My clients usually make up 2 select groups of dogs – the first group is the untrained, rowdy and often young dogs who have poor manners and drive their owners crazy with “naughty” behaviour and the second group is usually made up of fearful dogs who bite, bark, chase, hide and generally seem aggressive or anti-social.
I love helping fearful dogs. It’s my passion and I am so impressed by how these dogs can blossom into exceptional family members. The main problem I run into when working with fearful dogs is helping the human side of the leash understand why their dog is acting the way they do and how to build confidence in their dog.
Some of the behaviour problems families will describe include:
- Barking and lunging on leash at other dogs or people
- Growling and snarling when dogs or new people approach
- Growling and snapping at children
- Hiding and refusing to leave the home or yard
- Avoidance of dogs, people, new objects, etc.
A confident dog doesn’t treat every other dog, person and object as a possible threat however a fearful dog sees the world through a very different lens.
When I adopted Heidi my Miniature Schnauzer 11 years ago she was a class fearful dog. She snapped at my Irish Terrier when she met him even though he was perfectly appropriate in his greeting with her. She would bark at anything that moved when on a walk. She was reluctant to have her harness or leash put on. She would urinate when men would look at her. She would hide to go the bathroom (which made house training tricky!) and would often shake uncontrollably for seemingly no reason at all. She broke my heart and I knew we had to change things or her quality of life would be terrible.
Fast forward 11 years and Heidi has not only trained in agility but completed in it! She has earned her Canine Good Neighbour certificate. She is friendly and safe around children. She shares her home with 4 other dogs and has a history of living with many others. She’s well behaved enough to take anywhere. And it’s her transformation that inspires me the most!
Steps I took to turn Heidi into a pretty great family pet that my relatives are happy to welcome into their home and even petsit:
- Create a bond through positive reinforcement obedience training
- Build confidence by taking some dog sport classes for fun including Agility training
- Socialize her slowly and regularly with things she’s nervous of including children, strangers and other dogs
- Inspire her to work independently by using interactive toys and hide the food games
- Teach her tricks so she can show off and get a positive reaction from other people and family members
- Take her on hikes so she can discover the world and smell new things
- Give her down time so she can rest peacefully every day and be ready to be her best self when we try something new
- Work closely with my Veterinarian to discover Heidi’s health issues and their impact on her behaviour (Heidi has a history of vision issues, kidney and bladder stones as well as liver issues that directly affect behaviour)
- Create a specialized diet for Heidi so that she can feel well and lessen her symptoms from her health issues
- Love Heidi unconditionally and understand that she didn’t get the best start in life and build expectations that are realistic for her
If you live with a fearful dog that presents as aggressive or extremely nervous I would love to help you achieve the success that I’ve found with not only Heidi but the hundreds of fearful dogs that I’ve worked with. You can improve their quality of life as well as your own.