Virginia Simpson and Chance

Working Through Fear with Consistency

by Virginia Simpson, Unleashed Canine Obedience

Everything changes.  Everything.  Some things slower than others, but change is a part of life here on earth.  Some of the dogs I work with appear to be more “sensitive” to change than others.  They are very concerned the first day or two of training, trying to figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Some dogs seem to be born with very sensitive dispositions.  They react strongly to loud noises, fast movements and/or anything new in their environment.  More often than not it is a fear of the unknown coupled with a lack of trust in the leadership of those around them.  And it is an exhilarating thing to watch a dog move out from under the burdensomeness of fear and into a life of freedom and wonder!

Every dog is coming from a different place and there are a series of steps I move them through to bring them to a place of balance and well trained behavior.  Some steps just last longer for certain dogs.  But I start out and end with consistency because consistency is the trait of someone that is a good leader.   It is a trait of anyone worth following.  I try to be as consistent as I can in my actions and reactions to a particular type of situation in order to draw out a desired behavior from the dog I’m working with. 

Let’s use for example, a strange dog walking towards us.  For some dogs, this can be a very stressful situation.  Some of these dogs will attempt to run away and some will bark loudly and ferociously in an attempt to scare away the other dog.  The distractions may be and should be different in order to train for reliability of commands, but my movements, my demeanor and my intentions should remain consistent.  This way the dog will begin to generalize and will begin to trust that I actually do in fact have everything under control.  (If only my 17 year old daughter would grasp this, I’d be all set!) 

If something is consistently the same, it becomes a no brainer.  The dog will not have to think about who will take charge of any given situation, because I always do.  And this removes the fear of the unknown and allows the dog to relax and just follow my lead.  But you need to work through a number of different distractions to develop the pattern.  So you need both consistency and enough change to work through the fear so that the dog will begin to understand that even though the situation is different in the details, the same behavior is expected each time.

My expectations for a particular behavior from the dog never changes.  As we work through a number of different dogs, or whatever the dog is initially fearful of, in a number of different locations, this generalization starts happening and the fear will begin to dissipate.  The shift will happen where the dog begins to follow.  And if the dog is “following” you that means you are the leader in your dog’s eyes.  And that is a good thing!


Virginia L. Simpson
Certified Dog Trainer
Unleashed Canine Obedience, LLC
IACP Member #3141
Phone:  513.317.7484