If your dog's fear signals aren't recognised, he may feel forced into a position of having to use his teeth to defend himself.As fear inhibits the ability to learn, and stress chemicals take at least three days to subside after an event, it's important to create a calm, relaxing atmosphere for your dog, so that he can unwind. Give him space to rest and recover, avoid putting pressure on him, and try not to subject him to known triggers. You can use this quiet time to work on building his trust and confidence in you.
Trust is the primary quality in any good relationship.Your dog needs to look to you for guidance and protection, and to learn that you are his champion. Kindness, consistency and understanding are the keys to earning your dog's trust. Try to look at the world through your dog's eyes, so that you can understand why he behaves in certain ways. Consider what could be causing his fear, and take action to avoid exposing him to these triggers while you deepen your relationship with him. Dogs communicate very eloquently through body language. Learning how to interpret his silent signals will enable you to instantly recognise early signs of fear. Low body posture, pinned back ears, lip-licking, closing his mouth tightly, panting excessively, drooling, yawning, looking away, and showing the whites of his eyes are just some of the signals given when a dog is stressed, anxious or scared. When you recognise these, you can remove him from the situation that's causing discomfort before his level of fear escalates further. Careful desensitisation and counterconditioning involves pairing a very low level of the stress stimulus with something good, such as food or a game. For instance, if your dog is afraid of other dogs you can help build a positive association by letting him see them from a safe distance, offering a reward and then moving him away. As he becomes increasingly relaxed, you can gradually reduce the distance while offering rewards. Any signs of stress mean that you're taking things too fast. Slow and steady works best.
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma Lisa Tenzin-Dolma is principal of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, founder of the Dog Welfare Alliance, and Chair of The Association of INTO Dogs. She's the author of 26 books, four of which are about dog behaviour and training. Her latest book, "Charlie, the Dog Who Came in from the Wild", is about how she helped her very fearful Romanian feral dog to adjust to domestic life.