1) Puppies not socialized or handled by breeders. Usually these guys recover very well, but they may present as very fearful at the beginning.
2) Adult dogs that have grown up without proper socialization and exposure to the outside world.
3) Puppies that have experienced a traumatic or very scary experience during the fear stage.
4) Adult dogs that experienced Number 3 during the puppy fear stage, but their owners did not realize it or did not work with their dog in the meantime. Often owners might think something like this will pass, but for many dogs it just gets worse unless they are helped along the way.
5) Traumatic experience as an adult dog. (As an example my first dog got to experience a microburst at night with us one evening. All our screens on the windows blew in, and the power was instantly out. After that, Jazzabelle was very afraid of any thunder and wind storms, which we helped her with later.)
6) Incident that may have happened that you did not see happen.
7) It could be that a medical reason, like loss of hearing, is causing them some distress. In case of sudden behavioral change, you should make an appointment with your vet.
8) So many more possibilities may exist that caused this.
9) You may never know the cause.
Bottom line is that you have to move your dog forward. They may not fully recover, but you can greatly improve their lives and their thoughts on the trigger (thing that scares them).
Before we begin with a dog, the right environment to start the work must be chosen. All dogs that are beginning this work with their owners should start in a no trigger to very low distraction environment. The instinct for most people is to rush them forward, especially if you have a very smart dog. That is not the right thing to do at the very beginning though. As you work through this with your dog and/or professional dog trainer, think about breaking things up into smaller bite size pieces where success is easiest for the dog to begin. After you have the success you want and have met goal marks in no distractions, then it is time to introduce (slowly) the things that trigger your dog to be timid or fearful in such a way as to challenge them but not flood them (flooding means overloading them beyond the ability to think).
In addition to play and downtime, there are two main areas that you should concentrate on during formally training times with your dog, behavior modification and training. Behavior modification is a manipulation of the environment and circumstances, that allows the dog to be safe while deciding for themselves what they will do in general, and without comment many times from the owner or handler. Training is usually verbal command based communication and cues that you use with your dog, which when done well also influence your dog's behavior or change their focus from the "scary thing" to the work being done.
Time and Patience is needed to begin. Remember though this might be worrying you or annoying you, it is YOUR DOG having the hard time. Your dog is counting on you to make this better for them in a meaningful way that reduces their anxiety. Also remember, what your dog is scared of may seem silly to you. That does not matter, all that matters is your dog's perception of the situation during a period of time. You are training to change that perception over time. These things do not move quickly and can have a rise and dip in performance. Overall though, you want to see small improvements week by week. The only way to improve the situation for your dog is to work with them consistently. If you drop the ball and are inconsistent, you will have to probably drop back some steps and start over.
Rewards motivate dogs to learn and work for to receive them. The article that I wrote, Finding Your Dog's Bliss, goes over ways to identify your dog's rewards. Food is not always rewarding to your dog in a working scenario or they may be too shut down in the beginning to find it rewarding. [Read our article on Treat Training and Luring Insights if interested in more] Basically you want your dog to start off training in a low distraction setting willing and ready to work for a reward. For some dogs, they are super shut down or in panic mode in low distractions, and therefore I advise using calming exercises first.
Calming Exercises can be used in this instance to teach your dog to calm themselves down. Later on, these exercises can be used in more challenging distractions. In my opinion, these should always be used hand in hand with training, as these are behavior modification exercises. The ability for your dog to be able to observe their surroundings and learn that when they settle down that nothing was happening to them, is an invaluable learning experience for dogs that are struggling.
The video below shows an example of a shut down dog, Tonka, having trouble not finding everything scary at first. He is very shut down at the beginning and afraid to just be beside me in the Sit on The Dog Exercise:
- I have used outdoors and walks if they are not scared of that.
- Other ways if you need to think outside of the box.
It may seem easy to train using rewards, but good training is actually hard work no matter what you are using. The thing is that you need to work towards a goal whether the dog and/or you are having fun. The standard rules of training that include body language, tone or lack of tone, confidence timing and consistency all come into play. So while you are having fun or just enjoying your dog having fun, you still need to reach goals that you can see. They do not need to be large or unreasonable. Here are some examples of goals:
- Your dog can reach the first step of Sit On The Dog within 5 minutes in XYZ situation and /or environment.
- Your dog can perform 3 sets of four in a row sits on first command within 5 minutes in XYZ situation and/or environment.
- You find your dog can relax and takes naps (that they were unable to take before) in XYZ situation and/or environment.
[You can also get more information on our articles on How To Use Steps to Reach Your Ultimate Training Goals and How To Measure Your Goal Progress and Success When Training Your Dog.]
You can train your dog to do tricks, fetch, games, obedience commands, targeting, pulling, herding, or obstacles. This is where learning what your dog enjoys can pay off. Now there may still be some dogs where that is not apparent as of yet. You may have to learn about other techniques like molding first to begin.
[You may want to read our article How to Work With and Be Realistic with The Dog or Puppy You Have Right Now]
Here is an example of a fetch game you can start with a puppy that has some prey or ball or play drive:
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to begin to work your dog or puppy through timidity over items, sounds, environments, and so on. Please comment below if you have any questions.
Audio file resources for use with dogs timid about certain noises (this does not always fool the dog, but it sometimes does):
NOTE: USE THESE AT LOW VOLUME AT FIRST ONCE YOUR DOG IS USED TO CALMING AND/OR TRAINING EXERCISES IN NON DISTRACTIONS IF YOUR DOG HAS FEAR OF NOISES. YOU CAN FIND SO MANY NOISES ON YOU TUBE TO WORK YOUR DOG WITH. THE FOLLOWING ARE JUST A FEW COMMON ONES.
Different Dog Barks
Knocking and Door Bells
Truck and Car Noises