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How can I help my fearful dog?

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Being the pet parent of a fearful dog can be challenging, yet is so rewarding. Once you have gained the trust of a fearful dog, the bond between you feels like no other. But how do you gain that trust? And how do you support your dog in a world where everything is so scary and triggering? Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

  1. Watch their body language. A tucked tail, flattened ears, and ducked head are signs of fear. Giving side-eye, lip licking, raising a paw, and showing teeth are as well. If your dog expresses fear through snapping, biting, or lunging, it would likely be best to seek help from a positive reinforcement trainer.

  2. Learn their triggers. Once you know what is scary for your dog, you can help them avoid those triggers if possible, or work with a trainer on counter conditioning so that your dog becomes more comfortable around those triggers.

  3. Adjust your body language. Instead of facing your dog head on, turn to face them sideways and avoid eye contact. Crouching down and keeping your arms close to your body present a less scary posture as well.

  4. Keep it light. A bright, happy voice can ease tension in your dog and let them know everything’s okay.

  5. Get consent. If you’re petting your dog, test for consent by pausing. If they lean in for more, keep going!

If working with your fearful dog becomes overwhelming, be sure to celebrate the small successes. Take a step back and remember to go at their pace, not yours. The love and trust they give you in return will be well worth the wait. This video from Fear Free Happy Homes shares more information about managing your dog's anxieties.

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