A fearful or skittish dog can be heartbreaking. Fear can also lead to aggression or to panic attacks where they can shut down and freeze in terror.
If you encounter a fearful, skittish or extremely insecure dog there are some things you should know in order to help him/her.
A dog in fearful or panic mode will not eat or accept treats from anyone. This is a red flag and you should be extra sensitive to how you react in order to help. In this kind of situations always apply the NETT rule: No Eye contact, no Talk and no Touch. You should never talk, touch or give eye contact to a fearful dog. Even if you mean well or if you have treats in your hand. It doesn’t´t help them. I will explain why each of this rules are so important.
- No eye contact: If a dog goes into fear mode, means that he/she is in an extremely sensitive state of mind. Eye contact will be perceived as a threat or a challenge and it will not help to calm them down. If you make eye contact he/she is going to shut down even more. Even worse he might show some kind of aggression or even try to bite if they see no other way out.
- No Talk: This is a hard one for most humans. For some reason we can´t keep our mouths shut. If you start talking in this kind of situation, the poor pup is going to have to deal with one more noise that he/she doesn’t´ understand. If the dog is already overwhelmed and you add more noise to his/her noisy head you automatically become part of the problem not of the solution. The more common words that come out of our good will or intentions are : ¨It´s ok, oh poor little thing, you see… he is friendly, don’t be afraid, you are such a sweet puppy ¨ The reality is that they don’t understand any of these. Words are unintelligible noise to your pup at this point. Furthermore, noise creates excitement and tension not calmness. But this is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that you are so busy talking nonsense that you forget to listen to your pup. By doing this you´ll miss opportunities to actually help him/her. In a way what you are doing is denying and overriding their feelings or state of mind and imposing yours. Remember this is not about letting the world know how much you care about the dog. It´s about self control and sharpening your listening and communication skills to be able to help him. Tip: when you stop talking, you start listening. And when you start listening you start acting and communicating in a more harmonious way.
- No Touch: Trying to touch a dog that doesn’t´ wanna be touched or that is not ready to be touched in a way is lack of respect, wether it´s consciously or unconsciously. Again we might mean well and we might have good intentions, but respect is not something you achieve by imposing your agenda. Respect is something that you give and you get back in return. This has to do with listening and being sensitive to their emotions or state of mind and properly reacting to them in order to give guidance. It´s always going to be on their time not on your´s. If you are patient and a little savy you´ll be surprised how much faster ¨their time¨is than your deadlines. program or agenda.
Your body language, your sate of mind/ energy and your communication skills are key in order to help these kind of dogs.
Important Note: Only after you´ve acquired these skills you can bring food or treats and use positive reinforcement. If you don’t do so you are probably going to be rewarding the wrong state of mind. And believe me it will take for ever. Positive reinforcement means to reinforce positive behavior and that includes their state of mind. Nurturing fear, rewarding it with food or feeling sorry for your pup is not Positive Reinforcement.
Keep yourself calm and confident so you can invite them to become your energy instead of you becoming theirs.
© Gabriel Riesco, Fairfield CT, 2017