Understanding F.E.A.R: Building Resilience in Your Dog
G’day everyone! Today, we’re gonna talk about something that’s as Australian as a meat pie and as universal as a footy match: fear. The bloke Zig Ziglar once said, “F.E.A.R has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise”. Now, let’s consider this from a dog trainer’s perspective and explore how we can help our dogs confront fear, rise above it, and emerge stronger.
Fear: A Natural Part of Life
First things first. Fear isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s as natural as it gets. Whether it’s us humans or our four-legged mates, fear is part of the package deal of being alive. It’s a vital survival instinct, and as Gavin de Becker pointed out in his book “The Gift of Fear”, it’s a tool for staying safe. It is important to actually teach our dog what to fear in an unnatural society. There are many ways to go about it, which would not make your dog afraid of you, but rather turn to you for guidance and safety.
If we don’t help create resilient dogs, then fear can turn chronic or irrational, and it can become a problem. It can become so distressing that the owner and dog’s quality of life is horrible. It can be so bad, that your dog can react disproportionally, which can result in being put down. That’s where we step in as dog owners and trainers.
Recognising Fear in Your Dog
The Traffic Light Approach to Behaviour –
- To understand your dog’s behaviour, we can employ the ‘stoplight’ analogy of ‘Green, Yellow, and Red’ behaviours. Most of us are adept at recognising ‘green’ behaviours, such as when our dogs are relaxed and ready for a playful engagement.
- We’re also likely familiar with ‘red’ behaviours, such as snarling or biting.
- However, the ‘yellow’ behaviours often go unnoticed – the paw lift, dilated pupils, licking, fidgeting, freezing, and so forth. These behaviours often serve as subtle signals that your dog may resort to biting if pushed further. Hence, spending time observing a new dog can prove to be invaluable.
Dogs don’t have the luxury of verbal communication, so they rely on body language to convey their feelings. Subtle signs like paw lifting, dilated pupils, excessive licking, or freezing are their version of a ‘caution’ sign. As dog owners, it’s essential to be vigilant of these ‘yellow light’ behaviours.
From Fear to Resilience
Now, let’s talk about turning that fear around. Ziglar’s interpretation of F.E.A.R – Face Everything And Rise is all about resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity. It’s about helping your dog understand that it’s okay to be scared, but it’s not okay to let that fear control their lives. I can already hear some disagree, and that is ok if you do – you can choose what you want or do not want to do to help your dog. All I will say is that you and your dog are not free of the consequences of your choices. I ask that you respect me for my choice as well. Which is it might mean that we do have to address maladaptive behaviours before we address the actual feelings. Think of it this way, a nurse has to scrub dead and burnt skin, to prevent further damage and give your body and medicine time to heal.
Facing Fears Together
So, how can we help our dogs rise above their fears? The answer lies in consistent training, patience, and sometimes facing our own bais. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate fear, but rather the maladaptive behaviours in response to the fear, and then to build resilience so they can manage it effectively.
A Dog Trainer’s Role
Professional dog trainers have the skills to understand the nuances of dog behaviour. But at the end of the day, as owners, you share a unique bond with your pooch. Trust in that bond, rely on your instincts and learn to read your dog’s signals. Together, you can help your dog face everything and rise, building a bond stronger than ever.