Dogs barking through the fence? No problem. Elevator rides? A piece of cake.
A broom leaning against the wall? That’s the scariest thing ever to my dog.
I need to help my dog face her fears. Or stop sweeping the floor.
Just A Little Fearful
My dog Honey is not a fearful dog. She has no serious issues.
But she’s a little on the timid side.
Honey will never be the dog who spots an open gate and takes off on a puppy adventure. Which is a good thing since our back gate has been frozen open for weeks.
She is not going to be one of those dogs who leaps off the boat in excitement. Or who climbs half way up a tree chasing a squirrel before she realizes she can’t get down.
All of this is fine with us.
But she’s also cautious around things that could move unexpectedly around the house.
- A mop leaning against the wall that could fall to the ground if you bump it
- That kitchen door that shuts quickly if you nudge the doorstop holding it open
- The pile of pillows stacked haphazardly in the closet
Cautious enough that she’ll refuse to walk by one of these scary objects. Or she’ll allow food that falls out of her Kong to collect behind that scary door.
How can I help my dog face her fears?
Honey’s Fear Busters
We’ve actually been successful at calming some of Honey’s worst fears. Here’s what works for us.
Learning new things boosts Honey’s confidence. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s the learning itself that seems to build her up.
Not only has Honey become more confident from clicker training her to do simple tasks, but training has helped her cope with scary things in the moment.
Honey is not usually frightened of thunderstorms or fireworks (hallelujah!). But we did have an early morning thunder boomer last summer that put her uncharacteristically on edge.
After letting her up on the bed to sleep was not enough to relax her, I took her downstairs to work on the trick we were learning at the time—shutting the kitchen cupboards with her nose. Once the clicker came out, Honey was able to ignore the pyrotechnics outside and involve herself in trying to get that click that announced a coming treat.
With the storm still raging, Honey was happy to return to her crate and sleep peacefully the rest of the night.
Honey saw her first food toy when she was eight weeks old.
It was a small soda bottle I filled with kibble and balanced on the opening. She has to knock it over to get some food to spill out.
She’s eaten nearly every meal from a food toy since then.
Honey is not food motivated enough to ignore any scary thing to eat. But she will become so involved in picking up her Kong and tossing it around the room to get her meal out that her stress levels around scary things go way down.
As we get closer to moving aboard a sailboat with Honey, I worry about how she’ll cope with the big change. But we’ve already seen one hopeful sign that she’ll do just fine. And it has to do with the way she reacted to a boarding ramp.
Besides things that move, Honey also doesn’t like walking on ramps, at least not if they’re lying flat on the ground. (What is I don’t understand is why she’s fine walking over street grates, which freaks most dogs out to no end—but that’s another post for another day.)
Honey hated the ramp we got to help her board the boat so much she’d leave liver treats sitting on it rather than take one little step. Liver treats, people!
But once Honey realized that we were going on the boat, and the ramp was what would help her be with us, she had no problem with it. Here’s video proof:
I’ve also been able to coax her past precariously leaning brooms and stacks of boxes while making sure to give her a big cuddle for coming to me past such scary things.
The Less Scary Boat
For a dog with Honey’s particular set of fears, a boat is a great place. Everything is bolted down. Doors latch shut.
If something falls over (like your mast), you have a much bigger problem than a frightened dog.
But even more importantly, I think that the work we’ve done over the past five years with training, food toys, and good old affection has gone a long way to making our timid girl a little more brave.
She’ll never be Rin Tin Tin. But I think she’ll be happy by our sides no matter where we are. And we’ll continue to help our dog face her fears like she comforts us when we’re facing our own.
Your Turn: What’s your dog afraid of? Have you found any good ways to help him or her be less afraid?