Book Review: A Guide to Living with & Training a Fearful Dog

A Guide to Living with & Training a Fearful Dog
by Debbie Jacobs

What are YOU afraid of? Heights? The dentist? Flying? Small spaces? Open spaces? Mother-in-law? Clowns?

No, I'm not laughing. Fear of clowns isn't any less real than fear of something justifiable.

We are all afraid of something. Sometimes it's really just more of a worry. But sometimes it can be an incapacitating horror.

How many people do you know that would rather let their mouth rot out than go to a dentist? I know a few.

But the object of one's fear cannot always be simply avoided.

Some fear can be healthy. It's our instinct, preventing us from doing things that would be detrimental to our survival. But more often than not, fear gets out of control. This irrational fear doesn't serve any good purpose. But it doesn't make it any less powerful, on the contrary. Sometimes such fear can become debilitating.

And it doesn't matter at all whether the object of our fear is a real threat or not. It is to us.

My grandmother had a thyroid disease. She was so afraid of the surgery, that she kept refusing it until the disease severely damaged her heart. It came down to the choice between surgery or death. Her fear of death finally became stronger than her fear of the surgery. She got the surgery and lived, but he heart remained damaged for the rest of her life.

Our dogs can suffer from fear as well. 

And the word SUFFER needs to be emphasized here. They too can live a life where everyday objects or situations can be completely horrifying. Think of something you're truly terrified of. And now think of having to face it day in and day out.

Don't judge. Empathize! I KNOW there is something you're afraid of too.

How does it feel having to face it?

In her book, A Guide to Living with & Training a Fearful Dog, Debbie Jacobs is trying to get several points across.

We need to understand that the fear our dogs feel isn't any less real than the one we might suffer with ourselves. Instead of judging, we need to empathize and try to understand that they cannot control it any more than we can.

We need to develop an understanding and patient attitude towards our fearful dogs. 

They will do things we don't appreciate. They will do these things because that is the only way they know how to cope with the fear they're feeling.

Trying to change the behavior without dealing with the underlying fear won't get anybody very far. Instead, it is important to change how the dog FEELS. The behavior will change along with it.

Do you think that punishment can make the fear go away?

When, as a little girl, I was crying, my mom would often slap me around: “So I would have a reason to cry.” Well, I clearly HAD a reason to cry, didn't I, otherwise, I wouldn't? I really didn't need another one. Do you think it changed the way I felt about the situation that made me cry in the first place?

I wrote about this in my Never Shock the Puppy article. Punishment only PROMOTES fear. And I don't know many people tough love worked for either.

Forget the behavior, deal with the feeling.

Give your dog the time and opportunity to feel SAFE. The behavior will change.

Don't be fooled by how easy this sounds. It isn't.

In her book, Debbie shares her journey with her fearful dog, Sunny. After coming to her home, Sunny spent the first months covering in the corner. He would not leave the corner. He would live there, eat there, eliminate there. That's how severe Sunny's fear was.

Their journey is an invaluable lesson to all of us.

The book also includes helpful advice and tips on how to approach your fearful dog.

The most important things a fearful dog needs are love, patience, and understanding. And sometimes just space and time to heal.

If you're living with a fearful dog—or even if you don't—this book will change your way of looking at their behavior. It will change your lives for better.


  1. Desensitization works for dogs the same as it does for humans. Offer brief tolerable exposures to thing they fear and give them a treat. Gradually increase the exposure until they associate the thing they fear more with treats than with the feelings they used to have.

  2. Foster dog Cosmo has a fear of children and he gets defensive and growls. My dog Ace really isn't scared of much except smoke, and that's probably an OK thing to be scared of. He also gets scared if I am angry and raise my voice, so I try not to do that. Poor Ace.

  3. Yes, being afraid of smoke is a good thing. One of those survival fears.

    Seems that a lot of dogs are scared of children, I don't really blame them. I see how the kids around our place behave. Running up to the dogs, screaming, waving arms ... fortunately our guys are cool with that as long as there are some pets at the end of the display.

    Quite natural they'd be scared when their humans get angry. Except Jasmine. She won't be scared of me no matter what I'd do. She knows she owns me LOL

  4. Ohhhh if only our Jack Russells were scared of anything. They think they own the world :)

  5. I'm glad if he isn't! :-) But sometimes what might appear as aggression or bravery can be hidden fear with the attitude that offense is the best defense.


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