Some dogs are confident and inquisitive, others are a little more reserved. Either is fine. But when a dog is constantly anxious or nervous, it damages his quality of life. Fortunately, anxiety is either learned or instinctive, so it’s possible to help your dog to overcome his fears in a few easy steps.
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Monitor your dog’s general behavior, paying special attention to how he reacts to certain stimuli. Allow him to roam freely around the house and interact with other animals and people.
Note down the stimuli that create anxiety.
Note down how he behaves when he becomes anxious.
Put your dog on a leash and walk him around the house or garden.
Introduce a fear stimulus. For example, have a friend walk into the garden or get a family member to start using the vacuum cleaner.
Distract the dog. As soon as he begins to show signs of anxiety, call his name and change walking direction. Remain calm and passive. By not altering your behavior in any meaningful way, you demonstrate to the dog that you don’t share his fear. Over time, he’ll learn that if you’re not scared, he needn’t be.
Reward him for passive, calm behavior. As soon as he focuses his attention on you, rather than the fear stimulus, give him a food treat or toy.
Correcting Habitual Responses
Put him on a leash.
Enrich his environment. Using your understanding of his behavior, give him something that stimulates him positively, like a toy or lots of physical fuss. This positive stimulus has a positive influence on his mood. By enriching his environment in this way, you now have a very simple means of “negatively punishing” him. Negative punishment is when you remove a positive stimulus from his environment, rather than introducing a negative one. So instead of telling him off or smacking, you simply stop the fuss or take away the toy.
Introduce a fear stimulus.
Remove the positive stimulus only when he becomes anxious or displays anxiety behavior. Allow his environment to remain enriched for as long as he is passive and calm. It is probable that he is no longer genuinely anxious, but is simply in the habit of reacting to certain stimuli because in the past it got him attention. For example, if you used to pander to him every time he barked at the vacuum cleaner, he figured out that acting anxious got him attention. By removing the positive stimulus when he acts anxious, you’re teaching him that his own actions result in the good thing he was enjoying, such as a toy or fuss, being removed. His own actions influence the quality of his environment.
- Use your understanding of your dog's fears to predict when he may become anxious before he actually does. Then begin distracting him before he has a chance to get worked up.
- barking brown dog image by Paul Retherford from Fotolia.com
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