The process of working with fearful dogs could be simplified and broken down into two steps; management and skills development.
Management: Handlers need to come up with plans for managing a fearful dog so as to eliminate or minimize their opportunities for responding in fearful ways. This can often be challenging and many owners find it inconvenient to do. Walking a dog that is afraid of the hustle and bustle of the streets, at midnight so as to avoid the scary stimuli, may not be high on anyone’s list of ways to have a good time with their pet. However each time a fearful dog responds in a fearful way can be seen as a failure of a handler’s management plan. This doesn’t make someone a bad owner or trainer, but it should be a learning experience so adjustments can be made in the future. And the reality is that it happens. We often do not have control of what goes on around our dogs, but it behooves us to be as conscientious of this as we can be.
Skills development: Both handlers and dogs need to learn and practice new sets of skills which can replace the behaviors and responses which do not contribute to helping the dog become more confident and resilient. It is important to practice these skills repeatedly so that when under pressure they can be performed easily, with little thought. For handlers this might mean learning how to deter people from interacting with their dog and how to respond quickly to potentially fear inducing situations. Dogs can learn alternate responses to being confronted by things which scare them; sitting and looking at their owner or turning and walking away.
Each dog’s situation is going to be unique. We need to become experts on our own fearful dog so we both can learn to feel more confident navigating a world in which scary stuff happens.