My guest blogger is Ali Brown, dog trainer and author of Scaredy Dog and Focus Not Fear. I asked Ali some questions and she kindly took the time to answer them. If there are nails to be hit on the head, Ali’s aim is right on!
How did your interest in working with fearful dogs originate?
It all started just like everyone else did…when I realized I had a reactive dog! Acacia, my now 11-year old Belgian Sheepdog, was reactive toward people and dogs, and it came to a head when she was 2 years old, right after I spayed her. Prior to that she was a show dog.
Reactivity, in my book, is based in fear and anxiety. A fearful dog can either curl up and hide (turn in toward himself) or make a big scene to try to make the thing that scares it go away (turn outward, look aggressive, etc). Reactive dogs fit into the latter category. Most people think they are aggressive, but given the opportunity, reactive dogs will make alot of noise and then run away rather than bite.
Is there any training technique that you think is essential for trainers/owners of fearful dogs to understand/use?
Oh yes! A good understanding of classical conditioning is critical to being able to help fearful dogs. A dog’s underlying emotional response toward a stimulus must be changed before any operant learning can take place. So lots and lots of classical conditioning, and classical COUNTER conditioning, in particular, must be a huge part of the work done with a fearful dog.
What is one of the main mistakes you have noticed trainers/owners make with fearful dogs?
Oh boy, they do lots of things. They yell at the poor dog, put choke chains, prong collars, shock collars on them, flood them (expose them nonstop to the very things they are most fearful of until they ‘cease’ being fearful of it …which is ineffective, by the way)…all sorts of really sad and horrible things. Most folks don’t intend to further their dogs’ fears, but this is often what happens. Or the dog just shuts down entirely. Becuase the dog isn’t showing any behavior, the owners think the dog is ‘fixed’. In reality, the dog has completely shut down…not a very good quality of life.
Have your methods of working with fearful dogs changed during your time as a trainer?
Only in the sense that I have developed more and varied activities to do with fearful dogs! But my philosophy hasn’t changed one bit. Acacia is a testament to the loving, trusting relationship that we have developed as a result of the work we did together!
I know I have lots of other questions for you and readers might as well. What’s the best way for them to find out more about your ideas for working with fearful dogs?
The best thing they can do is go to www.scaredydog.info or www.greatcompanions.info. they can read Scaredy Dog! and/or watch the Scaredy Dog! DVD. I also have a second book out called Focus Not Fear, and we will be doing a companion DVD for that this summer. I hope!