PHOBIAS, FEARS, ANXIETIES, OH MY!
August 1, 2014
If your dog is behaving nervously, or is fearful of noise caused by fireworks, thunder etc, OR afraid of some object, person or event that is causing your dog to be frightened or frustrated? There are a few things you must do, or stop doing, to help cure them of their condition.
1. First, don’t ever (even a little bit) pet or try to “comfort” your dog when they are nervous or showing fear. In a “dogs world” there is no such thing as “comforting.” Comforting only makes their phobia or fear stronger. When you pat a dog, you’re reinforcing what they’re thinking/feeling, when I taught police dogs we would pat the dogs whenever they looked at the bad guys, reinforcing what their thinking/feeling. As apposed to giving treats (during training) reinforces their actions.
Although you don’t “comfort” them, you wouldn’t walk away or ignore them either.
2. (cats too) Use desensitization techniques, by exposing them to the negative noise, person or object in very small increments, i.e. the noise should be barely audible, and object should be far away. To help control noise, find pre-recorded noises eg thunder or fireworks, on the Internet or YouTube. For objects, position yourself far enough away, just outside of your dogs threshold, where there is little or no reaction to what triggers the fear. Practice as many short sessions over days or weeks, each session have the noise volume increase and the distance to the object decrease.
3. (cats too) Redirect (distract) their thoughts prior to the first sign of the problem, do something challenging and fun, like playing with a ball, practising obedience or any other game they like to play. If you act fun, your dog will think you’re playing a game. If you are having trouble getting them to focus on you, maybe the noise or thing is too loud/close?. The objective is to have your dog focus/concentrate on you and what you’re doing, and not on what they’re afraid of. As your dog becomes less reactive (desensitized) to the noise, the noise/object can become louder/closer.
4. Use what I call, “redirection tease play” or just “tease play”, mimicking what another dog would do during play, and what I’ve seen many times done by dogs to other dogs to make them comfortable. This will naturally redirect and relax them, because they recognize what you’re doing as “play” and not “praise” or reinforcement of their feeling (emotions). Here is a link to my “redirection tease play” blog. Redirection tease play AND video. PLEASE WATCH
5. Obedience Training (probably the most important) It is an “indirect” but effective way to help cure phobias and other behavioral problems. Your dog should understand at least 5 basic on and off leash around distractions. Just by teaching a dog to sit, stay, lay down and come on and off leash, I just happened to cure a dog of it’s noise phobia. When taught correctly, obedience training is fun, helps build a dogs confidence, builds a better more trusting relationship, and actually makes them smarter to learn other new things faster.
6. It always helps to turn on the television, washer, dryer (place a few tennis balls with no heat), a fan, etc. Have these things going during the fireworks.
7. Sometimes “crating” your dog during the episode (or while you’re away to minimise escaping) can be helpful, but FIRST, your dog must be very well adjusted to their crate. Look for my video tutorial on ‘crate training’ on my YouTube channel.
Another great article on Phobias, fears and anxieties in dogs… DOUGLAS ISLAND VETERINARY SCHOOL
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