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Fear

FEAR

Can We Reinforce Fear?

We are taught that touching, talking to our dogs, trying to soothe them and feel better will reward the behaviour. It’s not possible. Fear is an emotion, and your dog is not in a state of mind in which they are making a choice to react this way. In fact, it is counterproductive for an animal as this takes a great amount of energy and is upsetting for them as well. Has anyone ever tried to make you feel better when you are frightened, which resulted in you being MORE frightened? 

Clients often ask me if using food when an animal is growling or barking is rewarding the behaviour. The behaviour of the growling or barking is a RESULT of fear, so again, this is not possible.

The Function of Fear

Fear is the feeling of perceived danger or a threat. Fear is not abnormal, however higher levels of fear and anxiety in our companion animals is a health and welfare issue. This often is something that needs to be addressed with a board certified veterinary behaviourist. You can discuss with your regular veterinarian as well.  The behaviour you can see as a RESULT of fear is what humans dislike; growling, lunging, barking, flight/running away, chasing…. this behaviour is often a sign that your dog is fearful and it’s something that needs to be addressed.

It Won’t Get Better On Its Own

A common error is to continue exposing the animal to the trigger or environment in the hopes that they will “get over it”. This can in fact cause more harm, and we can create an even more intense response or cause an animal to shut down completely.  

What Can We Do?

Above all else, we need to make our dogs feel safer in situations they are showing fearful behaviour. 

1. Identify common triggers 

2. Identify environments that cause fear

3. Identify frequency

4. Identify severity

5. Identify body language

6. Avoid any type of physical punishment/corrections/reprimanding or forced interactions

Keep a notebook and track how many instances your dog displays fearful behaviour. I recommend becoming an expert in reading dog body language; a great resource is www.ispeakdog.org

Classical counter-conditioning is an effective way to reduce fear. It is recommended you contact or work with a force-free dog behaviour consultant that is well versed in worked with dogs suffering from fear and anxiety. There is so much more to counter-conditioning than using food. It must be used effectively, with precise timing and at a point in which your dog is under threshold and not showing triggered behaviour. 

Prevention and management is a huge portion of behaviour change. We must manage the environment to prevent reactions and triggered behaviour while you are working on behaviour modification or you will not make progress. 

A great resource to help you if your dog is struggling with fear is fearfuldog.com 


Camping with Dogs

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, enjoy camping and have a dog you likely want to include your dog in these outings. Some dogs will be suitable and some won’t, often depending on where you go and the type of camping you do.

If you’d like things to go as smoothly as possible, here are some tips to help.

1.    Start Early

When you bring home a puppy, the socialization window is the best time to introduce things into their life that you may like to include your dog in such as camping. The socialization window closes anywhere from 12-18 weeks. Introducing your puppy to a tent or camping trailer is best done by making positive associations through gradual exposure and something the dog already likes, such as treats. If you have an adult dog, you will still want to follow these tips. Your dog doesn’t have to “do” anything with associative learning; we need exposures to be positive for the animal and go at their pace. Play some fun games in the tent or trailer, feed meals, practice going in and out of the trailer and utilize sounds that may be associated with camping such as blowing up inflatable toys. Since this is all new to your dog, it’s important to take the time to work on this with them.

Some other things to consider gradually exposing your dog to and making positive associations:

• quads and dirt bikes
• loud trucks
• chainsaws, cutting wood with an axe

2.    When You Arrive

Go on a walk around the camping area immediately. Ensure your dog stays on leash since this may be a new place for them, even if it isn’t most sites require dogs to remain on leash.  Always have rewards with you so that you can make positive associations when doing a walk through. 

3.    Crate & Exercise Pen

A crate can be a safe space for your dog as well as a management tool. Preparing meals isn’t the best time for your dog to be underfoot so crate time can be helpful. You’ll want to make sure you have already crate trained ahead of time otherwise it would be unfair to use a crate without making positive associations.

An exercise pen can give your dog more freedom vs a crate and has the ability for us to block sightlines by draping material over panels to help dogs that may bark or react at anyone passing by your campsite.

4.    Mental Stimulation Exercises

Preparation and organization are essential. Bring several Kongs, food dispensing toys, bully sticks/chews and bones. Bring items to stuff Kongs such as nut butters, banana, canned dog food, or whatever your dog likes. Find stuffing ideas here: 

https://www.kongcompany.com/recipes

5.    Long Lines

Most campgrounds require dogs are not off leash. Keeping your dog inside your site will mean using a long line. If your dog has not been on one in the past, do some work before you go on the trip. Spend time with the long line on in your yard or at a park and work on some basic training exercises using rewards to make positive associations. Avoid leaving your dog tethered without supervision. If a stranger approaches your dog while he/she is tethered, this is a chance they will feel defensive and bite. If dogs approach your dog or campsite, your dog can become defensive in this case as well, so keep supervision constant. 

6.    Mat Training

Use a yoga mat at home and start working on a stay on the mat cue. Always reward your dog for staying on that mat. A detailed training plan that is incremental should be used and is something we teach in our classes www.bravodog.ca/manners If you have worked on this in a class or with a trainer then transfer from a bed to a yoga mat. They are durable and great for outside use.

I hope these tips will help you prepare and enjoy your upcoming camping trips with your dogs.


Puppy Socialization and the Window of Opportunity

Welcoming a puppy into your home can be one of the most exciting and joyous times. The anticipation of the new arrival can send us into a scurry of purchasing new items that the puppy will need; collars and tags, a cozy bed and crate, treats, and the list goes on. We envision a bundle of joy that wants to cuddle, take walks with us, go to coffee shops and perhaps take agility or nose-work class. These are all wonderful activities, but for your new puppy to be comfortable in many of these settings, there is a crucial component in which we must pay significant attention.

What Is the Socialization Period?

The socialization period exists from about three weeks to about 14 weeks of age and while the information readily available often states, the period ends at 18-20 weeks many experts believe it ends much earlier. Socialization exercises should start before five weeks of age, breeders and shelters/rescue groups have plenty of exercises they can work on with puppies ranging from body handling to desensitization of novel and new noises and objects and can be executed safely before vaccines are complete.

This period of development is one in which we have the opportunity to “pad” our puppy with positive experiences and associations to all new things. I like Dr. Sophia Yins socialization checklist you can download free of charge.

Why It’s So Important

Studies show that puppies that are under-socialized before the window of development closes are prone to being fearful of humans, other animals, and new environments and stimuli. Fear is often the cause of aggression, so it’s imperative that we take advantage of this opportunity (when possible) to expose our pups to new things, and to execute it properly. Often, we are fearful that without full immunization and completed vaccines that our puppies should remain safely in a bubble. This article via the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour is beneficial.

Exposure should be gradual and at a level that your puppy is comfortable with. Using treats is something I recommend as well; making positive associations through the use of food is widely recognized in the scientific community and utilizing food rewards for training is highly recommended.

One big socialization mistake is the assumption that exposure to new environments/people/dogs, etc. alone is enough. It’s often not. Often puppies become overwhelmed in new situations, and we ignore their body language that is expressing they are not comfortable or, we may think that that is part of life and they must “get over it” to become confident dogs. Wrong. What can happen in these cases is your puppy can then become quite fearful; you may have had good intentions, however, now your puppy is avoiding the things you have exposed him to but didn’t allow him to say, “no thank you, that’s too much right now.” Body language is our companion animals is something that is still entirely misunderstood and is such a massive tipoff to us when our dogs are not comfortable. Becoming well-versed in how your dog feels in any given scenario will help you make those judgment calls when your puppy is trying to tell you something. iSpeakdog.org has a fantastic library that I recommend everyone study.

Some scenarios that can be overwhelming to a puppy and cause trauma:
• A crowd of children swarming your puppy at the schoolyard
• A busy night market or farmers market
• A party, gathering/social event or celebration such as Halloween or Christmas
• A dog park full of dogs or any large group of dogs (many other risks involved as well)

Over-exposure or negative experiences can lead to trauma and fear; this is why it is so crucial to go at your puppy’s pace. If your puppy becomes fearful, remove him from the environment, give him space to take in what is going on and never worry that you are reinforcing the outdated belief that you are reinforcing or rewarding fearful behaviour. Your puppy is counting on you to listen to them so please, be his advocate. Ensure he feels safe.

If your puppy is now showing fear towards certain things, it will be essential to understand how to execute counter-conditioning. D Zazie Todd explains beautifully in this article What is Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning in Dog Training.

Is It Too Late?

Often we acquire our dogs once the socialization window has closed, or, you may not have understood that we can safely socialize before vaccines are complete. Read more about socialization and vaccines here. No, you cannot socialize an adult dog; however, you can execute behaviour modification exercises to change how he feels and the associations he has already made in life. It is true that once the window has closed, we have missed a significant opportunity; however, that does not mean that we cannot follow the socialization protocols listed if your dog is younger as well as the counter-conditioning techniques I have listed if your dog is showing fear or discomfort.

And remember, every experience and interaction your puppy has, influences how they feel about you and the world around them.


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