Question of the Day: How do I help my fearful rescue dog?

We get this question a lot – How do I help my fearful rescue dog?

Here’s a mini blog post with information to get you started! But first, thank you so, so much for rescuing! The time and effort you put into rehabilitating your rescue dog will be so worth it!

Where do I start? Ask yourself some questions:

First up, has your dog had some time to bond with you? This is important – in order for them to be brave when facing the world, they need to have a connection with the human that’s going to help them do it. Usually this takes a few weeks to a few months, though I have seen rescue dogs bond immediately (and at an unhealthy level) to their new person.

Second, on a scale of 1 to 10, how fearful is your rescue dog?

1 on the fear scale: nervous, but warms up in a few minutes to new people, places or things. Will take treats or will take them after they warm up. When scared, their person can still get their attention, doesn’t run, try to hide, or try to attack the scary thing. Curious about new things, but unsure what to do with them.

5 on the fear scale: obvious signs of nervousness in response to new people, places or things. Because of the nervousness, won’t take treats and can’t seem to hear you when praising, trying to get their attention, etc. They will still engage on some level with their person, but the response to commands is unreliable because of the fear they’re experiencing.

10 on the fear scale: petrified of new people, places or things. Will shut down completely, either by running, hiding or fighting. No one can get their attention, treats/toys and other rewards don’t work when they’re like this. If they’re reactive in an aggressive way, people or other dogs have or likely will get hurt. If they are a run/hide reactive, they will do so and can’t be coaxed out, might tremor or soil themselves.

Next, ask one of our trainers some questions!

Contact us to schedule an evaluation if your dog is anywhere above a 3 on the scale above. We can help no matter where they are on the scale, but more severe cases call for special handling!

The majority of the dogs we see are suffering from some level of nervousness, anxiety and fear. In fact, the vast majority of aggressive dogs you see or hear about are acting out of fear. The root problem is fear. Calming aids like ThunderShirts, CBD Treats (we recommend Treatibles brand – email [email protected] for a 25% off coupon), Adaptil Calming Collars, and even prescription medications from your vet are Band-Aids (and you have to try a few different things, they don’t all work for all dogs). We recommend them in some cases where a dog’s anxiety is overwhelming, but they won’t cure the real source of the problem.

The way we cure the source of the problem is by:

  1.  Strengthening the relationship between the owner and dog, so there’s mutual trust and a healthy bond. Rescue dogs can develop an unhealthy level of attachment to their owners that causes more anxiety for both dog and owner!
  2.  Build confidence in the dog, and confidence in the owner that they know they’re taking the right steps and doing the right practice to address the fear in the long term!
  3.  Gradually exposing the dog and owner team to more people, places and things that trigger the nervousness. Along the way, giving them tools and skills to use to navigate these hurdles so they aren’t hurdles for long!

Contact us about your fearful rescue dog – we’d love to help you!