Do you have a very sensitive and reactive dog? Sometimes dogs could become fearful with loud noises like the sound of thunder, car horns, and even fireworks. Other dogs become afraid while being alone, or when they are isolated.
Dogs are naturally sensitive because they have heightened senses as compared to other animals. Thus, even silent sounds can be heard very well by dogs.
Dogs may all have the same heightened senses, but various dogs have different temperaments and could react differently with different stimuli. Some dogs that are confident may not even flinch even if they managed to hear loud noises.
But for some dogs that are shy and isolated, they may try to run away or escape whenever there’s trouble. Also, shy and reactive dogs may not manage to recover from fearful experiences very well as compared to more confident dogs.
Younger dogs are more open to novel experiences since they have not matured enough. Puppies can be socialized to new experiences which can be positively associated, making them grow to a more confident adult dog.
Desensitizing your dog may involve exposing him to these new experiences and teach him how to handle them. Below are the steps to desensitization of our sensitive dogs.
Desensitizing your dogs to sounds
Desensitizing initially works by exposing him to low levels at first. Afterwards, the intensity will be slowly increased until over time, your dog will be able to stay at high levels of the stimuli.
1. Record the noise that makes your dog afraid
Record a digital copy of the sound that your dog is afraid of. This may be the sound of fireworks, the sound of thunder, or any loud noise.
2. Play the recording in loop
Look for some good speakers and play the recording on it repeatedly. Make sure that the volume is low enough that your dog wouldn’t be extremely reactive. Just remember that your dog should be able to stay calm with the volume.
3. Engage with your dog
Bond with your dog while the music is playing in the background. Establish some focus and obedience training exercises and follow thru the regimen. Reward your dog well whenever he manages to follow the commands while staying calm.
4. Increase the intensity
You can see if your dog manages to stay calm during the training while the sound is playing on the background. If he does, increase the volume slightly and repeat the training.
5. Observe your dog during training
Check if your dog is improving during training even while the sound is on the background. If he stopped receiving treats, then it might have been because he can’t handle the increased intensity yet.
Thus, it is better if you can lower the intensity down again. If your dog is calm again, repeat engaging with your dog.
6. Keep desensitization sessions short
Dogs may sometimes have short attention spans. It is recommended to keep the sessions short but meaningful so that your dog will be able to associate the sounds more positively.
7. Continuous training
Repeat the above methods until your dog manages to become less fearful of the sounds that you have recorded. Observe if your dog manages to stay calm even during loud noises that you have not recorded. This means that he is able to positively associate the sounds with the treats that you give during training thus he managed his anxiety over the sounds.
In this video, Kaelin shows you how to desensitize a reactive dog using counter-conditioning!
Desensitizing your dogs to people
Some dogs are very threatened whenever there are people in their presence. Thus, it could help your dog if you desensitize him to the presence of people.
1. Go to the park
The park is the best way to expose your dog to people. However, you may prefer staying on a quieter side of the park. Thus, it may seem public but with less volume of people around you, so he wouldn’t overwhelmed.
2. Ask for a friend to help you
Sit on a bench while you are with your dog on the leash. Sit with your friend while your dog is on the leash with you. Your friend’s presence serves as the practice ‘stranger’ for your dog.
3. Let your dog calm himself
By letting your friend serve as a buffer for your dog, little by little, he will be accustomed to his presence. You may opt to get close to your friend as the minutes go by, making your dog realize that the person is not harmful or threatening in any way.
4. Allowing your dog to approach
If your dog still stays far from the both of you, it is recommended to do recall training. Call your dog by his name until he comes over. If he is still afraid, let him take his time. Once he manages to approach you with your call, reward him with a delicious treat. Allowing him to associate with the approach positively is a good way to make him learn.
5. Make your friend pet your dog
Let your friend approach your dog and pet him. At first, your friend may have to do this slowly. But as time goes by, your dog gets accustomed to your friend’s petting. You can see that he is used to petting already if you can see his body not tensing up and his heartbeat’s calm.
6. Approach other people
Now it’s time to let your dog be exposed to other people. Little by little, as you walk every day, introduce your dog to busier parts of the park. Observe if your dog seems to be threatened whenever new stimuli is being introduced to him.
Once he manages to make himself calm down even with the huge amount of people, then you would know that the desensitization is successful. if not, then trace back your steps and let him get accustomed to a single person, then two, then in increments as long as he manages to make himself calm.
By following the above desensitization steps, you are letting your dog get accustomed to what makes him feel threatened even though it should not threaten him in any way. Remember that patience and consistency is the key with this training.
Have fun with your dog!