Is your dog a scaredy cat? Are they afraid or reactive to an everyday item such as the nail clippers, brush or leash? As caring dog owners our first impulse is to comfort our pup when they are afraid. Unfortunately, we may be accidentally reinforcing the fear behavior.
How is this possible? While dogs understand many of our words, they are more inclined to understand our tone of voice. Think about it. Comforting our dog is usually done in a soft, higher-pitched, crooning tone. Praise is also given in that higher tone of voice. I have had several clients who have accidentally reinforced fearful behavior in their dog by trying to comfort them.
How do you avoid turning your dog into a scaredy cat? We need to be our dog’s support system when they are afraid. We need to remain calm and relaxed and speak to them in our normal voice. This allows the dog to process the situation. You can read more about this in my blog post “Let’s Get Social“,
How to turn your scaredy cat into a big brave dog
(Regardless of their size)
Not too long ago I had a client whose dog was terrified of their leash. He cowered in the corner of the sofa. He was visibly trembling as the owner calmly sat with him, not allowing him to run away. I placed the leash on the other end of the sofa, offered him high-value treats. He was very frightened but he couldn’t resist and I praised him every time he took one. I slowly, calmly moved the leash closer and closer until the leash was right next to him. Finally he was taking treats I placed on the leash. We ended the session with lots of excited praise and a Jackpot. A Jackpot is a handful of treats which we placed on the leash along with very excited praise while he ate them.
Work slowly and consistently
We scheduled an appointment for the following week. Their homework: leave the leash laying around where the dog could access it. I asked them to ignore any fearful behavior and praise him whenever he approached the leash. I also asked them to move the leash to a new location at least once a day. By the time I returned the following week the dog was calmly coexisting with the leash. He was still a bit of a scaredy cat but he could see his leash without panicking!
My next step was to approach the dog while holding the leash and bringing it up towards his collar. As always there was lots of praise and treats when he was calm. Then I brought the leash up and I clicked the leash clasp near the dog’s collar (praise/treats). Then I gently grasped his collar with one hand, brought the leash to the collar, clicked the clasp (praise/treats). Finally I attached the leash to the collar with big praise and a Jackpot of praise and treats.
Homework: put the leash on the dog and loosely hold the end of the leash (praise/treats). I asked them to let the dog wear the leash for a short time (praise/treats). The next step was to loosely hold the leash (praise/treats). They were to continue keeping the leash where the dog could see it and moving it.
Our final session we took the dog into the backyard on his leash and allowed him to explore. We let him set the pace stopping whenever he became concerned, allowing him to work it out. Again, see my blog post Let’s Get Social).
Work as a team
This brave pup has a long way to go. Now that his family has the tools, he knows he can trust them to support him in this process. This dog is no longer a scaredy cat.