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Is My Dog Fear Compliant?

Training a fearful dog
In my last blog post, Dominance Debunked, I explained how physical force and emotional intimidation can make a dog fearful and even aggressive. The thing is, with a lot of these methods, including alpha-style "pack leadership" and even e-collar training, you can produce a dog who appears obedient and calm. But the underlying state of many of these dogs is actually a freeze-response. These dogs are fear-compliant. They obey out of a sense of self-preservation because their nervous systems are overwhelmed with fight/flight/freeze signals. This is why a dog may "snap" out of nowhere, because they are moving from the freeze state into fight/flight, and when they can't flee, this change in state manifests as aggression. 
Fear-compliance can be diagnosed by some of the following traits:
  • Compressed body language
  • Tucked tail
  • Lip-licking/tongue-flicking
  • Whale eye
  • Depressed state, lazy, dissociated
  • Disinterested in surroundings
  • Hyperactivity/hyper-friendliness with strangers
  • Insecure attachment with owner, "velcro" dog
  • Separation anxiety
  • Compliance when owner is within reach, disobedience at a "safe" distance from owner
Training a dog in this type of emotional state may get you results, which is why these different methods can cause so much confusion. 
On the other hand, when we work with the dog's natural motivations and innate reward system, we train the dog in a state of DRIVE. Dogs can be motivated by their: prey drive, play drive, toy drive, food drive, and their drive to make contact with their team/handler. Dogs who are in a state of drive while training will exhibit a positive and happy demeanor, and the following body language: 
  • Alert with bright eyes and engaged ears
  • High or medium high tail, medium or relaxed muscle tone
  • Relaxed facial tone
  • Expressive and expanded body language (vs. compressed)
  • Open, relaxed jaw, jowls, mouth, and tongue
  • Willingness to play, engage, tug on toys
  • Interested in surroundings and even distracted by surroundings, depending on their level of training and the skill of the handler
  • Compliance through motivation, and compliance at distance from owner


So I guess the question is, do you have a dog with emotional baggage, fear of people, who is compliant/obedience due to their insecurity? Or do you have a confident dog who is willing to train in a state of drive, guided by their natural motivations of play and prey drive? 

I've met owners with newly adopted dogs who supposedly have perfect recall as soon as they come home. This is usually a sign of insecurity and fear compliance. The issue here is that once the dog builds a sense of safety and confidence, their recall will go to shit and the owner will have no idea why. A confident dog needs A LOT of training to pay attention to their handler instead of being drawn towards other dogs, other people, prey, and being distracted by new environments. 

The most critical issue to attend to while training your dog: Are they in the right emotional state? And if not, how can you create the right emotional state?

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Photo 1 by Marcus Wallis on Unsplash
Photo 2 by Anthony Duran on Unsplash

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