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Helping One Dog Conquer Fear

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The other night as I was walking with my Pug client Kita, we met a man walking his Bichon Frise, Molly. I asked if we could stop to say hi, Molly’s owner said sure, but as we got close Molly cowered behind her owner.

He explained that she was extremely afraid of other dogs.  I asked if he knew what caused the fear, and he told of them being attacked a year ago by a large “police dog.”  As we were talking, I knelt down to make Molly more comfortable in approaching me.  She remained hesitant, so her owner dragged her and prodded her lightly with his cane to get her to come near us.  I dissuaded him from doing that, knowing it would only make the problem worse.

So what are some things he could do to help Molly conquer her fear?  The main thing is not to force her to confront her fear too quickly.  In Molly’s case, she is now only two years old, so the attack was one of monumental proportion in her development.  She will need to be led very gradually back to interacting with other dogs.

One way to help Molly would be to expose her to dogs with a calm demeanor.  Begin with only a minute or two of exposure and gradually increase the time until she becomes comfortable and is willing to approach other dogs on her own.

Exposing her to other dogs with calm demeanor would help her learn to trust that not all dogs are going to attack, helping to  build her confidence.

During the re-acquaintance period, rewarding positive behavior would encourage Molly to continue interacting with other dogs.  The reward should be based on what works best for her; treats, special outings or just a kind word from her owner.

To help Molly, it won’t be a fast fix, but with time and a lot of patience  she can make much progress in getting the better of her fears.


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