Updated: May 20
So many things go into keeping your dog "safe". Of course, teaching them certain behaviors on cue are part of this. Some of the more important skills a dog needs to know are a solid recall, leave it/drop it, and door manners in general. These allow us to call our dogs back as they are running toward a busy street, not pick up that dead bird or at least drop it if they see it before we do, and wait at the open door until you are ready for them to exit. All of these are important.
What many of us forget, is that safety is not just physical! So many troublesome things can develop if your dog routinely FEELS unsafe. Feelings of fear or anxiety erode a dog's confidence and can lead to behaviors we find undesirable (barking, lunging, snapping, cowering, shutting down). Just because WE know that a situation is safe does not mean that our dogs feel the same way about it. It is up to us to help them understand that the things they experience, whether in our homes or out and about with us, are safe.
This can be an overwhelming task, especially if we find ourselves with a beloved furry friend whose nature is on the apprehensive or pessimistic side. Whether this is due to genetics, past negative experiences, or something new, it takes patience, time, and dedication to help our dog start to feel safe about something they find scary. Trying to force our dogs to "get over it" rarely works and can erode our bond with them. After all, if we keep pushing our dogs into scary situations, they soon learn that we can't be trusted to keep them safe. We always want to help our dogs improve, but we have to walk a fine line between challenging them to do something a little hard and forcing them to endure something that freaks them out!
So, how do we do this? Start small and build up confidence and optimism slowly. One easy way to do this is to give our dogs choices, when possible (let's face it, sometimes it isn't possible). Make sure no matter which option they choose is an acceptable one. For example, which treat do they want, do they want to cuddle, do they want to go outside and play, do they want to play with that person/dog? These seem like simple things and they can be!
If your dog struggles with our crazy human world, PLEASE reach out to a trainer with experience dealing with such issues in a way that does not cause additional fear or pain in your pup. Keep your dog safe and be patient as they overcome their fears.