Graduate professor and researcher Margaret Ann Dimond serves as an assistant professor at Michigan State University, where she teaches courses on organizational leadership and nonprofit administration. A longtime dog lover, Margaret Ann Dimond supports the Michigan Humane Society, which publishes an abundance of information related to pet behavior.
Early in life, dogs can display fear corresponding to certain external stimuli or perhaps to a specific person or situation. Rescued animals often exhibit fearful responses when they are in an environment that reminds them of an abusive situation. Once these fears have become manifest, it is important to address them immediately before they exacerbate and become more serious.
Initially, it is important to resist the urge to provide immediate comfort to a dog when it displays fear. It may seem counterintuitive, but by petting the dog, the owner is reinforcing an unhelpful cycle by “rewarding” the animal for being fearful.
Instead, a common method of addressing fear in dogs is by implementing a thorough desensitization process. Owners do this by systematically exposing the dog to smaller versions of its fears while repeating “trick and reward” activities during the exposure. It’s important to start small with this process. Only escalate the desensitization process once the dog has shown it is comfortable with the current level of stimulus.
If a dog has become so fearful of a particular person, or types of people, that it has become aggressive, owners are encouraged to seek the help of a dog behavior professional rather than try to tackle the issue on their own.