Announcement: The Fearful Dogs Project has just received a Phase II research grant from Maddie’s Fund. This will allow us to take and share the program to another rescue, and to evaluate and publish the results of our research. Many, many #ThanksToMaddie for this wonderful opportunity for many deserving, loving animals and many devoted, caring people who will get to learn more ways to help them!
The Fearful Dogs Project is devoted to improving the world of and for fearful, feral, and traumatized dogs, and to helping people learn how to help these misunderstood, marginalized animals evolve into happy dogs able to enjoy their lives with their humans. The program covers topics such as misconceptions about fearful dogs, the risks of haphazard labels, the common things that good people do attempting to help fearful dogs that tend to backfire, unfortunate and dangerous training methods and equipment that should not be used, and instruction in training / behavior modification methods that are humane, ethical, evidence-based, and anti-aversive.
At the core of The Fearful Dogs Project are a few guiding principles for living / working with a fearful dog:
1. Ensure the dog is safe at all times.
2. Help the dog feel safe at all times.
3. Teach the guardian/handler to avoid aversive situations and methods, employing R+ and counterconditioning instead.
4. Train the dog with the skills needed to comfortably exist in and operate in her/his world
5. Make a commitment to avoid installing learned helplessness
6. Support the dog’s ongoing evolution by following these principles throughout the dog’s lifetime.
The Fearful Dogs Project offers assistance with*:
-Calming/stabilization of shy, skittish, fearful, traumatized, and feral dogs
-Behavioral/emotional rehabilitation & training for fearful, timid, skittish, traumatized, and feral dogs
-Stationing skills for veterinary visits, to lower the stress for dogs and humans during visits
-Key R+ and classical conditioning skills for groomers, pet sitters, vet techs, kennel workers, and others, to lower the stress and chances of injuries for everyone
-Long-distance consultations for those who have no appropriate, non-aversive resources in their regions
-Training programs for rescues, shelters, and other animal professionals
Additional program offerings will be added as funds and scheduling allow.
*Note: This page uses a combination of layperson terminology and animal trainer/behaviorist terminology. Terms such as “rehabilitation” and “calming,” used here and on all SSAS pages are simply non-technical ways of describing to the general public what we do. Scientifically speaking, everything we do is accomplished via R+ training (operant conditioning) and counterconditioning (classical conditioning).
Check this page for updates to this list. View some past cases and examples of our work on The Fearful Dogs Project Facebook page.
The Fearful Dogs Project is devoted to helping dogs evolve in spite of fear and trauma so that they may enjoy their lives as companion animals with as little stress and as much joy as possible.
The Dangers of Being a “Fearful” Dog:
Most people are aware that dogs deemed highly aggressive often are at risk of being euthanized, whether by animal control or by their owners. Fewer people are aware that sometimes, dogs demonstrating fearful behaviors are also at risk of being euthanized. These dogs may be euthanized in shelters because they are considered unadoptable, or because they are misdiagnosed as aggressive dogs if their fear leads them to try to protect themselves from humans whom they have experienced as not giving them the space or proper handling required for a scared dog to decompress and/or recover. Or they may be taken to vets for euthanasia by their frustrated owners. Additionally, dogs with unaddressed fear may be at risk of self-injury, and often are escape risks, which increases their risk of permanent loss, accidental injury or death, or worse.
A fearful dog often is a misunderstood dog–or perhaps more accurately, a misinterpreted dog. We should not presume to know what a dog is thinking, but we can change or improve the conditions in each dog’s life, which is great since those conditions are largely the source of their fears and other emotional states. Unfortunately there also is a lot of misunderstanding about how this is achieved, and much of what is currently being done in our society increases fear in an already scared dog, yet due to learned helplessness in the animals involved, the people involved often are unaware of the risks of their methods.
There are many examples–too many to list here–but a notable, unfortunate practice that we see over and over again is known as “flooding.” Flooding is, essentially, attempting to force a cure of a fear by immersing or overwhelming the animal in or with the thing of which s/he is afraid. For example, a person taking a dog who is afraid of people and/or other dogs on a walk through a retail store or a dog park to ‘get it used to’ them is flooding that dog. Insisting that the dog accept treats from strangers, or insisting that strangers pet the dog before the dog is allowed to move away from the strangers, would also be flooding. There are more obvious and less obvious examples of flooding. The point is, forcing a dog to “face your fear” only furthers scares the dog, decreases trust in the forcer, and can result in the dog developing learned helplessness, which comes with its own set of emotional and behavioral concerns.
More on learned helplessness later. For now, we want you to know that we are here to help guardians, handlers, rescuers, shelters, caretakers, animal welfare professionals, et cetera, learn how to better treat fear in the animals who rely on them for their recovery and their very lives.
The Fearful Dogs Project seeks funding. Email the Director for information.
The Fearful Dogs Project is a proud recipient of funding from Maddie’s Fund®, helping to achieve a no-kill nation #ThanksToMaddie.”