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East Valley K9 Services


Helping the Fearful Dog: 2 Training Processes

Helping the Fearful Dog: 2 Training Processes


word image 985 1 fearful dog

There are all kinds of reasons why dogs become fearful.

Regardless of the reason, K9 fears do not resolve on their own

and can potentially escalate into unwanted, aggressive behaviors.

Counter-conditioning and desensitization can help stop that progression.

How K9 Fears Begin

word image 985 2 fearful dog From the lack of early socialization to unpredictable, unexpected and frightening experiences or events and even a history of abuse or trauma, some canines may begin to develop fears. Some dogs are even naturally fearful of the world around them due to genetics.

Regardless, it is important to help these dogs overcome their fearfulness with counter-conditioning and desensiti-zation.

Learn about the 10 Common Dog Fears and Phobias Here!

The Fearful Dog: Triggers

Fearful behavior is “triggered” by a stimulus, event or situation the dog perceives as a threat or danger to his safety. Fears are both natural and learned behaviors that are instinctively based on protection and survival. But not all fears are necessary for your dog’s protection or survival and should be addressed as soon as possible.

Next, let’s look at using counter-conditioning to help change unwanted K9 behaviors based on fear.

The Fearful Dog: Counter-Conditioning

In psychology, counter-conditioning is also called “stimulus substitution” and means “conditioning an unwanted behavior or response to a stimulus into a wanted behavior or response.” For a fearful dog that means to retrain the K9 to show a more positive response to a stimulus that triggers the dog’s fear and negative emotional response.

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Along with counter-conditioning, desensitization must also be used for an effective program in helping the dog overcome his fearful reactions.

The Fearful Dog: Desensitization

In contrast to counter-conditioning, desensitization exposes the fearful animal to the stimulus beginning at very low intensities (eliciting no reaction from the dog). Using intensity, distance and duration, slowly increase the difficulty level as wanted behaviors are reinforced and adopted.

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Proper desensitization will slowly reduce your dog’s fear, anxiety and/or aggressive reactions.

For positive, long-lasting results, counter-conditioning and desensitization must be used together to replace the canine’s previous negative reactions slowly and methodically with calmer and happier behaviors. Both processes work together to help the anxious canine associate good things with a fearful situation or trigger. Using high-value motivators (like food, favorite toys, attention and praise) helps reinforce the new, positive behavior.

Bring Lots of Patience!

word image 985 5 fearful dog Fears do not develop overnight, and any positive re-conditioning will also not happen immediately. Put yourself in your dog’s place and imagine not understanding what is happening around you and becoming anxious and fearful.

It takes time and trust to fully overcome the triggers leading to fear. But with lots of patience, effort and the right positive reinforcements, your dog will learn to associate positive things with the once-fearful trigger.

Each dog is different and any counter-conditioning and desen-sitization must be done at your dog’s own pace of learning and comfort. Just keep your eye on the big picture and your dog will eventually learn to overcome his fears.

If you are unsure how to help your fearful dog, reach out for professional help to properly identify and effectively address the underlying fears before the unwanted behaviors become worse and even dangerous.

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Is Your Dog Fearful?

Unsure how to help your dog overcome

their fears?

Do not wait until something happens!

We can help identify your dog’s triggers and

positively address his behaviors creating

a happy and confident dog!

Call 480-382-0144 or send us an email to schedule.

Serving Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe and East Valley areas of Arizona.

Image Credits (Shown in Order of Appearance):


Stacey Kennedy/Pixabay

Courtesy: Lili Chin (Counterconditioning)

Courtesy: Cognitive Dogs & Lili Chin (desensitization)


East Valley K9 Services


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