you are unintentionally giving them they are the leader when they are not prepared for it. All they want is to get back to a safe place, but as frightened as they are, the responsibility of leadership seems to be theirs. They find themselves unable to cope with having to make decisions in situations that are strange and frightening to them, and eventually, it is too overwhelming.
Your dog wants a strong pack leader that can give them the guidance and security they need, but you might be unsure how to do that. In many cases, dogs respond to visual cues, so while reading this article is a start, you will benefit from an online search for video guides on establishing yourself as pack leader. In the meantime, here are a few tips to keep in mind when dealing with a fearful dog:
- Don’t push too fast. Your dog is capable of learning, adapting, and changing, but it does take time, and trying to force things too quickly just creates more stress.
- Learn how to be the pack leader. There are some great articles about this, and you can definitely learn from reading, but don’t limit yourself to text explanations. Your dog responds to visual cues, and by watching some training videos, you will be able to pick up on subtle things that you might otherwise miss.
- Ignore your dog upon greeting. This seems counter-intuitive. You, your family, and your friend will all want to greet your dog, but this should be done when the dog is calm. Upon a first meeting, your dog may be excited, frightened, or experiencing some other emotional state. Give them a chance to settle down, then call them over. If they do not respond, then they are still frightened and should be left alone.
More than anything else, success with fearful dogs will rely on you being the pack leader. Until your dog recognizes you as such, you will not be in a good position to help them. If you are unsure how to do that, then an excellent resource would be The Online Dog Trainer. There you will find a number of videos on how to assume the role of pack leader, and how to calm your fearful dog. Check it out!
It is one of the best sites around. The vidoes not only show you how to become the pack leader but also teaches you how to give confidence to fearful dogs – I highly recommend it.