The following article is provided by West Tennessee K9 – Dog Training in Greater Memphis.
If you already have a fearful dog, it is possible to overcome. It does take some time, but it can be done.
Often times we get pups that are just naturally inclined to be fearful. We can always speculate are to why. In reality, we really have no idea. In fact, the why rarely matters.
As compassionate dog owners our natural instinct is to comfort. Why? Because we can only relate to dogs as we would to humans. There is never a case where a human child is terrified and we don’t scoop them up to make them feel safe. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for dogs. It just makes it worse. By comforting we are rewarding and reinforcing the behavior.
So, how do you handle it? You must allow them to suffer. Those were easy words to type but incredibly hard to say. Now, I don’t mean just throw them to the lions and hope for the best. The way you go about it must be very intentional.
The key is exposure in a controlled setting. Just start getting the dog out. If it’s a super fearful dog, you can just start in your front yard. Put a chair out there and just sit. Make sure your pup is on a leash. Begin with five minutes or less, then slowly increase the time. When you see your pup showing signs of fear, do nothing. Make sure you relax! I often take a book with me to occupy my mind. After a few minutes, pack up and head in. Don’t even reward when you get back into the house. We want this activity to be just a part of their day.
After you have conquered the yard and the dog is relatively relaxed, change locations and repeat. Public parks are a good place to start. I like to be close to an active, noisy playground. Start a comfortable distance and slowly work your way closer. Use the same technique as you did in your yard. This is not a fast process, and you can’t rush it, but it does work. The key is controlled exposure over and over. Even though you may not see it in the beginning, you are making small wins every day and those wins add up.