Before a dog can begin to feel good about something it’s afraid of, it first needs to stop feeling afraid of it. Sounds obvious right? It should be but people will continually expose their dog to something that scares them expecting that the dog is going to figure out that it’s ok. It doesn’t work that way. Many people believe that if they show their dogs that something isn’t going to hurt them that the dog will then no longer be afraid of it. It doesn’t work that way. They let people touch their dog, or bring other dogs around to sniff and be friendly, believing that since the outcome is not bad or painful, their dog will not be afraid of it anymore, probably won’t happen.
Think about people who are afraid of spiders, snakes, or flying in a plane. Most have never had a bad experience with the things they are afraid of. They’ve never been bit by a spider or had a boa constrictor wrapped around their neck snuffing out their life, or been in a plane crash. Even knowing that a spider or snake isn’t poisonous or that driving in a car is statistically more dangerous than flying, they remain afraid. Every time your dog is exposed to something that scares it, it experiences fear, whether anything bad happens or not. To begin to change how your dog feels about something your first goal is to stop them feeling afraid of it.
Neutralizing your dog’s experience with something scary can be done in different ways. It may mean keeping the scary thing far enough away, or making it quieter, or smaller, or less active. At the very least you want your dog’s experience of the things that scare it to be as neutral as possible, they see it, they hear it, but are not terrified by it. This is the first step and requires paying attention to your dog’s reactions and managing the situations your dog is in.