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Dog Training/Fearful dog


I have a two-year-old mixed breed dog (probably Irish terrier, border collie, Golden) that we rescued and has become increasingly fearful. At home she's fine, and she does okay in the car or in another friend's house. But if we try to walk her in the street, within 200 feet she pulls to get back in the car or back to the house -- and she's strong! She's at the verge of panic. We thought that exposing her to the outside world would condition her to feel safe, but it actually seems to be getting worse. Suggestions? Happy to answer any questions. Thanks.

Hi Roger. With fearful dogs you have be careful of sensitizing her (opposite of desensitizing) her to situations. If this happens, her fear can increase and she can start to generalize her anxiety. It sounds like this is happening.

You need to keep in mind that there is no way to speed up fear treatment. If a person is afraid of being in an elevator, it can take a lot of therapy and a lot of work to condition that person to be calm in elevators.

Dogs are similar in that she has a certain response to situations, and it can take a long time to fix.

You might want to consider anti-anxiety medication if you don't see the situation improving. That is something for you and your vet to discuss.

In the meantime, go very slowly and use treats to create a positive association using classical conditioning. If she can only go 10 feet away from your house (for example) stay at that distance and give her treats when she notices anything that happens including traffic, noises, people, etc. Make sure you use treats she LOVES and if she doesn't take a treat, that is a sign of anxiety. Move her away from what she is afraid of and work at a farther distance (or closer to your home) where she is comfortable.

It is critically important to go slow. It can be a long road.

Good luck.  

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Jeff Millman


I studied with Jean Donaldson in San Francisco in 2002. She is one of the foremost dog trainers anywhere and I sought her out and traveled from Chicago to work with her. I am expert in all phases of dog development in regards to training. I can offer advice from young puppies through adult including aggression, separation anxiety and barking. While aggression is often handled best in person by a skilled positive reinforcement trainer, a lot of advice can be spread in this forum. I have written EBooks on separation anxiety and barking and am currently writing a book about dog aggression.


I have been working as a full-time professional dog trainer since 2002. I only use positive reinforcement techniques and am well-versed in using the clicker. My clients do not have to use a clicker to have success using my techniques. I started teaching 14 classes a week for the first two years while I was building up my private practice, Chicago Paws. Since 2004 I have worked exclusively as a private trainer in the Chicago area. On January 1, 2007 I launched an online version of my business that can be viewed at Watch and Train. At you will find streaming videos for purchase that play directly on your computer and cover a variety of specific topics including house training, jumping, come when called, counter surfing and leash walking.

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Dog training: I graduated with honors from Jean Donaldson's Academy for Dog Trainers in San Francisco, CA. I attended Karen Pryor;s Clicker Expo in Chicago, IL. I attended week-long APDT conferences in Portland Oregon, Orlando, Florida and Oakland, California. I attended a Pat Miller seminar in Chicago, IL. Previous education: Journalism and Fine Arts degree from Indiana University.

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