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Breaking things down for fearful and anxious dogs

A common occurrence with fearful and anxious dogs, is their in ability to process or complete a request. What I mean by that is this. The task requested as a whole, is too overwhelming for the dog to even attempt never mind complete. The reason for this is simply lack of confidence. So how do we increase confidence if the dog can't do any of the exercises used to build confidence? We break it down to the simplest version possible.

If you are trying to teach obedience and the task at hand is teaching a down command, breaking it down may look like this. The dog looks down toward the floor, mark and reward this. Several days or weeks later the dog may then drop it's head lower, mark and reward this. Farther into training the dog will start to bend those front legs, mark and reward this. Later still the dog will drop the elbows to touch the floor, mark and reward this. Finally the belly touches the ground. This we jackpot reward. Lots of treats, high value and praise because they have finally completed the full task.

If the task is teaching your dog to no fear certain people places or things, we start by having them simply look at the trigger at a distance the dog deems safe. If the exercise is having the dog put paws on an object off the ground, say it's a foot off the ground and that is just too scary. Break it down further. Use a curb, a 2x4, or even just a piece of flooring. Whatever it is, how ever slight of a raise it is, it's ok. We have to meet each dog at their starting point and go from there as slowly as they require us to. It is so important to remember that there is no set time line for rehabilitation and behaviour modification. We don't decide that, the dog does. Just as we do not decide what is scary or what is high value for reward etc. The dog does and this will vary from dog to dog. I very rarely train two dogs the same for the simple reason that they are not the same. As trainers we need to see each dog as an individual and not as a whole of one species. The success of their program, and often times, the dog's future depends on that. Train the dog in front of you and not the one you just saw, They are not the same even if their issues may appear the same.

Happy Training

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