Don't flood fear

Flooding:  a form of psychotherapy in which the patient receives abrupt and intense, rather than gradual, exposure to a fear-producing situation.

Fear comes in many forms. Fear is a common behavior issue in dogs and I have worked with many different fear based issues; all having different causes and levels. How you approach a solution to a fear based problem must be well thought out and researched. If you dive in; introducing the cause of fear at a 100% level; known as flooding, there is a great chance of more damage. I have a real soft spot for fearful dogs; its tough being in a human world without the benefit of speech.

If we are afraid of a situation, object or environment we can communicate our discomfort to the people around us. This lets everyone know upfront what is going on and why we may be acting in such a manner. For many dogs who are fearful; their guardian may not understand nor be able to help them tolerate or overcome their fear. Tackling fears should never be attempted with archaic methods of training or flooding. Force; both physical and mental only causes more fearful behaviors. Flooding is when someone puts the dog into their worst fear situation at a 100% level.

You must start working with a fear behavior at the lowest level of reaction; meaning you are looking for the point of reaction from the dog and want to move back further from that range. The best example I can explain this with is the very common arachnaphobia of humans, fear of spiders. The first step would probably be to drive by a building where there are known spiders, no spider in site. Getting closer to the building might take weeks or months depending on the level of your fear. But there is no point in trying to move to the next level; a more concentrated submergion if you cannot make it at the last level.

What you are trying to accomplish when working with a fear based behavior is to change the base behavior when around the fearful situation. Meaning that if your dog is unbelievably afraid of men wearing hats and has to this point barked, peed and basically come unglued; we want her to now look at men in hats as a good thing or at least non threatening. So you must take it slow; flooding puts your dog into a state of panic where nothing can be accomplished. You have to convince your dog that men in hats are a great thing and this is done with patience.

Slow and steady wins the race and definitely achieves a higher level of success when working with fear based behaviors. There is no hurry; each success should be a small one. I have broken some fear based behaviors down so small that no person other than the guardian and myself would even notice each step. A small success could be a glance; an ear raise or a change in body posture.

But wheatever your dogs fear; realized that this is very real to your dog. It is a sad way for a dog to live so do your research; hire a professional positive behavior specialist and help your dog to climb out of the fearful way of life they lead.


  1. My dog (a 1 year old Miniature Australian Shepherd mix about 20 pounds) was abused or neglected as a puppy. I rescued her when she was about 12 weeks old, so she missed the primary socializing stage of her life. She is now extremely fearful of any new people, but loves other dogs. I have been working very hard on not letting her fear turn into aggression and have so far been successful with that. She shakes and cowers down when people approach her, or she just runs away. But now I am having trouble getting rid of that fear. I have worked with 3 different trainers, including an in home private trainer, and nothing has really worked because she is afraid of the trainers. Do you have any suggestions for me so that hopefully some day she can live a normal life without constant fear? Thanks! I really enjoyed this post!

  2. This is so true. When my spoo didn't voluntarily run into the pond with all the other dogs, my husband tossed her off the pier. She FREAKED! And we assumed she just wasn't a swimmer (odd for a water retriever but hey). Over time she eventually got curious enough on her own that she edged in the water. Choruses of "good girl" and months later she is giving pond's lab a run for her money when the tennis balls go splash.

  3. Laura; it is very difficult but you must work very hard on ignoring anything but progress. And progress can mean 1/2" inch closer to someone without having a panic attack. You need to forget the approach for now and work on proximity. Make sure no one is looking at her and just work on getting closer. It is imperative that you be as chill as possible so you may need to do some work in that department. Often our own behavior is the toughest to conquer but you cannot help her if you get uptight.

  4. Thanks Sherri! I appreciate all your tips and will definitely use them! My ultimate goal is to be able to take her out in public without her panicking.


Love to hear from you.