Helping a Nervous Dog Get Over a Fear of Men

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 23, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session we helped a very anxious 2 year-old Coonhound mix named Akira who is fearful around men and sensitive / reactive to unexpected noises.

Akira’s guardian works with dogs for a living so she was ahead of the curve on many things. She had also been watching my videos and reading my session write ups and gleamed many positive dog training tips from my website.

The guardian had some rules in place, but I suggested a few changes and additional rules to help shrink Akira’s world a bit. When you are working with a fearful dog, you want to help them stop worrying about everything and a good first step in that process is to limit things for them for a bit.

I was able to use some old dog behavior expert tricks to make sure Akira was comfortable with me (her guardian helped too). I observed her while I shared a number of dog behavior tips and some dog psychology on the fearful dog.

Many people try to soothe anxious dogs by petting them or speaking to them sweetly when they are in a fearful state of mind. But anything a dog is doing when you pet it is what you are rewarding / amplifying or enhancing. So instead of helping the dog feel less anxious, she was inadvertently making Akira more fearful.

I recommended the guardian adopt my petting with a purpose method and also emphasize desired behaviors through petting with a purpose. By petting and rewarding the dog for desired actions, her guardian can help build up the dog’s confidence while also motivating her to emulate good behavior.

The guardian had a friend that Akira was fearful of come over before the session started. He had been hanging out in another room for the first part of the session to let me get started. But at the halfway point of the session I had him come into the room with Akira and her guardian so I could show her some ways to help the dog feel more comfortable and stop being afraid of this man.

Akira immediately got stiff and moved away as he entered the room. I gave her time to relax and once she communicated she had settled down somewhat, I started tossing high value treats on the floor in strategic places. I was setting the stage for the next few steps I wanted to introduce to help Akira stop being afraid of this man. You can get wore information how to help a fearful dog by watching the video below.

It took some time which is why I started the process long before we shot the above video. But by taking our time and going at the dog’s pace, I was able to get Akira closer and closer to the man she was afraid of. Eventually Akira laid down on the floor a foot or two away from the guest.

When the guest and guardian both mentioned that was the closest Akira had gotten to him, I knew we were making good progress.

Another dog behavior tip I shared was the benefits of walks. Dogs get over things by literally moving forward. But changing the environment can also have a profound effect on a dog due to more space, distractions and several other factors.

We started the walk with the guardian holding the leash and the guest a few feet to their side. A quarter through the walk, I had the guardian hand the leash to the guest without Akira noticing. At the halfway point of the walk, I sent the guardian home so that Akira and the guest could complete the walk on their own (with me shadowing).

Id like to see Akira’s guardian arrange to have guests come by so that she can repeat these steps (tossing treats and a dog walk). Akira is going to need to repeat these steps to practice being around strangers with nothing bad happening. The guests need to completely ignore her; no looking at her, no talking to her, no touching or big movements, especially unexpected moves.

It will take time and practice before Akira stops being afraid of male house guests. This transition is imperative as the dog’s body is releasing cortisol (the stress hormone) into her blood when she is scared, making her fearful behavior biologic as well as psychologic.

By the end of the session Akira was taking treats from the floor right next to the guest and even laying down near him. Its going to take time, but she has a guardian that has the right mindset and now has the tools to help her get over this anxious and fearful behavior.

To help the guardian remember all the dog psychology secrets I shared with her in this in home dog training session, we shot a roadmap to success video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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