My Puppy is a Scaredy Cat

By Sally Bradbury

The world can be a scary place for a puppy sometimes, so it is important that we don’t put him into situations that he cannot cope with.

If your puppy is scared of big, fat, bearded men in red coats, then you can just keep him away from the chimney on Christmas Eve. However, if your puppy is scared of everyday things, like the vacuum cleaner, the dog behind the fence up the road, or visitors to the house, then you will need to help him learn not to fear them.

Constant exposure to something that produces a fearful response will ensure that the puppy becomes increasingly fearful and there is the risk that it can become a real fear or phobia.

Let’s take the vacuum cleaner as an example. There will be two stages to this, as vacuum cleaners look and sound scary. We can start by letting puppy see the ‘scary monster’ in the room and giving him a food treat every time he looks at it or investigates it. Once he is completely relaxed, we might push it or pull it a couple of inches across the carpet while puppy watches and enjoys a treat with each movement.

Before we plug in and turn on the vacuum cleaner, puppy needs to be as far away as possible, preferably in another room. You’ll need a helper to turn on a stationary vacuum cleaner while you feed puppy a succession of treats. Over several sessions, he’ll not only get used to the noise and sight of it moving, but he will associate it with the food and positive feelings instead of negative ones.

Counter-conditioning, which is pairing something positive with a low level of something scary, is not about changing behaviour, but about how the dog feels; it’s about his emotional response.

Learn to recognise when your pup is scared. Allow him to retreat and watch from a distance.

Quote from Debbie Jacobs of

I hate to sound flippant when people ask what they need to do to help their fearful dog and I say, “stop scaring them. Don’t do things to them that scare them. Don’t put them into situations that scare them. Don’t let other people or dogs scare them. Just stop scaring them”.