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Ask the Trainer: Help for a Fearful Dog

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Dear Kevin,
I recently adopted Millie from a local shelter and I think she was a puppy mill dog. We think she is about 2 years old and has adjusted very well to her new life with me. However, while she is comfortable with me and in her new home, she is extremely fearful of new people and pretty much everything outside! How can I help socialize her and help her feel more confident and secure when we go outside?

Hi Rebecca,
Having a fearful dog can definitely be challenging. What Millie is going to need is a lot of counter conditioning and desensitization. CC/DS is a process that helps dogs build confidence by getting them to associate the things they are afraid of with really good stuff. With lots of repetition the scary things become predictors of awesome stuff resulting in no fear when the previously scary thing comes around.

With all that being said going about this is somewhat of a dance, metaphorically speaking. We have to be careful not to bring Millie to close to the things she’s afraid of until she is ready. The idea is you want to start off far enough away so that she isn’t too uncomfortable. At that distance you’ll start giving her lots of good stuff. As she starts to get comfortable you’ll slowly start to get her closer. There is honestly way too much that goes into this to explain back in a typed out answer. This is something that I highly recommend you work on with a trainer that is well versed in the art of CC/DS. I say this because it is pretty easily to mess up and do the wrong thing, and if that happens there could be set backs.

What I recommend you do from here is find something that Millie finds to be absolutely irresistible. That will be the thing you’ll be pairing with the scary stuff. From there, go out and keep your distance from the things that scare her. But when they appear, start giving her the good stuff. As I mentioned I highly recommend you hire a trainer to help with this. Here are a couple sites to find a trainer near you. When you find one near you, make sure you ask them questions. If they do not know what Counter Conditioning and Desensitization is, they will make Millie more fearful. Here are the sites:

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Of Steve &Amp; Pam

    steve & pam


    We adopted a shitzu. She just turned 5. She flips out and pees in the house and paces back and forth when we start cooking. Any other time she seems fine. What might cause this and do you have a suggestion on how to help her?

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