You’ve heard of “scaredy cat,” but did you know that dogs can be just as scardey as cats? Most people picture dogs as being tough and fearless and not afraid of anything. Well, almost anything. This would be especially true of big dogs, but the truth is, there are some dogs, even some dogs that are large breeds, that tend to be afraid of all kinds of things, from loud noises, new places, people, other animals, new furniture, new surfaces, baths, toys, lawn equipment, automobiles, and much more. Dogs exhibit different behaviors when they get scared and nervous, from hiding, to shaking, grab a toy for comfort, cower, try to climb in your lap, barking and whining, and many other things. You may feel helpless in trying to help your dog cope with the his fear, and want your dog to live a comfortable life where he doesn’t tremble at every sound or every thing he comes in contact with. And there are things you can do to help soothe these fears and help him learn how to deal with them.
Help him gain trust
When trying to help your pup gain trust in his environment, and environmental noises around him, start by:
1. Don’t have any expectations. Go into the task with not expecting any certain outcome. This will help you to keep your patience with your dog.
2. Take it slow. Don’t be pushy and try to rush the process. Take things slow and at a pace where you feel he is comfortable with the learning process and not more anxious. Introduce things slowly, and over-and-over again if it takes.
3. Learn what your dog’s “fear triggers” are. Pay attention to what the things are that trigger a sense of fear in your dog. Do loud noises get your pup upset, such as fireworks, a loud truck passing by, a lawn mower? Maybe a cat or squirrel passing by the window makes your dog run for cover, or the vacuum passing through the room, has your dog shaking and hovering under a piece of furniture.
Tips for helping him build trust
1. Read his body language – It’s important to understand your dog’s body language when he gets scared. If you can recognize the signs of him being frightened, you can put your plan into action on how to handle it.
2. Learn your own behavior and responses – Not everyone is in check with how they react when their dog gets scared. How you act or react can either be soothing or exacerbate your dog’s fears and insecurities, and make things better or worse. Pay attention to what you typically do when he hears a loud noise and cowers. Do you get loud too, telling him to get over it? Do you laugh? Do you try to pet him and comfort him, or do you ignore him and let him deal with it alone? The more in tune you are with how you act and react, the better able to help your dog gain trust during frightful situations, the better.
3. Use what motivates your dog – The same thing as with training your dog, you will need to find out what best motivates your dog to listen, calm down, and get out of a certain frame of mind. For instance, if treats work really well with your dog to get him to listen and obey commands, treats will more than likely help move his frame of mind from scared, to tolerating and calming his nerves. Maybe a favorite toy, or just your cuddling and soft, loving talk, will be what motivates him to break out of the scared spell. Find what motivates him and start to use this method when working with him during his scared spells.
4. Develop a tight knit bond with your dog – Work on gaining your dog’s trust and a tight bond by participating in activities that he begins to love, crave, and wants to do with you. Activities like playing Frisbee or fetch. Maybe tug-of-war is a game he loves and loves to do with you. All types of games and activities build a bond and they learn to trust and love you even deeper. These activities also help them to feel safe as they move their little lives and throughout their environment.
5. Keep him on familiar turf – Before you just throw him out into the big, scary world, work on building his trust with you and trust in the small things around him before making him engage in the bigger, more intimidating world. When you get him to trust things, such as noises and activities on his own turf, he will likely be able to better handle things better out on bigger turfs.
6. Give him comfort through touch when he’s scared – A touch goes a long way for a dog when he’s scared and trembling. To know his human’s hand is on him and right there comforting him, will help him to relax. It can get his heart rate to slow and the shakes to slow or stop. Talk sweetly and gently to help ease his worries.
7. May need to medicate as a last resort – If your dog just does not, or cannot get over certain fears and is just a complete scaredy cat of everything around him, you may need to consult with your veterinarian to see if there are other options to help him be a calmer dog. There are some dogs that are bad enough where medication can help if no other tactics do.
One thing to keep in mind is that dogs’ minds and behaviors work by reinforcement. You can reinforce good behavior, and behaviors that are beneficial to their happiness and comfort. This is done by touching, cuddling, and loving on your dog with kind words, so don’t hold back – give your dog lots of love and petting to help reassure him that he’s ok and very loved.