Transformative Dog Training in Salt Lake City, Nashville, and Charleston, SC

Unusual Methods: Working Through Fear


With this post I want to talk about overcoming fear, perhaps in a manner that you aren’t familiar with. While I have written about this subject in the past, I want to cover some new ground.

Today I had my last private session with a particular client before they start coming to our group sessions. This client had gotten a two-year-old rescue dog whose history and background was totally unknown. When she first got the dog, she was scared of everything: sounds, people, and even her own shadow. Since she was an exceptionally nervous dog who didn’t like to cuddle, her owner really wished that she would bond more with her. A lot of owners want physical affection from their dogs, and this dog just wasn’t into that.

I can still remember sitting in our first session and taking about this issue. The client asked me: “What can we do to get her to want to bond with me? How can we help her get over this fear?” She had tried many things that you would naturally do, like giving the dog lots of treats. Unfortunately, however, the dog’s fear was bigger than her desire for treats. In a moment of fear, the challenges she faced overcame any of the need she felt to get a treat.

In our first session, I told the owner that I wasn’t sure what would happen, but that I hoped that as we worked through obedience training, she and her dog would bond naturally. Today was the last season in our Transforming Your Dog In Sixty Days Program. We’re essentially two months into the program, so I asked this client how her and her dog had been bonding recently. Her response? “It’s great! She wants to please me now, she wants to work for me and cuddle with me. She’s excited when I get home.” Not only that, but she’s not afraid of people and situations she used to fear.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, we went about this process in an unconventional way: we used an electric collar to get her over her fear. Conventional wisdom from modern training techniques would tell us to never use an electric training collar with this type of dog, as it would make her more afraid. A lot of people don’t understand what the electric collar is actually for. They think it’s for telling a dog that they did something bad or wrong. To be fair, that can be part of training protocol, if the dog is biting or chewing on a table leg. But that was not this dog’s problem. She had none of those issues—she was fearful and didn’t bond.

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So how did an electric collar help her overcome fear and bond with her owner? Through solid obedience. If you’re dealing with a dog who has fear and anxiety, then you’ll want to read this next section very carefully.

Fear is uncertainty. Fear is not knowing what to do about your surroundings. Fear is not understanding how to process what’s going on around you. Fear is feeling like you need to handle things on your own without the proper equipment. What is the antidote for those feelings?

Fear comes from a hectic state of mind, but obedience comes from a very calm state of mind. For that reason, a calm mindset can drive out many fears. An electric collar, used on a very low level, is an amazing way to break through fear. It’s not about punishing the dog, but teaching them how to be obedient. As the level of obedience elevates, that fear goes down and dissipates and goes away.

Obedience also solves a lot of relationship issues. Most of the dogs I meet who have real chronic fear problems almost always have some sort of underlying relationship issue. These issues are sometimes big and sometimes small. Maybe the dog doesn’t have trust in their owner to take care of scary situations, or doesn’t focus on the owner in a leadership role like they should. But as a dog learns obedience, they also learn to put their owner’s will first. That’s important. We don’t want to be domineering jerks toward our dogs, but we do want to help them develop good instincts. The dog I was speaking about earlier had instincts that told her she should be afraid of everything. But as she started to put her owner’s will above her own, she learned not to run away from things that scared her and looked to her owner for leadership.

The fear went away because of two different things: creating strong leadership and cultivating a healthy state of mind. Both of those elements came from solid obedience, which in turn came from the electric collar training that was done.

Comprehending this is counterintuitive to many people. But with the scientific research that we have available today, modern dog trainers can do a lot of amazing things. Once you understand that, you can help your dog get over so many fears and challenges. You need to understand what’s happening in your dog’s brain before you can help them work through it.

An electric collar, used correctly, can help with fear; an electric collar used incorrectly can lead to more fear. The tool itself is neither good nor bad. The tool, applied approver alongside modern scientific training, is what produces results. In a matter of two months, it helped an owner overcome an enormous amount of fear and achieve a great deal of bonding. She now has a normal, healthy, obedient dog.

Whatever your dog is dealing with, you can see similar results if you also create those two elements: great obedience that leads to a new state of mind and great relationships.

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