Look for any fearful or anxious body language. Check for any clear signs that the dog is in an anxious or fearful situation by looking at their body language. A dog’s body language is complex and can often be very hard to read. However, looking for those common signs that your dog is anxious or frightened can give you ample time to respond appropriately while your dog is in an state of anxiety.
Signs of fear or anxiety in them are trembling, tail tucked, withdrawal, hiding, attempting to run, licking and biting themselves.
Find the source of your dog’s fearful and odd behavior. Look around to identify the situations if you notice them displaying fearful or anxiety behaviors. Most of the time it will be pretty obvious, like loud thunders, cars passing by, bicycles, passer by, etc. However, there are a lot of factors that play into your dog’s behavior, like multiple owners, rehoming, etc.
Notice weird patterns in your dog’s reaction. Is your dog afraid of bicycles or the person who is on the bike? Does your dog become nervous when someone goes near them or when touched in general?
Reduce the source of their anxiety. Reducing the source of their anxiety or fear is an fastest way to attend to and relieve the situation. If they are afraid of a person, bring them to another place. Try covering them with a blanket and petting them with comfort. Most of the time it will be easier to remove your dog from the situation.
Try creating safe zones in your home, like their cage, so that they have a space they can go to if they are beginning to feel anxious or or fearful of anything.
Hide your own reaction. Withholding your reaction to your dog’s anxiety or fear will help them remain calm and find comfort. Dogs are super sensitive to other’s behaviors, especially their owner’s. If you find that your dog is reacting to a stimulus, stay calm and provide them with comfort.
If you are equally fearful of your dog’s stimulus, try using positive body language, petting to provide them with comfort and support that they loved.
Expose your dog to a low-level stimulus. Start desensitizing your dog to whatever the source of their fear is by introducing it in a low-level. You will want to start the desensitization process at as low a stimulus as possible in order to keep control over your dog. Try placing the objects they are afraid of at a large distance, create casual situations in which their fear might normally spike, or introduce dogs at a distance, so that they can get used to it without being triggered.
if your dog is afraid of chairs, place a chair around one hundred feet away from your dog and let them acclimate to it.
If your dog is afraid of people, invite a friend over and have them stand still in the middle of the room while your dog smells them.
Be patient and avoid moving quickly. If you move too quickly you risk your dog associating you with their fears. Move slowly and let them set the pace.
Let your dog initiate contact. Instead of forcing your dog over to the object or person they are afraid of, let them initiate their own contact. Keep your dog on a leash in order to avoid them bolting away in case the stimulus level becomes too high and they are triggered. Allow your dog to slowly approach while engaging all of their senses (smell, touch, sight, sound, and taste) to begin making the source of their fear familiar.
Avoid pulling on their leash and forcing them to engage with their fear. Give them space and allow them to engage as they are comfortable.
Increase the stimulus level gradually. Once your dog has displayed calm behavior when present with a fear-inducing stimulus, slightly increase the stimulus level. Keep increasing the level of the stimulus until your dog begins to demonstrate timid or fearful behavior. If your dog becomes triggered, remove the stimulus and begin again at a slower pace.
For example, if you began with a chair 100 feet away, pick the chair up and begin moving it closer to your dog. Praise them and reward them until they begin to become fearful. Stop and let them re-familiarize themselves with the chair until they become comfortable.
Remember to respond to your dog. Give them time and space if they are not ready to move on.
Use “counter-conditioning” techniques. Counter-conditioning is often effectively paired with desensitization training, and involves rewarding your dog with praise, treats, or positive stimuli during their exposure and encounters with their fears. Counter-conditioning will, over time, help them re-associate events, people, and objects that normally trigger fear with positive effects.
Give your dog affection while they are exposed to a potential trigger and after the trigger has been removed.
Have treats on hand to give to your dog after they have endured a fear-inducing stimulus.
Only reward good, calm behavior. Do not give your dog treats or positively reinforcing affection if they become triggered and are out of control.