Tag Archive for: fearful dogs

Help! My Dog is Afraid of our Christmas Guests!


Rex chills out in a covered crate with a bully stick.

You have holiday guests coming, but your dog is either going to be terrified and hide or bark his head off at them, trying to scare them away. What can you do to make the day stress-free for everyone? We have tips… and a GIVEAWAY!

Talk to Your Vet

If your dog has a serious fear problem, there are medications that can help, including daily pills or pills just for those tough days.

If you’re using a situational medication, be sure to “test drive” a dose on a normal day so you can monitor your dog’s reaction. Ask your vet about when you should administer the medication so it will be at its most effective when your guests arrive.

If the fear is only in very specific situations that you can avoid most of the time, medication is likely not necessary.

Build a Bunker

Your number one priority is to keep your dog feeling safe. If your dog enjoys being in his crate, you’ve already got this in the bag! You may consider tossing a sheet over the crate to eliminate visual stimulation. Rex in the photo above is all cozy in his bed in a covered crate while guests are on the other side of the house.

Does your dog hate crates? Check out these other ideas for bunkers from Eileen Anderson.

If your guests will be on the other side of the wall from your fearful dog, try a white noise machine near the crate or a radio tuned in to NPR.

Important: Guests should not enter the room where the dog has his bunker.

Prepare Ye The Kongs!

Stuff some Kongs the day before with all sorts of goodies: wet food, leftovers from your dinner, cheese, peanut butter, fat-free plain yogurt… then put them in the freezer so they will take even longer for your dog to unpack the day of the party.

Tire Your Dog Out Early

Break out the treat balls and puzzles for breakfast. If you have time, do a quick training session to work that doggy brain even harder. If your fearful dog can take walks in your neighborhood, take a nice long walk and let him sniff everything. (Sniffing gets those neurons firing!)

It’s Party Time!

Before your guests arrive, move your dog to his bunker and provide him with a Kong and/or bully stick to enjoy. During the party, check in on him from time to time, bringing a fresh Kong or a few treats to nibble.

If you have to take your dog outside for a break during the party, move your guests out of sight so you can slip out for a quick walk and back in to the bunker without your dog seeing the strangers.

You Can Do This…. and We Can Help

At Your Dog’s Friend, we understand how stressful it can be living with a fearful dog. We offer several classes that can help your dog build confidence. Here they are:

  • Agility Games / Nose Work 1:  These are good for the dog that gets just a little spooked at new things, but is otherwise fine with being around strangers.
  • Confidence Building: A good option for dogs that are a little spooked around strangers and/or new situations.
  • Fearful Dog Class: For dogs that would rather stay far away from strangers and/or anything new.

All classes are offered at our training center in Rockville, Maryland.

Giveaway for Local Friends!

YourDogsFriend.orgGo to our Facebook page to enter the giveaway for two wonderful books by trainer Debbie Jacobs, CPDT-KA, CAP.

These books are truly the gold standard in fearful dog rehabilitation and training.

The winner must pick up their books at our training center in Rockville, Maryland.



Three Items to Keep Your Fearful Dog Safe

rexprogressHow many times have you seen a LOST DOG poster (or post on Facebook) that says, “SHY, DO NOT CHASE” or something similar?

If you’ve adopted a shy or fearful dog, there are many things you can do to prevent this situation from happening. It all starts with the right equipment.

Tagg GPS collar attachment

If you only do one thing for your fearful dog, buy him or her a Tagg and activate it. A Tagg collar is $99 and has a monthly fee of $9.95. Compared to the price of a professional dog tracker — $100 an hour! — the Tagg is a bargain.

  • Set your home zone. (You can change it if you go on vacation, to grandma’s house, etc.)
  • Tagg will notify you immediately by text and/or email if your dog leaves your home zone.
  • You can track your dog using the Tagg app.
  • Tagg also tracks activity. Even if your dog is just lounging at home you can get an idea of how active he is when you are out.

Buy your Tagg at smile.amazon.com (select Your Dog’s Friend as your charity of choice!) and we will receive a small donation.

Two Points of Contact

When out on a walk, a fearful dog can slip a collar or harness in an instant. While it may seem like overkill, it pays to have two points of contact with your dog.

For example:

  • One leash is attached to the collar.
  • A second leash is attached to a harness.

There is no way the dog could slip out of both, so you have backup in case of an emergency. In our Reactive Dog Class, all dogs are double-leashed for security.

For even more security, you could clip one leash to your belt loop with a carabiner or wear an extra long leash around your waist (look for jogging leashes on Amazon).

…the third item is not a thing, but a question.

Is Your Dog Ready for Walks?

This is a crucial question when you have a fearful dog. Rex, pictured at the top of this article, has been in his foster home for 3 months and is still too scared to be in the fenced yard. He is paper trained like a puppy.  While it is more work as far as cleanup, it enables Rex to feel safe and he is quickly progressing in his confidence.

There are many ways to exercise a fearful dog that do not involve being out in the big, scary world. Toy-motivated dogs can play fetch in the house. You can stuff a Kong with pureed pumpkin, freeze it, and let them work at licking it clean. Basic training (Touch, Sit, Down, etc) is mentally stimulating and will tucker out a pup.

Walks are wonderful, but if your dog is fearful and a flight risk, they can wait.

Join the Community

Trainer Debbie Jacobs has a wonderful community of fearful dog owners and foster parents on Facebook. You can feel safe there because everyone there is in the same boat. Everyone loves a fearful dog (or more than one!) and will help you with your questions and cheer for you when you have a breakthrough.

Foster Dog Alliance: Rex the Fearful Dog’s Journey, part 1


Written by E. Foley

Meet Rex.

He is a 7-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix and a foster dog with Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue. Rex and 15 of his dog friends were living on a farm in West Virginia and after a family tragedy, the rescue was called to help rehome the dogs.

Many of these dogs are people-fearful. If I had to guess, I’d say they were raised by the other dogs on the property and didn’t have the socialization with people that puppies need to be well-adjusted adult dogs.

My OBG Cocker Rescue alum, Titania, also has issues with fear around new people, so I volunteered to foster Rex and help him in his rehabilitation in the hopes that we can place him in a forever home.

Rex’s initial behaviors:

  • 100% avoiding people
  • Will freeze if anyone touches him
  • Tries to make himself as small as possible
  • Loses control of his bowels when touched or picked up

The only real “bonus” to Rex’s initial behaviors was that he was not a fear-biter. However, I knew to always treat him as if he *could* bite, because any dog can bite when pushed beyond their tolerance level.

Rex’s progress is thanks to several people beyond our immediate family.

Here’s a timeline of Rex’s progress:

3/13 - We bring home Rex and set him up a habitat with a covered crate.

3/13 – We bring home Rex and set him up a habitat with a covered crate. We open up the door behind him so he can potty on pee pads in our bathroom since he’s too afraid to go outside. Eventually we opened up the bathroom so he could go into our bedroom, which resulted in Rex’s next choice…

3/15 - Rex hides in the bedroom closet and will not come out. Or eat.

3/15 – Rex hides in the bedroom closet and will not come out. Or eat.

I had to move Rex from the closet because he wasn’t going to make any progress at all if he hid 24/7. For the next few days, he lives in his habitat. He breaks out of the habitat at night and paces around the house. We let him do it, even though it involves him relieving himself on the floors, because it’s giving him the opportunity to explore without the fear of running into any people.

3/20 - Rex pops his head into the living room when we're in it, and thinks about staying there, but then will go back around the corner into the kitchen.

3/20 – Rex pops his head into the living room when we’re in it, and thinks about staying there, but then will go back around the corner into the kitchen.

At this point for Rex, the “reward” for his behavior is that we do not look at him or engage with him in any way. Since he’s only eating when nobody is watching, it wouldn’t work for us to toss treats to him at this point. We want him to realize that he can come into the living room and nothing bad will happen. In fact, NOTHING will happen!

Another new behavior - he is opening his mouth! Up until now, he's been tight-lipped. Now he's relaxing his jaw a bit and opening his mouth to pant a little.

Another new behavior – he is opening his mouth! Up until now, he’s been tight-lipped. Now he’s relaxing his jaw a bit and opening his mouth to pant a little.

3/21 – Rex is curious. He will come out and peek at people and then run back to his safe place. We just ignore him and let him test the waters. I was making dog meatballs in the evening and he was curious about all the delicious smells in the kitchen. I tossed a piece 10 ft away from me and he crept up and ate it!

3/27 – This past week, there are days when he’s very curious and will follow my dog and me around the house or pop his head into the living room to watch us watching TV. But there are also days when he just wants to curl up in his crate and not engage with us. So we’ve been letting him set the pace as much as possible.

This morning, I made a trail of rotisserie chicken pieces from his crate to the kitchen and then half-hid myself around a corner. Watched him come out and eat one piece, then the next, then the next. He peeked up and saw me and was a little spooked, but then came back for the biggest piece that was a few feet away.

4/4 – Rex eats his entire breakfast with me in the room!

(Before, he would wait until everyone left, no matter how hungry he was.)

(Before, he would wait until everyone left, no matter how hungry he was.)

4/4 – Rex licks my hand! There was kielbasa in it. He wasn’t quite brave enough to eat the kielbasa from my hand, tho.

4/5 – Rex eats treats in the living room. (Video below!)

4/6 – Rex ate two pieces of kielbasa from my hand. Rex eats his dinner in the living room.

4/8 – Rex eats treats from right next to my leg! (Video below!)

4/11 – Rex won’t eat from my hand unless it’s a super high-value item, but allows me to touch him while he eats. We worked up to this. At first I left the kibble in front of him and pet and then took my hand out. Then I slowly worked toward leaving my hand closer. And closer. And then left my fingertips touching him. Finally he was able to eat with me touching! (Video below.)

Progress starts to roll around quicker now that Rex is reliably seeing people as a source of food, not fear.

4/12 - Rex checks out the people from the edge of the living room.

4/12 – Rex checks out the people from the edge of the living room.

4/13 – I rearranged some furniture in the back room and set Rex back a little bit. He’s more skittish, but still trying to follow me around the house.

4/15 - 90% of the food Rex ate today came directly from my hand. Rex is also choosing to sit closer to me. (Picture is without zoom! Photobomb by my dog, Titania.)

4/15 – 90% of the food Rex ate today came directly from my hand. Rex is also choosing to sit closer to me. (Picture is without zoom! Photobomb by my dog, Titania.)

4/15 – I was in bed, about to fall asleep, when I heard a chewing sound. My first thought was that my dog had stolen the bully stick from Rex’s crate, which I have had in there since Day 1. But I checked and my dog was sound asleep at my feet. So I flipped on the lights and snapped a picture.

Dogs will not engage in chewing behavior unless they're feeling comfortable enough in their surroundings. HUGE STEP for Rex!

Dogs will not engage in chewing behavior unless they’re feeling comfortable enough in their surroundings. HUGE STEP for Rex!

4/16 – Rex starts a little clicker training. He’s not brave enough to target my hand yet, so I clicked and treated for eye contact. I used my quiet clicker and after a few times, I could see his ears perk up every time he heard the click. Click means treat!

4/18 – Rex did something this morning that approximated begging! The pups were in the kitchen, so I thought I’d see if I could get Rex to eat somewhere new. So I took a chicken cookie out of the fridge and broke it into pieces and gave one to Rex and one to Titania. Rex ate it! And then he stood there and made eye contact for a long moment. So I gave him more. More eye contact. And despite my opening the fridge to get more cookies and closing it again, he stayed in the kitchen and totally kept eating.

4/20 – Rex chose to sit at the edge of the living room to watch us watching TV.

4/23 – Rex chose to sit in the living room with my boyfriend when I was not around.

4/24 – Rex is choosing to be in the living room with the people more often than not.

4/27 - Rex takes his bully stick from the crate in the bedroom and brings it into the living room so he can chew it on the floor by the couch (where I am watching TV).

4/27 – Rex takes his bully stick from the crate in the bedroom and brings it into the living room so he can chew it on the floor by the couch (where I am watching TV).

5/1 – An amazing sight: REX’S TAIL! This morning when I woke up, he was standing at the bedroom door with my dog and his tail was up and even wagging a little bit. AMAZING. I wish I had a picture, but it was too dark to snap one.

5/2 - Rex eats treats out of my boyfriend's hand.

5/2 – Rex eats treats out of my boyfriend’s hand.

Rex is doing extremely well, but he has a long way to go before he is anywhere near being a “normal” dog. Working with a fearful dog is all about celebrating the baby steps and making sure that the dog feels safe at all times. Sure, there will be times when they’ll be at the edge of their comfort zone, but allowing the dog a safe place to retreat and regroup is key to the rehabilitation process.

Right now, Rex is asleep on the living room floor next to me. He is on his side and 100% zonked out, breathing very slowly and deeply. This is a totally huge deal and I can’t help grinning from ear to ear watching him sleep. He feels safe enough to sleep deeply while I am not a foot away. He’s one special boy and he’s getting better and better every day!

Do You Have a Fearful Dog?

We have two classes suitable for the fearful dog. Our Fearful Dog Class is currently full for June, but you can join the waitlist to be notified when we offer the next session. We also have a Confidence Building Class for dogs that are just a little shy. We’ll be announcing new dates for this class soon, so join the waitlist to be emailed as soon as we set a date!

On Sunday, June 29, from 1:00 – 3:30 pm, we will host a free workshop for parents of fearful dogs.

We will discuss strategies for overcoming your dog’s fear of people, inside and outside of the home. Fear of strangers, children, veterinarians, groomers, and family members will all be covered. Learn to identify when your dog is moving into a fearful state; help your dog in that moment; and work toward alleviating your dog’s fears more permanently.

Speaker: Jeni Grant, CPDT-KA (www.trainyourbestfriend.com and www.helpmyfearfuldog.com)

NOTE: This workshop is on a Sunday and 1/2 hour earlier than our usual time.

Please click to register in advance so we have enough handouts for everyone. Thanks!

Agility Students Earn New Titles: Congrats Whisper & Titania

agilityribbonsYour Dog’s Friend offers many agility classes and while the majority of our students play for fun, we have a few students who have challenged themselves to enter local trials and compete.

Congratulations to Whisper the Border Collie and Titania the Cocker Spaniel, who both earned their CL1-S titles in Canine Performance Events agility this past weekend. (Those are the big white ribbons!) To earn the CL1-S Title, Titania and Whisper each had to earn qualifying scores in the strategy games Jackpot and Snooker. Congrats, girls!

But that’s not all!

Did we mention Whisper is deaf? That’s right, she can’t hear a single command her mom says! Whisper has attending classes at Your Dog’s Friend since Basic 1, where her mom used a keychain flashlight instead of a clicker. She’s living proof that deaf dogs are just as trainable as hearing ones!

And Titania is a fearful dog.  YDF trainer Michelle remembers Titania’s first appearance in Basic Manners 1 two years ago: she spent most of it cowering behind her mom’s legs! Positive training has greatly increased her confidence and when you see her zooming around the agility course, you wouldn’t think she was anything other than a normal, happy dog.

Our Agility Classes

  • Agility Games: Body awareness exercises (“I have back paws too?”), learning jumps, tunnels, and dog walk, basic agility handling skills.
  • Agility 1: For graduates of Agility Games, this class continues to build up the bond between dog and handler while working on short courses.
  • Agility 2: More advanced handling skills, teeter, obstacle discrimination, and longer courses.
  • Agility 3: All of the above, plus crosses, distance handling, and more!

Due to the popularity of our agility classes, you may have to sign up for our waiting list. When a new section of the class opens up, you’ll receive an email letting you know to register.

Titania’s Wildcard Run

A Wildcard course is a numbered course that has three forks in the path. The dog and handler must choose two obstacles labeled “A” and one labeled “B” in order to successfully complete the course.

Whisper’s Snooker Run

Snooker is a strategy game in which dog and handler must collect points the following order: red jump, any obstacle, different red jump, any obstacle, a third red jump, any obstacle. Then the course is done from obstacle 2 through 7, ending at the table.


Whisper & Titania would like to thank their teacher, Michelle, for all her help and support!