Dog Charmer: Pearl’s in a panic

With treats and training, fear of most things will go away.

Dogs like Pearl can overcome a fearful situation if the owner incorporates a positive attitude in training. — Peg Leon

Hi Tom,

Please help me with the following question: Pearl is a happy, curious and usually intrepid 4-month-old puppy, but now, suddenly fearful of situations she used to enjoy — a short walk in the woods or on Main Street. Why, and what are the steps to reassure her return to enjoying herself?


Peg Leon
Cooperstown, N.Y.

Dear Peg,

Congrats on your new 4-legged family member. From my experiences with both the Pembroke and Cardigan Corgis, were I asked to describe aspects of their temperament, the words brave, intrepid and plucky would present themselves. I’ve often thought of them as German shepherds with abbreviated legs. That’s not to say that Pearl is a “chickenbutt.” Quite the contrary, she’s normal.

As part of the survival instinct inherited from wolves, dogs go through two fear periods, the first being at about 8 to 14 weeks and the second usually between 6 months to 1-and-a-half years. Most of the time they’re not even noticed by their owners. Nonetheless, I cannot overemphasize the importance of socializing Pearl. You want her attitude to everything to be the following nine words, “been there, done that, seen that, no big deal!” Taking the elevator down to the lobby in a building in midtown Manhattan and walking the bustling streets several times a day for a month or two will probably accomplish the socialization of the aforementioned nine words.

Assuming a rental in Manhattan is not on the agenda, here’s what not to do when Pearl gets frightened by the pickup truck that backfires on Main Street, or the person approaching with a leashed dog: Don’t overreact. The truck backfires and she’s shaking, you’re responding with “happy calm,” perhaps saying, “Yeah, Pearly girl, trucks do that sometimes, no big deal” as you keep moving forward talking happily. You are redirecting her attention from the startling sound to your no-fear positive attitude, and the moment she shows some calm herself, offer her a special treat as you keep moving.

If a leashed dog is approaching, do not stop. To her that would be like being told to stay sitting on the tracks as the train is approaching. Keep moving, redirecting her potential fear as you’re happily saying, “Wow, Pearl, that doggy coming may end up being your best friend,” offering special treats if need be. When within earshot be sure to ask, “Is your dog friendly?” Pass, offering treats if you’re not comfortable with the response.

If Pearl is scared of the vacuum, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive for the rest of her life. Desensitize her. With the vacuum off, you may find she’s quite amenable to eating a piece of chicken off of it, and quite willing to accept the chicken while getting nearer and nearer to it when it’s on. Peg, fear not. The likelihood is that by the time Pearl is an adult, when she looks in a mirror she’ll see the word God as opposed to Dog.

Stay positive,

Dog Charmer Tom

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