Even the most timid and insecure animal can flourish given enough time and the right circumstances (especially when a strong bond with good leadership is in play). It all begins with love, understanding, and putting a bit of thought into how we prepare our dogs for and introduce our dogs to elements of the world we want and expect it to function in. Animals need an opportunity to access and process new environments and input without adrenaline coursing through their system. We can help them navigate by keeping distance and stress levels in mind as we introduce our dogs to new, potentially uncomfortable or scary (for them!) situations. It is our responsibility not to put the dog in WAY over its head (where adrenaline takes over and rules the mind of the dog….be sure to read this post on Intense Feelings). We just may need to readjust our priorities….putting the development of our lifelong friend, the dog, ahead of something else on our to-do list. Maybe we interrupt our neighborhood walk or jog to cross the street or pull way off to the side while whatever it is that your dog is afraid of (a person, a person walking a dog, a bike, a car, etc.) goes by or maybe we stop our walk short of the yard where the dog always charges its invisible fence line as you go by. Actions like these on our part, can change what is usually a big reaction (maybe even a display of aggression) into a teachable moment. Being aware of and manipulating distance can set your dog up for success and progress in training (see space is important to dogs). As you venture out into the world at large with your dog, pay attention to the stress level of your dog and to the distance between the dog and whatever it is you’re introducing it to…try to keep the dog in a teachable state of mind and try to avoid tripping those intense “increase distance” directives.
We can also proactively help our canine friends become better able to handle and process stress and distress in general. Be sure to read about how to help your dog develop Problem Solving and Bounce Back skills. These two life skills together with a strong bond, good leadership (which can change the way interactions between you and your dog feel), and a bit of brainwashing (some may know that as classical conditioning) can enable you and your dog to successfully navigate the world as we know it with much less drama.