Week 1 - The Lay of the Land

The first step in Empowerment is teaching your dog how to feel safe in the location they are presently in at any given time. We do this through food, comfort, and escape. 


Food is used to create a positive association with a scary or stressful stimuli. When applied to a new location, we sprinkle food on the ground and allow the dog to eat it, while taking in the environment almost subconsciously. If the dog will not eat the treats sprinkled on the ground, they are likely too stressed and anxious already. Under these circumstances, sprinkle the treats in a corner behind a chair or other object far away from stimuli or if outside, sprinkle treats in grass or bushes a distance away from distractions and stressors.


It is impossible to reinforce fear with comfort. If your dog is afraid, please comfort them. But make sure you are comforting them in ways that they like. Most dogs prefer to be held or clutched rather than petted. Other dogs hate to be restrained and prefer petting. Learn your dog's preferences. When your dog is anxious and looking for reassurance, support your dog with a soothing voice and comforting touch. 


If neither of the the other two things mentioned above are helping your dog, then what they need is escape to move away from the thing causing them stress. Distance allows the dog to calm down, stop the flow of stress hormones, and allow the dog to reassess the situation. Without escape dogs will freeze or worse, react aggressively to make the stressor go away. Preventing escape can also traumatize a dog to future attempts are facing the thing they are frightened of. Escape does not have to mean quitting and never returning. It can mean walking the dog away momentarily and then bringing them back to the situation. Without escape the dog has no control, and without control we can't have empowerment.

Start Slow

Don't take locations for granted. Slight changes in location, environment, and even surfaces can count as something new to conquer. "New locations" that deserve their own attention include; the car, your spouse's car, the vet, the groomer, your street, downtown, festivals, the park, that other park, the deserted park, the busy park, the dog park, your friend's house, your relative's house, two blocks down, etc. Note that basically I am mentioning every location in your pets life. That's correct. Because for a fearful dog, every location in their life is another place they will need support and training until they get the hang out how to acclimate and be brave.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Take sounds and sights into consideration. Loud or strange noises need to each be addressed individually and ideally in a setting familiar to the dog. When that isn't possible, treat a sound just as you would a new location and use the - food, comfort, escape method.  Note that changes to how objects in the environment are set up matter too. The relocation of a garbage can, road sign, bicycle, car, etc can change how your dog feels in that environment. The more you take for granted, the harder your dog will struggle. Consider the finer details and then support your dog through conquering them.

Get out and practice!

Make practice part of your routine. Try to take your dog to a new place once a week, using the food, comfort, escape method.

Molly Sumridge