Saturday, May 22, 2010

Overcoming Fears and Phobias

As Faye nears the end of the puppy imprinting phase we have one last thing to work on. She is afraid of garbage bags. I first noticed it when I was changing a garbage bag in my kitchen. As I was opening up the bag she ran and hid in another room. She seemed very anxious and would not return to the kitchen until the lid was back in the garbage can. While this may seem totally unreasonable to be afraid of a garbage bag, it's not my place to question why, but rather to help her learn to not be afraid. To often we get hung up on trying to figure out 'why' our dogs are afraid of something rather than putting our energy into helping them overcome their fear. In the case of the garbage bag it could be any number of things triggering her fearful response. She could be afraid of the sound the bag makes, the smell, the way it looks, etc. A response such as Fayes does not typically resolve on its own so it's best to do desensitization exercises as soon as you notice the fearful response other wise it can become a lifelong fear.

To help Faye feel less anxious about garbage bags I started by holding a garbage bag in my hand and offering her a tasty treat from my other hand. I didn't make her interact with the bag, just being near the bag made great treats appear. As she became more comfortable I put the bag on the floor and tossed treats on the floor near the bag for her to eat. She quckly was taking the treats off the floor. After a few sessions I was able to toss treats onto the bag and she was happily eating them while walking on the bag.

I'll continue to do these short sessions until she no longer fears garbage bags.

When you notice a fearful response from your puppy or dog don't ignore it or assume it will just go away. While we can't fix everything there is alot we can do to help our 4 legged friends overcome their fears. And of course, when in doubt always seek the help of a professional Dog Behavior Consultant.

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