Why is my dog afraid of the leash
How to beat your dog's fears
I've lived through it myself. Paco comes from a Spanish animal shelter and it was clear to me that it would not always be easy. I naively believed that Paco would notice that everything is not that bad. It wasn't easy for Paco - fear of noise, separation stress and fear of strange objects made life in the city hell for him.
Walks were only possible in quiet and deserted places, since Paco was afraid of every voice and wanted to go home. He was not responsive, ran towards the car or home, or kept slamming into the end of the leash. Sometimes he didn't want to pee for 24 hours and I drove him out of town so he could break away.
I was desperate because I couldn't help him. I was frustrated because it kept getting worse. I was sad because he was so bad.
At this point I was looking for solutions and I almost have to be grateful that it was so - because that's the only reason I'm a dog trainer now.
Why you should never ignore your dog's fears
A piece of advice I got from many dog owners and even a behavioral therapist for dogs - you have to ignore the fear, don't look at it, don't speak to it, don't touch it, don't feed it,
Unfortunately, I did this for many months because I didn't want to reward his fear. Reward for fear? I believed in that, but Paco's fear grew bigger and bigger. I always ignored him so steadfastly.
Thanks to the internet and my first seminars with Maria Hense and Dr. Ute Blaschke-Berthold I finally knew why that didn't work and that Paco and I were on the right track.
A few weeks before the seminars, I started supporting Paco when he was scared.
- I spoke to him in a friendly and calm manner.
- I did something nice with him and asked about things he liked to do (if he could still participate.)
- I no longer left him alone in these situations, but withdrew with him.
This is not a perfect training guide, but it helped Paco and me a lot at the beginning and we both could breathe a sigh of relief. Eyes-to-and-through was finally history.
Back then, I was helped by the book “The fearful dog: effectively countering stress, insecurity and fear” by Nicole Wilde.
Ignoring fear will not help your dog. If you are lucky, your dog may notice that it is not bad and can cope with the situation on its own, unfortunately that never worked for us - Paco was too bad for that.
Unfortunately, my job shows me that it's not just Paco who is like that. So if you choose to ignore, watch your dog closely and see how he is doing and whether he is becoming more and more scared.
Emotions and behavior - the small subtle difference
It is no longer news that dogs feel emotions. Emotions and behavior go hand in hand and training always affects both areas.
Without the emotion of fear, your dog will not flee - a fear trigger must first trigger the emotion of fear so that your dog shows the behavior of fleeing, hiding, or the like.
If you ignore the behavior and its fearful emotion, you are not doing anything wrong at first, but if you want to help your dog, you should react.
Book tip: Fright subsides - The influence of stress and fear on brain and behavior by Heike Westedt
How you can help your dog
If you want your dog to be better, do something that is good for them.
Are you sad, does it help you when someone is nice to you, doesn't it? When you're scared, does it help you when someone is there for you?
Your dog is doing the same! If your dog is scared, his emotions will improve if you do something he is comfortable with.
It is important that you know your dog well and be able to assess him - because he will only be better if your help is good for him.
Paco didn't want to be touched when he was scared. Hugging him wouldn't have made his fear any less, because he was uncomfortable cuddling at that moment.
I could help Paco
- with movement
- with calm, vocal praise
- asking through behavior what he was good at and liked to do
- with his ball (but that only rarely worked, as he immediately stops playing when scared)
- looking for food (was possible longer than play, but was then also stopped in case of fear)
What helps your dog when he's scared?
If you do something that is also uncomfortable for your dog, it will be worse. Scolding and punishment are absolutely out of place.
Has it ever helped you when when you are lovesick you heard that it was your own fault and that you shouldn't act like that? The heartache surely passed at some point, but not thanks to these allegations. At that moment, you were even a little worse.
After I understood and internalized this, I actively used it in everyday life. I've started associating fear triggers with good emotions.
Since Paco reacted to almost everything, I followed up with something great with every loud noise. It doesn't matter how he reacted to the noise.
- It bangs loudly.
- 1 second later the great starts (e.g. very high quality food)
- The great thing stops when the trigger is over again.
In this way we were able to reduce many fear triggers and he became more accessible even in difficult moments.
Paco had fun on the walks again and we didn't have to go home straight away just because other people were out talking. (Voices that the wind carries on were among its fear triggers.)
But then don't you reward fearful behavior?
I love to repeat myself - rewards have to satisfy needs; only then will behavior be reinforced. If your dog wants to flee because he is scared, food is not a suitable reward. Good food only improves your dog's emotions - but only if it is of high quality for your dog and triggers a good emotion.
If your dog wants to flee because he is afraid and you flee with him because you keep walking - then your dog will learn that fleeing is worthwhile because he is better off. He manages to get away from the fear trigger by escaping and that is the best reward at this moment. You are not making sure that the fear is rewarded, but that he is better off and the fear is less.
The fear does not increase as a result of the flight, unless you scold him during this time and this makes him emotionally worse.
You won't be able to break down every fear trigger in every dog. If your dog is very stressed or sick, it will react more sensitively. Is the trigger very strong, e.g. fireworks on New Year's Eve, it won't be easy for your dog either.
That's why it was important to me that Paco learns to stop when he's scared. Standing still is the opposite of fleeing and gives me time to secure my frightened dog with a leash.
That wasn't difficult with Paco, because if he was scared, he would stop for two seconds and only then fled. (Of course, a tow line secured him back then.)
At that time I was already working with a positive marker signal and used it for this.
There was a loud bang, Paco stopped in fright and I captured this very stop with the marker signal and then rewarded it.
My reward was something great like praise or food (if he could take it) and then we walked together in the direction Paco wanted to go.
What did Paco learn from it?
His emotion was improved - after the bang, the positive marker signal followed, which triggered something good anyway, and then praise and food followed.
Then he was able to flee with me, that is the real reward for standing still and for his cooperation with me. The praise and the food beforehand were the icing on the cake.
You have to naturally build up your positive marker signal beforehand and use it in many beautiful situations so that it becomes a safety signal for your dog. At the time, I was skeptical whether my marker signal would really do something good for Paco if he was afraid - because I couldn't see anything. But our successes convinced me of the opposite, because for the first time Pacos was better and he was less afraid.
Reading tip: The reason why you train better with marker signals
It is very important that the dog is not constantly brought into situations that are too much for him. If your dog panics, cannot cope with the situation, the constant stress will harm him and your training will not lead you to the goal.
A good trainer by your side can help you implement it. I also let my fellow coaches watch my fingers. Everyone tends to be blind at times.
Fear shouldn't be ignored. If you want to permanently change your dog's emotions, you have to change the emotions towards things that trigger fear.
You have to avoid anything that additionally scares your dog so that it does not feel even worse in the situations.
And you have to find out what is good for your dog to make things easier for him.
If your dog is no longer afraid, it will not flee or hide.
A good trainer shows you how you can change emotions and establish a different behavior instead of flight.
Take your dog seriously and support him. With well thought-out training, ensure that your everyday life is no longer determined by fear and that you can enjoy your time.
You can start right away with our favorite exercise and learn to concentrate on your dog's great behavior. We help you to support your dog in difficult situations.
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