If I have to describe fear from a human perspective, I would say that it is the anxiety about the future that an individual has. This sense of anxiety appears because of an uncertainty of what to expect from a particular situation or an expectation of something unpleasant.
Sometimes fear can be paralyzing. Many people prefer to live a predictable existence that they dislike. It is unpleasant but at the same time comfortable due to the predictability of events. Trying something new generally scares people. Something new is unknown and thus, dangerous.
There is no person truly fearless. We as humans fear at least something, even the most courageous among us are scared.
Courageous people are not immune to fear. But they can move towards or engage in a threatening experience in spite of being scared.
They learn to suppress their fear towards something. With time and constant exposure to the threat, it becomes a familiar experience that is no longer that threatening.
These people have desensitized themselves to their fear. Consequently, their actions towards it become a routine, in other words, they become desensitized to it.
The technic I am about to share with you will not only improve the life of your dog but can benefit you as well if you learn to apply it to yourself.
Any dog can be scared or anxious about something. Like humans, dog’s fear is caused by the uncertainty of something or the expectation of something unpleasant.
If a dog experiences a threatening stimulus, the scary experience can turn into a trauma that can affect the dog’s ability to enjoy its everyday life
. If you have read the article about the flight or fight response, I have explained that dogs can respond to a threat by running away or by attacking it
Fear or aggression problems in dogs can make the life of the dog and the owner miserable due to the limitations in experiencing life outside. Even though not all the traumatic experiences are fixable 100%, many situations can improve through a desensitization program.
This program consists of a gradual exposure of an individual to the dreaded stimulus. The program starts by exposing an individual to a stressor from a comfortable distance and gradually closing the distance towards it.
The challenge has to happen with no rush, ensuring that the individual remains calm and comfortable with the situation.
By confronting fear in small steps the experience is less overwhelming. A gradual constant exposure to the stressor becomes a predictable routine that alleviates the sense of anxiety of the individual.
Imagine a person scared of deep water. The desensitization program can start from the shore or any other comfortable starting point. The person can be invited to walk towards the water and stop whenever they feel uncomfortable. The person must be invited to take steps further to create a new comfort zone. If the individual starts feeling uncomfortable, it is important to take some steps back and start again. The ultimate goal for the individual is to normalize being in the deep water and relax.
It is possible to use this approach even with dogs. This technique consists in starting when the dog is in its comfort zone and invite the dog to get more exposed to what stresses him or her. Doing so will create a new comfort zone for the dog and any positive response must be rewarded with something nice like a tasty treat or a toy.
If the dog starts to show signs of distress (which we have covered in the article “Identify Important Red Flags Of Dogs”),
it is important to return a step or two back to keep the dog relaxed and start again.
Whether you are working on a dog or on a human, success should not be expected overnight. Patience is the key.
When working on rehabilitating a dog with a behavioural problem through desensitization, remember that the dog could have spent years suffering from this problem. The longer the problem went unchecked the longer it will take to fix it. So, be patient and be consistent.
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Also, if you like the topic of dogs, please check my book ‘Before You Get A Dog’ by Simone Burani. You will find the essential knowledge written in simple language to have a great time with your pet.