Book Review: A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | April 08, 2011 ~ 1 Comment

The more I train dogs, the more fearful dogs I encounter. Dogs that are afraid of mailmen, being alone, kids, strangers, other dogs, being handled, traffic noises, novel things they haven’t seen before, things appearing suddenly in the environment . . . the list goes on. One little dog I worked with a few years ago was afraid of so many different things that her guardian was overwhelmed after just a few weeks of life together. She’d asked me for recommendations on books about fearful dogs. How I wish Debbie Jacobs’ A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog (“Guide”) had been available then!

A committed dog geek, I’m always studying dog behavior and training. I’ve read several books on training fearful dogs but the Guide is unique. Drawing from years of experience living, working with and training her extremely fearful dog Sunny, Debbie cracks a tough nut that’s essential to helping any fearful dog – putting ourselves in their paws as they navigate a world fraught with scary triggers.

As the Guide explains so well, rewiring one’s mindset is vital to helping a fearful dog. Goals and expectations that might be entirely reasonable when training confident well-socialized dogs are often unrealistic for dogs with severe and/or multiple fears and anxieties. Imagining life from a fearful dog’s perspective helps guardians cultivate compassion, empathy and patience both in daily life with the dog and when training to reduce/overcome fears.

Grounded in solid science-based training, the Guide also addresses the significance of the relationship between guardians and dogs. Establishing trust in the guardian is crucial to building the dog’s confidence, reducing fear and anxiety, and changing fearful behavior.

Wonderfully readable and easy to understand, the Guide provides a wealth of concrete information on a host of useful topics including why positive training is a must; the dangers of punishment-based training; suggested treats and rewards; how play can help a fearful dog; how to gauge the dog’s progress; training games and exercises; medications and other calming remedies.

One of the things I like best about the Guide is the discussion of real and sometimes difficult questions that many fearful dog guardians face. Living with and training a fearful dog can be taxing and draining. It may require more of an investment from a guardian than s/he can realistically or wants to make. The Guide takes on these issues with refreshing frankness and lack of judgment considering not only the dog’s well-being but that of the human caretaker.

Debbie Jacobs’ knowledge, candor and humor shine throughout the Guide. Her sound practical advice spells hope for guardians of all dogs, fearful, anxious, and otherwise. For those with shy or fearful dogs, reading and following the Guide will be one of the best things you can do for your dog. I suspect you’ll find yourself returning to its pages over and over again. Thank you Debbie for this gem of a book!

To order the Guide and learn more about Debbie Jacobs, CPDT-KA, CAP, visit her fabulous Fearful Dogs blog at

One Response to “Book Review: A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog”

  1. Dev from Dog Training Loki 22 April 2011 at 12:35 am Permalink

    It’s quite sad that the first dog that I ever got was a fearful dog. But that didn’t stop me from training him though, and when I look at him now, I never regret not giving up on him whenever I felt like it. Sure it was harder than usual, but it all boils down to your dedication and interest in unleashing your dog’s full potential! Thus I definitely agree with your review Lisa.

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