Dogs, just like infants and children, go through a series of fear stages and each must be addressed.
The earliest ones usually involve not wanting to leave the house or property. It can be difficult to teach them to walk and to explore their environment when they won’t leave their front steps or even just go to the end of the driveway.
This is common, since the changes brought on from the transition from their first homes – whether foster, kennel or shelter – to a new place confuses them. They become fearful of leaving a place they associate with comfort, familiarity and safety.
It is critical not to coddle these fears, but to help them work through them without scaring them further.
Try short walks each day, or even putting the dog in the car, and taking him to the end of the street where it is non-associative to the house. Normally, he will walk from there.
As you walk back toward the house, keep turning and changing direction again, delaying the return to his comfort zone. You can also throw a favorite toy out in front of him. He then might chase it.
Peanut butter on a long spoon in front of her to motivate walking can be a helpful cure. When you do get her outside, try just standing still in one place for a few moments before trying to walk farther. Then stop there. Continue doing this until she is more confident in the situation.
Try running and playing, but do not drag a dog by the leash. That will cause major setbacks.
If you have installed a stake in the yard with a line attached, hook it to your dog’s collar for play, getting him used to staying outside. Then unhook the long line and see if he will walk on that line. Give him time – be patient.
Other fears have to do with going down stairs. Some of that is developmental. Eventually the dog’s eyes and brain will catch up. Have her just walk down one or two steps by placing her on the step. Stay right next to her, walking with her, so she can mimic your behavior.
Noises can be frightening. Create simple sounds, such as dropping a plastic bag of treats on the floor, to help him acclimate. Don’t make it too noisy at first, such as metal.
Gradually, exposing him to everyday noises, such as the microwave or cars driving by, can help.
The placement of things in the house in different spots is a simple exercise for acclimation. Put a box or bag where it’s not there usually. Move it around.
Wear a hat or sunglasses so your dog does not develop fear of those (this is a very common occurrence).
While we should not give in to our pups’ fears, we do need to recognize that this development takes time. Don’t ignore it, but help them get through it.
As they get older you might see new fears, especially of loud noises or equipment. Keep to the same course of action.
Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. firstname.lastname@example.org