What Can We Do For Our Fearful Dog?

I have a one year old Lab and he is afraid of anything that makes a noise or has wheels, such as roller blades, bikes or skateboards (even his shadow in the dark!).

He is also starting to shy away from strangers and will bark at any thing he isn't too familiar with.

My wife and I try to expose him to pretty much everything, and he is constantly around other dogs and doesn't have a problem with them. We try not to comfort him when he is scared, but are unsure what else to do!

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Thanks for joining us here on "In The Doghouse"! It can be hard to help a dog get over a certain fear.

A couple reasons why he might have this fear in the first place...

1) he was under-socialized as a puppy (between 7 weeks and 4 months especially)
2) he had a negative experience in the past

As it sounds like he has a general fear of a lot of things, I'm leaning toward under-socialization as the reason. He's simply afraid of anything new because he wasn't given the opportunity to experience it all during the most important time in his life.

But that's the past - we can't do anything about that! So what can you do for now? It's a good start - don't "comfort" him when he's showing signs of fear, and praise him when he doesn't.

Get him out and about town as much as possible. As well as meeting lots of new people (who you should get to give him a treat to make him think that new people are positives), get him used to new environments and sights. Such as...

Different terrain - pavement, grass, concrete, carpet, tile, gravel, grass (both short and tall), and sand at the beach. Ball games, soccer games, Lowe's or your hardware store, the bank (yes, most will allow you to bring your leashed dog in!), your children's school, and any other place you can think of.

As far as the fear he already has towards noise and wheels, you'll want to desensitize and counter-condition him to that. What does that mean? You want to expose him (slowly) to the things that make him afraid until he is very used to it (and it has no effect on him anymore), and also condition him to think that when he hears a noise, or sees a bike, good things will happen.

Let's say he is afraid of the sound of his food bowl falling on the floor. Start by just sliding it around a little bit to make a noise. If you have to do so in another room for him to not mind, that's fine. As soon as he doesn't respond negatively to that sound, praise him immediately. You can also toss him a treat while you're making the sound so he puts the two together.

Next, you can drop it onto the floor from a couple inches off the ground. Again, you can toss a treat or his favorite toy while you do so. Praise him when he isn't showing a negative behavior. Over a period of time, you can work up to dropping it from higher up. If he begins to look distressed, move to the last step you did when he was fine.

You can do this for any noise. If it's the vacuum he's afraid of, start by just having the vacuum sitting in the same room as him (not on). When he isn't afraid of that anymore, you can move around with the vacuum a little (still not on). Slowly over a few days, you can turn it on for a second, then for a few seconds and so on.

Always praise the desirable behavior. In the case of fear, I recommend ignoring the fearful behavior (whining, cowering). A correction will only make it worse.

Do the same for bikes, roller blades and other things he's afraid of. Remember, you want him to change his thinking about these things - you want him to associate bikes, etc., with positive things such as treats, toys, and praise.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask! And continue to browse through our website frequently, as we try to add articles on a regular basis.

Shannon Pennings

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