Help a dog overcome fear of an object

Dogs may be fearful of environmental objects like garbage cans, cars, and statues. Your goal is to help the dog get used to the object without scaring him. This process is called developing a conditioned emotional response through classical conditioning.

Help your dog change how he feels about something scary

1. Determine the distance at which the dog will eat delicious food and at which his body language appears relatively relaxed. The distance will be a measurement and/or environmental landmark so you may be precise (10 feet, by the grey car, at a particular crack in the pavement, etc.) Dogs that are frightened usually look small, orient backward, tuck their tails, lower their ears, and furrow their brows.

2. Feed the dog in the presence of the object. There should be a direct association between the object and the delivery of the food. The dog does not have to respond to an obedience command like Sit or Look — he just needs to make the association.

3. Change the distance systematically (6 inches closer, farther, etc.), noting how much closer or farther you are from the critical distance. Do not push the dog past the point at which he is relaxed and eating. Do not always move toward the object, but vary the distance to keep the dog under threshold and build confidence.


Your goal is to change how your dog feels in the presence of the object, not insist he come closer because you can compel him to. He should remain relaxed.

Most people want to move too quickly. Proximity to the object too quickly achieved does not mean you have changed the dog’s emotional response to it. It is better to do many trials at a distance than push the dog past the threshold in a misguided attempt to make progress.

Do not change the stimulus until the dog is relaxed in its original silhouette. For example, if the dog is afraid of garbage cans, do not move or touch them until he has habituated to them in their original position.

For objects that make noise or move, introduce the dog when they are quiet and stationary. Afterwards, take baby steps: turn on the motor, then turn it off; move it six inches, then back, etc.