How to Calm a Nervous or Fearful Dog
Just what is a fearful or scared dog? And what can be done to help?
Is your Golden Retriever scared of baths, steps, thunderstorms, or the vacuum cleaner?
Owning a fearful dog, one that seems to be scared of certain things, can be frustrating.
Because we think of our dogs as part of the family, we sometimes tend to forget that they are still canines and not humans!
They do not have the cognitive/emotional reasoning abilities that people have.
And yet, we try and reason with them when they are scared!
When it comes to calming your dog, do you pet him and talk baby talk and say “comforting words” to him?
If so, you are actually ingraining the fear even more and making it worse!
Depending upon the situation, there are two ways to deal with nervous dogs.
If the cause of his fear is something like the vacuum cleaner or thunderstorms, simply ignore him!
When you go about your normal business without even acknowledging that anything is different, then your Golden Retriever will, on his own, calm down and learn to accept certain situations.
When you try and pet him, and calm him by saying (ever so sweetly), “It's okay,” “There's nothing to be afraid of,” “Calm down, Honey”, etc., this comforting voice just confirms in his mind that he does have a reason to be nervous, and this will make your already scared dog even more afraid.
You are giving him extra attention during this stressful time and he perceives that as praise for his behavior and will continue in that behavior.
On the other hand, when he is completely ignored during those times, he learns to accept them when they come, and will eventually just go lay down somewhere.
In the case of taking a bath, or going up steps, then obviously that can't be ignored.
But the same principle applies. Do not baby talk him or try to comfort him.
If it is bath time, and the dog is scared and trying to escape, keep a firm grip on his collar and when he tries to get away, firmly tell him NO and to SIT.
Other than that, ignore him. When he does sit or stand still, simply say, GOOD BOY once, then continue bathing him.
One of my Goldens was scared of the Christmas tree I had put up. She was a little over a year old and of course, did not remember the tree from the previous year. Since she had to go past the tree to be able to go outside to the bathroom, this was a problem.
When she would not come to me to go to the door, I simply went over and got her by the collar and walked her past the tree without saying anything to her and put her outside.
After 3 times of this, she started going past the tree on her own and now doesn't even seem to notice that it is there.
Had I tried showing her the tree while speaking comforting words to her, I would have been ingraining her fear, rather than forcing her to accept it and move on.
If your dog is big enough, but scared to go up the stairs, snap a leash on him and start up the steps. Do not speak to him. If he sits down and tries to tug in the opposite direction, you'll need to tug a bit harder and continue doing so until you get up the steps.
You might want to practice where there are only a few steps though!
I don't even praise them when they get to the top of the stairs. I just act as if it is totally normal behavior, since it is, and after they've done it a couple of times, they'll think nothing else of it.
It's up to you as to whether you want your scared dog to overcome his fears, or allow them to only grow worse. If you choose to continue babying fearful dogs, then he will continue in that fear!