How to Train a Fearful Dog

Dog Profile

Specs

Beatrix a 12 pound terrier mix. Initial training began at 11 months of age.

History

Beatrix was rescued from the city shelter at 8 months of age, she was picked up as a stray.

Behavioral Concern

People entering the house. Beatrix exhibited fearful behavior, like running away when she saw people on walks, and barking when people entered the home. In some cases, she attempted to nip at people’s heels. Her behavior with guests persisted long after the person had entered the home, and regardless of how many times she had met an individual.

The Process

Step 1: Setting goals and expectations

The goal here was to minimize stress, and teach her to check in or go to her training mat whenever she became nervous or uncertain.

Step 2: Implement Management Strategies

When guests came over, we used a harness and leash.

  • We asked guests to ignore Beatrix, even if she approached to sniff.
  • We kept Beatrix in a bedroom, where she felt safe, when training wasn’t possible
  • We avoided taking her places where we expected she would be overwhelmed.

Step 3: We established base training

We worked on skill sets outlined in the online classes I teach. This included training check-ins with controlled distractions, as well as mat work with duration, distraction and distance. These exercises created a strong reinforcement history for being calm and engaged, it also put focused, engaged behavior on cue.

Step 4: We integrated unfamiliar people into set-ups

The goal was to create conditions in which Beatrix was capable of acknowledging a person without reacting. A successful session was measured by an increase in focus, engagement and relaxed body language over the course of 5 minutes of training.

Step 5: Integrating Training into Real World Scenarios

Once Beatrix was responding well to set-ups in neutral environments, we started practicing the training in less controlled scenarios at home with a significant level of success.

In Conclusion

In general, keep your dog on leash if you have any concerns that they might bark, charge or nip at guests in the house. 

Management and training is still implemented based off of Beatrix’s behavior and body language. Overall, the intensity of fearful behavior and the time it takes her to recover has diminished. Her threshold has increased and her ability to connect and respond to cues has greatly improved as a result of the training I implemented

Beatrix is now capable of being calm and engaged in situations that would have previously triggered barking, lunging or running away. The training has given her the opportunity to be more engaged in our day to day activity and family adventures.

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