Management, Skills, and Training Techniques For Fearful Dog Parents

MANAGEMENT For our purposes, management means setting your dog up for success. Success can be defined as keeping your dog under threshold and manipulating the...


For our purposes, management means setting your dog up for success. Success can be defined as keeping your dog under threshold and manipulating the environment so she is best able to learn (practicing in a variety of controlled environments).

Management may include Calming Caps, crates, gates, fences, leashes, Thundershirts or Tellington Touch body wraps, tethers, or muzzles. It may also include the use of dog appeasing pheremones, herbal therapies, Dog Appeasing Pheremone, or other calming aids. Management often includes manipulating level of exposure through distance to keep a fearful dog under threshold.


Learn to read your dog’s body language. The resources I provided you with earlier this week should really facilitate your learning. Observe your dog closely and learn to identify the sequence of stress signal escalation before a reaction. These observation skills will help you better manage the training environment, will assist you in being proactive about preventing full blown reactions, and will expedite the rehabilitation process.


Here are some of my favorite techniques for modifying fearful dog behavior.

Classical Conditioning: Desensitization and Counter Conditioning – D/CC is the classic behavior modification protocol for fear responses. Desensitization is essentially a variation of management (setting your dog up for success) whereby we “shrink the stimulus” by exposing the dog to the trigger at tolerable levels and then, as the dog acclimates and grows comfortable, incrementally increasing exposure at a pace dictated by the learner’s comfort.

In counter conditioning, the goal is to create a new emotional response to the trigger. The goal of classical conditioning is to have a dog react enthusiastically and confidently in the presence of the trigger – a happily wagging tail is an emotional response counter to the response of barking and lunging. Classical conditioning involves three easy steps:

1) dog notices trigger
2) the best things in the world begin happening (treats, play, praise, anything and everything the dog absolutely lives for)
3) the best things in the world happen continuously when the dog is exposed to the trigger, and go away when the trigger goes away

To maximize your success using classical conditioning, list your dog’s top three favorite treats and only use them for your counter conditioning training sessions.

Behavior Adjustment Training – Behavior Adjustment Training is an exciting new training technique developed by Grisha Stewart of Ahimsa Dog Training. Here is a great illustration of how BAT works. Grisha has also prepared a BAT Basics handout which includes links to her active Yahoo Group “Functional Rewards” and more web content on BAT from her website.

There are three critical steps to BAT training with an optional 4th step

1. dog notices trigger at subthreshold distance
2. dog disengages from trigger focus (sniffs ground, turns away from the trigger, turns toward the handler, sits)
3. functional reward (increased distance away from trigger)
4. Optional bonus reward – treat or play

In both classical conditioning and BAT training, the key is to keep the dog under threshold and do lots of trials. Where normally it’s best to work on behaviors in multiple, very short sessions throughout your day, working on this type of behavior problem is best if you can work for 30, 45, or 60 minute sessions with frequent short breaks.

Hopefully, this week has helped you better understand your fearful dog. While I have tried to provide you with a variety of resources and training materials, I encourage all “parents” of fearful dogs to consider employing a trainer or behaviorist who is skilled in modern training techniques for modifying fearful responses. A good behavior professional can give you feedback, guidance, and encouragement as you implement the rehabilitation protocol of your choice.

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