Help for Your Fearful Dog

book review

"Help for Your Fearful Dog" by Nicole Wilde is an encyclopediac text on use of Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning to treat a variety of fears that dogs may have. I consider this an excellent book for all dog people, as sooner or later you will deal with a fear situation and fear can easily lead to biting.

Book Review : Help For Your Fearful Dog, by Nicole Wilde

reviewed by Pam Green, © 2014

I lucked into a copy of "Help for Your Fearful Dog" by Nicole Wilde. I think this book is excellent and I strongly recommend it as an encylopediac treatment of the topic. It's critically important for everyone dealing with dogs to recognize and be able to deal with fear in dogs, as fear is at the root of so many behavior issues, including the great majority of "aggression" and biting issues.

The first part of the book covers fear as a cause of aggression, nature and causes of fear, how to recognize fear in the body language of dogs, and how human body language can exacerbate or soothe a dog's fear..

The next part of the book covers the foundational training that builds a calm dog, then the following part covers training the foundation skills that prepare a fearful dog for rehabilitation. Most of these two sections would be relevant to any dog, including the naturally bold and confident dog. Wilde's "leadership program" is essentially a version of what most behaviorists call "Nothing in Life is Free", abreviated as "NILIF", though Wilde very correctly points out that access to drinking water must be "free", ie always available. I'd add that for most dogs the NILIF program eventually gets relaxed as the relationship becomes more and more secure on the part of both the dog and the human.

Then comes the encylopedia of specific kinds of fear and detailed protocols (step by step treatment plans) for ameliorating or curing the dog. While not every fear can be totally cured, most can be greatly ameliorated if one is willing to do the work.

The step by step detail in the protocols is detailed enough for the least imaginative student, and anyone reading the entire set should then be able to construct their own protocol for any other problem, even in another species . For example, if one read the chapters on crates and cars, one should see how to teach a naive horse to load and ride in trailer and how to rehabilitate a horse fearful of trailers due to bad experience.

There's enough repetition as needed within each chapter and very good cross-referencing to materials elsewhere in the book. One could envision a CD or DVD or Web version with hyperlinks for the cross-references..

The list of specific fears is extensive :

The only things I see missing are more treatment of fireworks and a chapter on food guarding.

Fireworks are normally predictable as to when and where they will occur, so one does have the option of arranging to take the dog somewhere sufficiently distant from the fireworks display. Desensitizing could be difficult because there's probably scent as well as noise and sight, plus at closer range the air pressure "whoomp" I don't know to what extent repetition of televised fireworks could be used. Possibly the scent of cap pistol shots might be similar enough to scent of fireworks, but I really do not know. Wilde advises against use of acepromazine(includeing reasons I had not previously known) for thunderstorm fear and the same would apply to fireworks, while advising that a veterinarian might prescribe some other pharmacological help. She suggests that the hormone melatonin might be helpful for thunderstorm fear, and logically the same might be true for fireworks.

Food guarding is usually classified as an "aggressive" issue, but really it could justifiably be considered as a form of fear, as the underlying emotion is anxiety or fear of having one's food taken away or being chased away from food. This fear may have been learned by dogs who have had to survive on street by raiding garbage cans, having to defend this survival food against other dogs and against humans trying to chase the dog away. From evolutionary forces, no doubt dogs are somewhat genetically "hard-wired" to be possessive of food once it is right near their paws and jaws. (As Kipling said, "the kill of the wolf is the meat of the wolf", and dogs retain this posessiveness.).

Anyway the generally recommended protocol for cure is essentially similar to desensitization and counter-conditioning. One lets dog eat in peace (preferably on other side of a barrier, eg stretch gate or X-pen) and casually passes by tossing a treat towards dog. Later one casually walks up and tosses or drops yummy treat. Eventually one can nudge bowl with a long reach grasping tool such as BBQ tongs (not your vulnerable hand) while dropping treats into or near bowl. Next one can pick up bowl 1 inch with tool 2 and drop in treats. Then pick up bowl 2" and treats. And so on, proceding step by step until the dog has clearly become totally overjoyed at human reaching towards bowl. Optionally at some stage in this progression one could start to ask the dog to "Sit" before one actually delivers the treat. Optionally one might at later stages occasionally call the dog to leave the bowl, initially just a tiny distance, and "Come" to you to receive a wonderful treat or several wonderful treats from your hands.

Instead of just bare tool, one could attach a grasping tool to an arm and hand bought at costume store, ie attach it to Sternberg's Assess-a-Hand. This treat-giving hand would be a better shelter test than the annoying invading hand as used by Sternberg and so many shelters. (I'd get annoyed if a human friend or stranger (!) were to behave that way towards my own meal while I was eating. wouldn't you ?)

(Not every dog can be cured of food guarding. but if not, management by feeding on other side of barrier is something any thoughtful person could do. I had a dog like that, Shady, who was a very nice dog in every other way. If a dog only guards certain high value items, like bones, well dogs can live quite well without those items or could have those items only when crated..)

The final section deals with complementary therapies and helpful tools. This book was published in 2006, so for some of the tools, other versions have since appeared. Finally there is a list of resources, mostly other books , web sites, and sources for some of the products discussed.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 10/25/2014 revised 10/25/2014
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