Fearful to Fear Free: Transformational Ideas


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“From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears and Phobias” is definitely the most important pet book of the year, and likely of the decade.

Many of our pets experience fear FAR too often. Sometimes we totally get when that happens (going to the veterinarian or groomer, for example) and sometimes we don’t know it’s even occurring (like some dogs at the dog park or even some dog training classes).

At the start of the book, there’s a quote in giant block letters, from a giant in veterinary behavior Dr. Karen Overall, “Fear is the most damaging emotion a social species can experience. It causes permanent damage to the brain.”

We know exactly why veterinary visits are down, and there are several contributing factors, including not understanding the need for checkups and cost can be an issue. Pet caretakers check Dr. Google – and if all seems okay, they assume that the dog is okay. However, the principal issue is that if our pets are unhappy at the vet, we’re not likely to want to subject our babies to this. As the human-animal bond has grown it’s no longer acceptable to allow our “fur babies” to feel so fearful.

Not so happy doggie

How fearful is that dog panting and whining in the vet office waiting room? Or the dog shaking at the groomer? Or a dog excessively barking at a training class? Here’s how fearful these pups are: They likely think they are going to die. They are absolutely terrified.

It doesn’t need to be this way, which is what the core of the Fear Free movement exploding on veterinary medicine is all about.

Dr. Marty Becker

The primary author is Fear Free creator Dr. Marty Becker, who surrounded himself with respected superstars to co-author this book, board certified veterinary behaviorists Dr. Lisa Radosta and Dr. Wailani Sung, and Mikkel Becker, who is certified by just about every credible dog training organization on the planet. The book is edited by Kim Campbell Thornton, who in her own right written many pet books.

So why is this topic SO important? For starters, veterinarians can’t help pets they’re not seeing. Early diagnosis generally means better prognosis (as well as a financial savings). Veterinary check-ups have tremendous value.

Happy doggies

Also, while of course you know your pet, you may be surprised that you might even miss signs of fear. For example, a “tight-lipped” dog may not be trying to keep a secret but be afraid. Yawning can mean a dog is tired, or just got up from a nap but also might be a sign of anxiety or fear.

Not so happy doggie

It turns out there’s increasing scientific evidence to substantiate that socialization and training are very good things. However, that’s only the right kind of training. Discussion includes use of equipment, like shock collars, and the truth regarding a price dogs might even pay for a lifetime when punishment-based methods are used. Or methods we might not even know aren’t beneficial, such as flooding, which is explained in the book.  So, what techniques are proven to work, to motivate dogs rather than instill fear, anxiety and stress?

Lots of behavior disorders are explained. For example, what’s separation anxiety about? First, people sometimes assume their dog suffers from this problem, when the dog was never taught to be home alone or is simply bored. A proper diagnosis is required, just as it is for heart disease or diabetes. And you can’t do that online.

We don’t know what these distressed dogs are really thinking. Could they be thinking their beloved people are never coming back? We don’t know. But we do know that there are all sorts of tools that may be used to help, from pheromone products (like Adaptil) to behavior modification to drugs. That’s right, drugs, and Radosta explains that for some dogs phsycho-pharmaceutical drugs really do improve quality of life. In fact, it’s the most humane thing you can do for your beloved dog.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Dogs and humans evolved together, and it’s always wonderful to behold and witness a child growing up with a dog. There are so many advantages – on both sides – when it’s right. And an entire chapter, “Dogs and Kids: Building a Fear Friendship” is devoted to this.

Our dogs have that same neurochemistry soup in their heads as we have in ours, so addressing emotional health is as important (and intertwined) with addressing physical health. This sounds so simple and logical – and it is – but it’s not been done this way before. Fear Free is transformational.

It’s an easy to read book, written for pet parents in mind.

Fear Free can begin in your home, aside from the book, you can learn more at www.fearfreehappyhomes.com.

Next, I hope, “From Fearful to Fear Free for Cats”

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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