Dogs have different ‘systems’ in their brains for dealing with their environment. One of those is the fear/stress system. In a dog with general fear and anxiety this system is very efficient so it doesn’t take much to get a response. In some situations this might provide a biological advantage. A prey animal that spooks easily may live to reproduce as opposed to the animal that when exposed to a potential threat doesn’t react quickly or spends too much time deciding what to do. The gazelle that looks at other members of its herd and asks, ‘Hey, does that look like a lion to you?’ is probably going to be meat before it gets to be a parent. For dogs with fears and phobias life can be overwhelming and they may develop inappropriate behaviors and responses in order to deal with it.
Like us, dogs also have a reward/feel good system in their brains. If you’ve ever been sick, sad or depressed you may have noticed that your interest in things wanes. Even things that might have made you feel good in the past just don’t have the potency they used to. A dog that is afraid much of the time may also experience this shortcoming in his ability to feel good.
As an owner of a fearful dog you can help your dog by limiting the opportunities your dog has to rehearse fearful reactions and increase the opportunities for feel good experiences. It can take time and management to make this happen, but it becomes easier for both of you with time and practice. Using positive reinforcement training gives you the opportunity to reward your dog and provide these feel good opportunities routinely.
If you believe there is nothing that makes your dog happy think about how you can restructure its environment and experiences so that scary things (this includes punishment and ‘corrections’) happen as infrequently as possible (or never in the case of punishment). Talk to your vet about a behavioral medication and start using your big brain to find ways to tickle your dog’s fancy.
For more ideas on how to help your fearful dog visit fearfuldogs.com website