Helping an Anxious Jack Russell Get Over a Fear of Her Harness

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 24, 2018

For this Omaha dog training session we helped a nervous 1 year-old Jack Russell named Lou stop being afraid of the harness and barking at people who enter her home.

Knowing Lou was anxious around new people, I adopted some soft body language, waited in the doorway and avoided eye contact or any interaction with the dog. She barked a few times, looked around frantically, had a stiff body and moved away after barking.

The guardian warned me not to reach out to pet her as she has nipped a few people who tried. I explained the warning wasn’t necessary as I was receiving the same message from Lou. Often people think that petting a dog is the best way to calm them. But if the dog is scared, nervous or anxious about your arrival, reaching out to pet them is the last thing you should do.

Instead of trying to pet her, I respected her space, did not look at, talk to or try to contact Lou at all. By giving her space and respecting her wishes, I was starting to garner her trust. I used a number of dog behavior expert tricks and techniques and as the session progressed, Lou communicated she was more and more comfortable with my presence.

When I sat down with the guardian, we discussed a number of things she can do to help the dog feel more at ease as well as some tips visitor should use to help Lou feel better about guests in her home.

After going over petting with a purpose, the importance of rules, how to add structure and ways to disagree, I turned my attention to Lou’s fear of the harness her guardian used on walks.

We started out by having the guardian show me how Lou acts when she sees the harness.

As I probed deeper, I learned that the guardian sometimes had to chase and trick Lou to get to her in order to put on the harness. Although the guardian did this for a good reason (to go for a walk), any time we trick or mislead a dog, we can erode their trust in us. That was clearly the case here. Lou loved her guardian to bits, but when the leash came out, would not go near her.

To help a dog get over a fear of a harness or any other item, I like to create a Conditioned Emotional Response, also known as a C.E.R.. This involves exposing the dog to something its fearful of in a controlled situation and at a much lower intensity. This allows you to help the dog “practice” interacting with the object at a level they are comfortable with.

Creating a strong CER takes time and repetitions. I told the guardian I wanted her to hold up the harness in the same way I did (offering, clicking for a look, then rewarding with a treat) for a few days. The next step will be holding it out and waiting for Lou to touch it with her nose before clicking and treating.

If the guardian takes her time and practices a few times every day, it shouldn’t take long before Lou sees the harness as a good thing. Now getting her legs into the holes may prove more challenging. I told the guardian to let me know if that is the case. Since I live only a few blocks away, I may need to drop by a few more times to show her the next few steps.

By the end of the session, the formerly fearful Lou was eating treats out of my hand, walking around calmly as well as sitting and laying down next to me.

Its going to take some time and practice at the new structure as well as the guardian stopping petting Lou when she is nervous or anxious dog, but based on how quickly Lou adapted to the no furniture rules, Im betting her days of being afraid of new people visiting her house or the harness will quickly be forgotten.

To make sure the guardian doesn’t forget all the positive dog behavior tips I shared 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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