We ask a lot from our pets on a daily basis. They are expected to live in our noisy, hectic world—without the understanding we have of what’s going on in their surroundings. Loud noises, new people, strange environments, exotic scents. All of these things can contribute to feelings of fear and anxiety. Stefani Fortney discusses how to deal with anxiety and your pet.
Since we expect our dogs to live and function within the construct of our lives, it’s our responsibility to provide them with the emotional tools necessary to live with as little fear and anxiety as possible. [Tweet “Desensitization & Counter- conditioning: Loud noises, new people, strange environments, exotic scents. “]
The idea of desensitizing our dogs to stimuli that cause fear and anxiety is founded on establishing your dog’s fear threshold. To do this, you must identify the exact trigger of your dog’s fear. Once that trigger is known, you can work on slowly desensitizing him to that trigger by slowly and gradually reintroducing him to it from a distance where he isn’t overcome by his fear. This must happen in a controlled environment and at a pace where your pup is comfortable enough to maintain his cool.
If Fido is afraid of women wearing sunglasses, you would have to discover at what distance he could see a shaded lady and not react fearfully. By exposing him slowly to his fear trigger—moving one step closer only when he is ready—he is slowly desensitized to it.
In conjunction with desensitization, Counter-Conditioning can help your pup learn to associate previously frightening situations with pleasurable reinforcement. Simply put, when he sees the scary thing, he gets a top-notch, delicious bit of food, verbal praise, and a favorite toy. By consistently pairing desensitization through distance with the reinforcement of the concept that the fear trigger is a precursor to wonderful things, we can help our dogs to gain confidence and overcome anxiety.
Stefani Fortney has loved dogs for as long as long as she can remember. At the age of nine, she and her little Beagle mix, Puppy, learned obedience together for the first time in 4-H. As an adult, Stefani became a professional groomer, then later earned her accreditation (ABCDT) as a dog trainer from Animal Behavior College. She uses Positive Reinforcement training techniques exclusively. Stefani currently shares her home with her wife (Melissa), six dogs (Phaedra, Spectre, Mani, Fritter, Poppy, and Opus), and one cat (Pudge).