Treatment Type: Training Techniques
Rated for: Bull Terrier
Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Posted Dec. 30, 2018
Helping your dog to avoid fearful stimuli is simple in theory but can be difficult in practice. How many times has a dog owner with a dog who has a fear of something thought, "just this once, she'll be fine" or "it's only for a minute, I don't have time to avoid this right now"?
Owners must understand that if a dog is fearful of something, that is a real emotion for the animal. The owner might understand that fireworks are harmless or that a small toddler is innocent but for a dog who is afraid, they are simply afraid.
When dogs feel fear, they have the same two options available to all animals: fight or flight. Many, many bites could be avoided if owners understood that the fear their animal feels for a certain stimuli is real and that the animal has one of two options available to them.
Unfortunately, many owners do not take their animals fear seriously until a bite occurs. A dog with wide eyes, who freezes in place, begins to lick their nose, yawns, or lowers their tail/posture are all signs of fear or emotional discomfort that can go unrecognized.
If a toddler or child approaches a dog who begins to lick their nose, avoid eye contact or freeze in place while slowly wagging their tail low they are not ok with being approached by the child. Some days they may be able to handle this if the dog has been mostly free of fear or stress. Somedays the dog may have had too many triggers. (Think of how you feel some days when you didn't get enough sleep, or a mishap occurred at work. When you get home, you may be more likely to snap at your family or have less patience.) The dog doesn't have the ability to remove themselves from the situation- the owner is responsible for that.
Thus, as owners we must respect what our dog is fearful of and do our best to seek out knowledgeable professional help in the way of a behavioral vet or trainer who works with one. Ideally, the dog can overcome the fearful stimuli but in cases where progress is only beginning or the fear is too entrenched it is best to avoid the situations which will cause the dog fear. Dogs always want to please people but it is important to know that they have their own emotions and limitations to how they can react in life.
It is our obligation to return the adoration of our dogs and protect them from fearful stimuli while also working to overcome frightening situations.