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Make a Positive Association

Fear is an interesting topic that many dog trainers will tell you lots of different things about how to "fix" it. The thing is, you can't "fix" fear totally, but there are lots of ways you can help your dog reduce and, in some cases, feel more comfortable around things that might have previously been scary.

One of the most common advice is to pare the scary thing with a good thing that the dog loves. Yes, in most cases, this is what you want to do. We call this a Positive Association, and the goal is to change the dog's emotion from a fearful response to a neutral or happy response.

This infographic is an excellent representation of what you could use to upgrade and pair with fun and rewarding items.

No, you can not reinforce fear. I will the details of that for another post someday. But, again, you will not reinforce fear by adding good things or comforting them in their time of distress.

This world will present so many things to your dog they could use an "Upgrade to 1st Class" around. Even if your dog is currently okay with the scary/stressful thing, it doesn't hurt to add a little extra cherry on top to ensure they never become fearful of it.

It's not uncommon for a dog to develop a fear of noises later on in life. My Belgian Malinios did! She developed a fear of booms (fireworks & gunshots). I was also able to help her with her anxiety through systematic desensitization, and then her hearing reduced as she aged. My point is fear can crop up at any stage of your dog's life.

Common fear-inducing or stressful situations where it pays to build positive associations, patterns, and consent routines for your dog:

  • Crating

  • Nail trims

  • Visits to vet, groomer, and kennels

  • Equipment

  • Loud noises (i.e., vacuum, fireworks, kids screaming.)

  • Vehicle rides and street traffic.

  • Alone time

  • Passing other dogs while on leash

  • Children playing

When using a positive association or reward, you need to know to give it AFTER the stressful event occurs.

An example is the vacuum cleaner:

  1. Prepare some tiny bits of your dog's favorite treat and place them in a bowl nearby.

  2. Turn on the vacuum for 2-3 seconds.

  3. Turn off the vacuum.

  4. Take a pinch of little treats, and sprinkle on the floor.

  5. Repeat 🔁 turning the vacuum on for longer periods and slowly introducing movement.

Yes, it can take a little bit of time upfront, but in the end, you will have a dog that sleeps and hangs out when the vacuum is running.

Suppose your dog struggles to overcome a specific fear or has many general fears or anxiety; please reach out to Kind Animal Services. Fear and anxiety can be severe issues to resolve, and if left untended, your dog could develop more serious behavior problems.

Email with any questions you might have on the process. We would be happy to answer them for free.

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Jane White
Jane White

Thank you for sharing this Kelsie! I'm going to try this method with my cat and the vacuum cleaner - he is not a fan of it at all! Let's see if we can upgrade vacuum time to First Class! 😍✈️

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