Wednesday , 17 January 2018

Ask A Trainer: dog is fearful of the leash

Just adopted a chinese crested powder puff, 2 yrs old from an emergency rescue. She was used for repeated breeding. She gave birth to 5 puppy 3 months ago. Each time I try to put the leash on she freezes, and when dragged doesn’t move. Also regresses and all behaviours. Subsequently cannot be taken for a walk. Your precious assistance will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,


Hi there Evelyn,

Thanks for writing in with your question! It’s never easy to deal with a dog who is suffering from fear issues. Our intentions are always good, caring and loving, yet things aren’t always perceived that way by our fearful dogs.

Your short message doesn’t give me very much to go on though. I don’t know how old she is, if she’s been spayed, if you know anything else about her history, or behavior. I am assuming that the puppies are not with you?

What I can glean though, is that your little girl is a fearful one. I would imagine that when she was with whoever had her before, that she wasn’t taught very much, and that she didn’t get as much exposure to many of the things that most pet dogs are very used to. She may have also lacked proper socialization as well.

When it comes to dealing with dogs who become fearful of certain things, we need to remember to slow things down. We can’t expect too much from these little guys. Some are just too scared, and just don’t know. This is where we have to step in as caring, patient teachers.

She will need to be taught everything in a very positive, patient manner. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll have noticed that I speak a lot about what motivates dogs, and how we can motivate them to behave how we want them to behave.

All dogs will do, or choose to do what pays off best for them. Dogs will do what they need to do to make sure that their basic needs are met, in order to survive. They (as well as almost every creature, us included, that I can think of) happen to be very selfish beings. They will not do things for no reason at all. There is always a reason. There are always motivated by something. Either the behavior pleases them, meets one of their needs, or scares, or even hurts them.

Dogs need to be motivated to elicit behaviors, as well as to suppress behaviors. What we need to do is to figure out how to best motivate our dogs. We can use positive methods, where we use motivators that the dog finds pleasurable, or we can use motivators that either hurt or scare the dog. Those are the two basic things that motivate dogs.

I choose to use positive, pleasurable motivators when working with dogs. Even though I always advise people to use positive methods with their dogs, I cannot stress it enough when it comes to working with fearful, or shy dogs. Anything that forces the dog to do something will only create more fear in a dog who is already fearful. And if you create more fear in a dog, even inadvertently, without even meaning to, then all you are doing is creating a negative association for your dog. No positive can come out of eliciting more fear.

So, we need to figure out how to read when your dog is starting to get fearful. Learning dog body language is very important when it comes to better understanding what our dogs are telling us, and what they are feeling. Each time you try to put the leash on her, she is probably giving off many calming/appeasement signals. She offers these before you even get close to her, probably. Once she freezes, she is more than just nervous. She is scared.

So try to watch out for appeasement signals. These can be licking of lips, or nose. Averting eyes, turning head away, walking or creeping very slowly, furrowed brows, whale eyes (where you can see the whites of the eyes), closing of mouth, a tight face, lifting of a paw, yawning when not sleepy, shaking themselves (as if they are wet), sniffing the ground, sitting, lying down, turning back to you, either while standing, sitting, or lying down. Freezing or crouching down. All of these, within the context of triggers are appeasement, or calming signals from your dog. They indicate that your dog is experiencing stress, and is trying to alleviate that stress.

(Please click and enlarge the images below for more examples of body language.  Article continues below). 












Once we learn these canine signals, we then have to listen to them. To appear less threatening, or as more friendly to dogs, we should take care not to look at them straight in the eyes. The way we approach them also matters. Dogs approach each other in a curve…nose to bum. They don’t meet head on. So, when walking towards your dog, do so in an arc, without looking at your dog.

Another good thing to do is to present your side to your dog. Frontal approaches can be seen as threatening. When you touch or pet your dog, try to pet her from under her chin, or on her chest. Try not to touch the top of her head, the sides of her face, or her back. Never loom over her, as this is also perceived as being threatening.

For those things that she finds fearful, such as a leash, a brush, the nail clippers, or anything else, you will need to start to slowly desensitize her to the items. It is best to start these exercises with a hungry dog, as she will be even more motivated by the food (positives) that you will be offering her. Make sure to have small, soft treats. Make them even more interesting than her kibble. Something really awesome such as fried hot dog slices (thin), some peanut butter, small pieces of cheese, dried liver, or something else that you know will drive her nuts. You will also need to make sure that you don’t use these special food rewards at any other time. We need to make them even more alluring to her, so if you give them to her all the time, they will not be as valuable to her. We want her to feel that she’s won the lottery when this great food reward is paired with what causes her fear.

At first we will just present the item to the dog and then treat her. See it, get a treat. See it, get a treat. We want her to start to look forward to seeing the leash, as she will learn that when the leash comes out, she wins the lottery and get a piece of yummy sliced hot dog! The goal is not to get her to do anything. The goal is to counter condition how she feels about the leash. The goal is to make her associate positive things with the leash.

Change a fearful dog's view of the leash and you'll change your walk experience!

You may need to do this exercise for a few days. Short sessions, of maybe 5 minutes at a time, around 4-5 (or more if you like, just don’t go over board) times a day. You will know that you are doing it right, and have done it long enough when she starts to get excited at seeing the leash. When that happens, then you have successfully changed her opinion about it.

Now, you will start bringing the leash (clipping end) to her collar, while offering her a reward. You will touch the leash to her collar, reward her, then remove the leash again. you won’t be attaching the leash to the collar, only touching the leash to the collar. You will follow the same steps as the previous exercise, working enough until she starts to anticipate and even look forward to the leash touching her collar.

Once that’s done, you’ll then work up to actually attaching the leash to the collar while rewarding her. Once you attach it, you’ll take it off again. Keep doing this over and over, until she looks forward to it, and it no longer bothers her.

Once she’s good with that, you can continue with putting the collar on, and leaving it on. Start with small amounts of time with it on, then take it off. when you can build up to a decent amount of time, you can then practice fun, pleasurable things with your dog while she is wearing the leash, so that she makes an even more positive association with it.

Don’t try walking her with it yet. We want her to get so used to it, and even like it, before we start anything like walking. So you can play with her when she’s on the leash, letting her drag it around. You can feed her while she has her leash on. You can rub her belly while she has her leash on. We need to show her that wonderful things happen when she has the leash on.

Once she gets accustomed to the leash, then we can start walking with her, in the house. You will need to take special care to always keep the leash loose and lax. Try to never pull on the leash. When you pull on the leash, she will resist, which you’ve already noticed. Use your voice, or treats, or toys to entice her to move with you. Praise her and get excited and happy when she does.

You will also need to keep in mind to slowly wean her off of the food rewards as well. Once you are working on each exercise, the more comfortable she gets with each stage, is when you start handing out treats less often. But you need to start off each new exercise with the treats, and then wean off, the more accustomed she gets.

Keep practicing this over and over until you feel that she seems ready to try outside. With patience and more patience and practice, I know that you will succeed!

Good luck and happy training!





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  1. Every animal has fear of some thing. dog is the creature of habit and routine so its all depend on you that how they will be. There are different ways of dog training its depend on you which one you prefer like training with punishment or training with reward.

  2. Another suggestion would be to try a harness to see if the dog might be more comfortable that way. A lot of dogs do better with harnesses.

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