Dancing Hearts Blog

What To Do When Your Dog or Puppy is Afraid of Something (and What Not To Do)

Raven and the Water Monster 600px

It all starts with the best of intentions.

We want to do our best to make sure that our dog is well socialized and can cope with all the interesting (and sometimes scary) things that are encountered in life.

Things are going great…until, one day, your puppy encounters what must be a dog-eating monster. uh-oh.

Then you do what every dog-loving person would do:

you break out your clicker and your treats and get to work! You make a commitment to ‘expose’ your dog to that scary monster as often as you can, and vow to put all of your focus on making sure your dog is convinced that that monster is just ordinary, and not scary at all.

Here’s my advice: Just Say No. Don’t do it. Step away from the clicker. lol.

Have you ever heard of Universal Laws? You know, things like Gravity…and that Albert Einstein equation about Relativity. These Laws are things that make our planet work. (well, the entire universe, actually)

Well, there’s a Universal Law called The Law of Resonance (commonly referred to as the Law of Attraction). You may have heard of it.

Or you may have heard this in high school science class: “Like Attracts Like”.  Or perhaps you can think of “Resonance”.

Natural Laws go way deeper than ‘science based dog training’. Or any other kind of dog training. This is the stuff that makes the world go round, quite literally. Without human intervention of any kind. (I know, right?)

We can apply these natural laws to raising and socializing our dogs…think of it like this:

What you put the most attention, energy and focus on is the very thing that you ‘attract’ more of into your life.

Now, what exactly DO YOU want to attract more of?

Finding the answer to that question is one of the core concepts that I teach in my programs. I call this little process of discovery “The Clarity Questions”.

OK, so back to your dog’s scary monster.

Do you want to attract MORE of the scary monster by focusing on it?

Do you want to join up with your dog, and be ever so vigilantly on the lookout for a scary monster that may show up around any corner? hmmmm.

Maybe: you’d rather focus on your heart-to-heart connection with your dog…and how much you love spending this precious time together.

Perhaps you’d rather attract more trust between you and your dog?

That’s what I want!!

Here’s a little story about what that looks like in real life.

Raven and The Water Monster

We recently went to South Dakota to Joe’s family farm, which is in the Glacial Lakes region, and the farm sits right on beautiful and large Waubay Lake.

My border collies love to swim or play in water, so I was looking forward to spending lots of time on the beach with the dogs.

My younger dogs had never been to the farm so the Lake was a new experience.

The first day we were able to enjoy the lake it was windy, and the lake was rough, with lots of fast waves breaking on the beach.

Raven had never seen waves.

She LOVES water, and loves to swim…but she sort of freaked when she ran to the beach for the first time and something large came swiftly out of the water and ‘attacked’ her.

She tucked her tail and ran away from the lake in a hurry when she encountered the first wave. She was truly afraid and did a sort of growl/bark as she ran quickly away from the ‘water monster’.

Here’s what I did when she reacted to the waves:

1. Observed her response and quickly became clear on what I wanted to attract/focus on: more trust between me and my dog. (notice that I did not choose to focus on anything about the waves, the water, classical or operant conditioning, desensitization, counter conditioning, training, etc)
2. Kept walking and engaging with the dogs.
3. Gave ZERO attention to her fear.
4. Role modeled what to do, which was to just be calm and relaxed.
5. Since I did NOT try to ‘train’ or ‘condition’ her to accept the waves, I used Loving Leadership to keep her trust in me intact.
6. I used the 95% Rule: never asking or encouraging her to engage with the lake or the waves in any way.
7, I stayed in the Dialog Loop, allowing her to express her feelings and not judge those feelings.
8. I picked up a stick to play water fetch with the dogs (which Raven LOVES)…and began our turn taking…business as usual.
9. I tossed the stick at the edge of the lake for Sue, and for Phoenix who both retrieved to me.
10. I then tossed it for Raven, just out of the water’s edge. No problem.
11. We were all role modeling for her.
12. After a couple of minutes, she started exploring the waves on her own. I simply observed. Said or did nothing. Zero pressure or reinforcement.
13. Within minutes she was jumping into the waves in delight!!
14. The end.

This video clip shows her response to the waves after about 3 minutes after her first encounter with the ‘water monster’.

The concepts (from my Brilliant Partners Academy Foundation Formula program) that I want to highlight are:

  • Role Modeling
  • Loving Leadership
  • 95% Rule
  • Patience
  • Heart Connection
  • Clarity
  • Focus

ok…lol…maybe it’s just the entire FF!

What are your insights from this story? How will you apply that insight to your life with dogs?

Leave a comment below!

2 Responses

  1. It is astounding to me that it only took three minutes for Raven to go in the water.
    We have a new pup who is very small (only 6 pounds at 5 months.) Our neighbor dog is a large white german shepard who is really sweet. When we were out yesterday in the back yard. Elsa, the shepard came rushing over but was on a long lead and the new pup, Bella, let out a squel as if I had stepped on her. I was surprised and felt guilty for exposing her to Elsa. So I took her in. This morning they engaged in a bark fest with open windows – until I shut them. I take it that I need to connect with Bella no matter what Elsa does. I have another dog Murphy who likes to bark at Elsa while she is on a lead. I used to walk them together everyday but the neighbor lost her job. She has a new job next week and I would like to eventually walk all three. I need advice on how to overcome Bella’s, Murphy and Elsa’s and my reaction.

  2. This is how I behave when there is a thunder storm. Three out of my four dogs don’t mind the storms at all. Maverick likes to come sit near me so I let him. That’s what makes him feel safe so it’s fine.

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