Does anyone remember the old show Fear Factor? Or you’ve probably seen ‘I’m a celebrity, Get me out of here!’?
Something potentially popular within these shows (but I detest) is the section of ‘bush tucker trials’ where celebs are put through their paces to confront their fears and often creepy crawlies are involved. Have you ever seen a celebrity go screaming into a tank full of spiders or snakes and come out smiling?
If you’re deathly afraid of spiders and I put a £50 note in a tank with some tarantulas in… would you grab it? What about £100? £1000?
Even if you reached in to grab the money you would likely do it as quickly as possible and then put as much space between yourself and the spiders as possible wouldn’t you? You may feel nauseous and your heart is beating fast and your palms feel sweaty.
You got the money. But it didn’t change the way you feel about spiders did it? It may have left you feeling even worse!
Now, imagine an anxious or fearful dog. Scared of strangers perhaps.. and that stranger is holding out an absolute favourite treat.
A dog may take the treat. But it doesn’t change the way they feel about strangers anymore than our spider hater feels differently about spiders.
Stay with me… we get to the practical application soon!
Dear spider hater. What if every time you noticed a small spider I pass you a £50 note and tell you to get out of the room while I remove it. Now, that’s a rewarding find right? You may even start trying to deliberately notice spiders and let me know? Bigger spiders earn you £100 and we go through the same process with zero pressure. It’s all under your control how hard you look for them and the distance you put between yourself and the spider.
I’m going to give you a super easy, practical way to help your dog when meeting new people.
Keep a distance. Ask the stranger to throw treats behind your dog and not get them to lure the dog forward or put pressure on the dog to move forward. Treat and Retreat. This is a protocol created by Suzanne Clothier and although there are lots of nuances, this is the basic premise.
The dog gets the reward and gets to increase distance from the thing they’re scared of!
That’s it. That can make so much difference! Keep things safe with your dog on a lead or behind a baby gate so you set your dog up to succeed and make good choices.
This teaches dogs that they can move away from something they are scared of, decreases risk of dog being pushed into conflict (both physical and emotional) and makes creating distance the most rewarding thing as well as building positive associations with the thing they’re scared of!
So, put yourself in your dog’s position and be their advocate. Tell your guests what to do and get in touch if you are wondering how this would work for you and your dog or would like some help with your anxious dog!