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My friend's dog is a 1 year old Bernese Mountain dog that they got from a breeder when she was 8 weeks old. They are very loving with her and give her a TON of attention. She is very skittish of new people and new surroundings. They have spent months with her in dog classes and working on socializing her by taking her to parks and businesses etc. She has maybe gotten a little better but not much. She still shakes, her tail is down between her legs and she barks at those around her. Has anyone else experienced this with a large breed dog or a Berner?

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There usually isn't an easy fix to having an anxious or fearful dog. It often takes a long time and a lifestyle change depending on what trigger's the dog's anxiety. Here are two things you can try and I recommend watching this video and others by Southend Dog Training that speak to solutions for anxious and reactive dogs.

One of the best things I've seen have the most impact with my anxious dog (Husky-lab mix), is training my dog to do a structured walk on leash. This is different than just walking your dog on leash. The idea behind a structured walk, is that you control everything about the walk and the dog is focused on your actions. I decide where we go, how fast, how slow, when she gets to sniff, etc... I still give my dog 'free' time walks where she gets to sniff whatever she wants and is either off leash or on a long loose leash. However, when I made a switch to having more of my walk time be structured versus free, I saw a huge difference in her anxiety. With the structured walk, she learned to focus on me before making a decision. This started to become her pattern even outside of the walk. If she hears a loud noise in the house, she'll 'check-in' with me to see my reaction. It becomes a really good base for any other behaviour training. Lots of ways to teach a structured walk but I find getting the dog to focus on you is the hard part.

Another thing I've tried is training her behaviour patterns, specifically teaching her to be calm herself down. My dog is terrified of thunder storms, it started with her panting and passing excessively. I used to 'comfort' her by giving her lots of attention when she did this, petting her, trying to soothe her to calm her down and make her feel safe. It got worse over time, she started to whine and shake every time the pressure would drop or it rained. Turns out, this is the opposite of what you should do. Now, whenever she gets in this anxious state, I remain very calm and neutral. I avoid looking at her, I continue doing the task I was already doing. If she sits beside me, I pet her a little to reward. The goal is for her to get positive reinforcement on the things you want your dog to do (sit and be calm) versus rewarding her getting anxious. If she's starts pacing and panting and I try to soothe her by petting her, I'm telling her that how she is reacting to the storm is good. We want to reward the calm not the anxiety.

Rewarding calm

  • When I'm home with her, I pay attention to when she's walking around the house and when she decides to lie down (without a command). Every time I see her lie down by choice, I'll go over and reward her (treat or affection). Repeat this a lot.
  • Start doing the same thing but in other places. If we're standing outside not moving, if she decides to sit or lie down while we wait, reward.
  • I started rewarding her choice to be 'calm' every chance I got. It's hard at first because an anxious dog won't be calm naturally. But if you can catch them as soon as they happen, slowly they'll become more frequent.
  • Once she can be calm in non-stressful situations, I started to bring her to more public places and repeat the same idea.

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