Dog Agility Have Your Dog Running Scared?

Holly Magestic on Teeter NNS160030Fear is one of the most debilitating emotions for man or animal.  It is an emotion that grows on it’s own like a cancer making an original fear into a phobia without any outward signs until it is triggered.  Not only that, it can spread into all areas of life taking a confident person or dog and turn them into someone that is nervous and fearful all the time.

Now ask anyone you know with a phobia, as trivial and stupid as it may be to you, and I guarantee they will believe it is a real fear and there is nothing they can do to get over it.  Lets take the fear of heights. How would you help your friend overcome their fear?  Do you think dropping them out of a plane over the ocean while comforting them is going to solve their problem?  I seriously doubt it, in fact I suggest you will make it worse. So the question is, how do you get rid of fear? What is the first step?

You many think the first step is to figure out where the fear came from.  It really doesn’t matter where the fear came from, so if you don’t know, don’t spend useless time surmising.  Just study the outward signs, knowing fear is a symptom not the problem and then get busy helping your dog gain back his confidence and learn how to control his fear.  You can never tell your dog he is silly for being afraid or that he shouldn’t be afraid, to him his fear is as real as if you were staring down the barrel of a shotgun held by a crazy person.  This is a major key to helping your dog.

Now consider your friend with the fear of heights again.  It is pretty obvious the plane trick is out.  Why?  Because you are starting with a goal.  You do need a goal first and the more specific the goal the better your lesson plan can become.  But, that is not where you start your training.  You will start asking your friend what they can do.  Can they step up the fifth rung of a ladder? No? How about the fourth? The third, the first, how about a small step stool?  You get the point?  You find the place your friend can start without being fearful then build steps toward your goal of being able to willingly jump out of an airplane at night, your specific goal.

So maybe your dog is afraid of the teeter.  Don’t take two people and drag your dog over the teeter while a third person holds the other side all the while cooing at your dog telling him how wonderful everything is. It’s not. Start where your dog can be confident, happy, safe and most of all succeed.  Our average lessons for teaching our dogs contain 5 steps.  You need to put in 20 times as many steps.  Break everything down into such small steps the dog has no issue moving to the next step.

rocker_boardPut a small board on the ground and have him walk over it being upbeat and happy, treating when his feet touch it.  If he is too afraid to walk over it, walk around it at a distance that he is comfortable while keeping yourself more entertaining than his fear of the board.  You will slowly get closer to the board without him even knowing it.  Go from a small board to a longer board then try the board in different places.  Use a colored board and have the dog walk over it, trot over it, run over it.  Use teeter or wobble boards on the ground then with a small rock under it and build until the dog is comfortable on the regular wobble board.  How many steps can you put into your training before you even look at the teeter.

Once you are ready to take on the teeter you will want to play the bang game if your dog is fearful of the sound, working the dog at a comfortable distance for him, while someone makes small bangs with the teeter.  They will gradually get louder as you keep your dog busy.  Then you will move closer and start over again with quiet noise.

Once your dog is comfortable with that you will lower the teeter to it’s lowest setting and introduce your dog to it.  If he hesitates start back where he is comfortable.  Can your dog confidently work on the down contact instead of the approach first.  Keep asking your dog what he can do and start there.  You are constantly setting your dog up for success and building his confidence with each step.  If you take your time with your foundation work your dog will not only improve with the teeter, he will improve in at least three other areas as well.  Why?  What you are doing is actually training them how to control their emotions.  You can never tell someone that they cannot be afraid, their fear is real.  What you can do is help them gain control of their emotions so that when they become afraid, that fear cannot control them. So take your dog’s fear to heart, set up a lesson plan with as many steps as possible to help your dog grow in his confidence and courage all the while building your team and his trust in your leadership.

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2 Comments on “Dog Agility Have Your Dog Running Scared?

  1. My aussie is 1and she will do all of the obstacles, but seems to hate everyone. I am not pushing her, and I use lots of treats and praise, but she would rather be home on the couch. Should I continue the training at a slow pace or should I give up because of her laid back personality? Thanks, laura

    • That is a great question, Laura, and I am not sure that I can answer that for you. Dog agility is about building a stronger bond between You and Your dog not others. If you just started in her training it may take awhile for her to understand it is a game and start having a really good time with it. I would take it slow due to her age, but I wouldn’t give up. If you two are having fun, that is what it is about. If she doesn’t want to be social but is having fun that works.

      My GSD wasn’t social at all, but got better as we joined a group that did group walks once a week. He made a friend or two but never was a party animal. He didn’t start having fun on the equipment for some time, but once he figured out it was a game, he went into the ring tail wagging and ready to run. He didn’t set any speed records, but that is not why we were there. He never grew fond of all the other people and dogs, but he loved the runs.

      Not sure if that helped, but I would give it some more time.