Book Review: Help for Your Fearful Dog

Help for Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears, by Nicole Wilde.

Nicole Wilde

I forget how it happened, but in a little internet serendipity a few weeks ago I found myself at Nicole Wilde’s blog. I read around for a while, and thought, “I like her. I wonder if she wrote a book?”

Not only did she write a book, it turned out, but she wrote a book on kind of my pet topic. And my, what a book it is.

I’ll go ahead and get my niggle out of the way first: one of the first things Wilde recommends is that you “establish a firm foundation for your dog” by “becoming a good leader.” If your dog has to ask for permission to do anything he wants, he will understand his place in the world, see you as a benevolent leader, and magically become less anxious. Cue my NILIF groan.

Otherwise, this book is very, very good. (And I do think anxious dogs need structure; I just have a long list of gripes about strict NILIF as a panacea.)

In fact, for the casual reader, this book may be too good. I read the Kindle version, but the print copy is listed at a hefty 432 pages. All this room lets Wilde take a three-pronged approach. First, she outlines the causes of fear in dogs and some basic strategies, from a veterinary exam to some training cues, that you should undertake as a foundation for the rest of the book. Wilde also takes the time to discuss things like body language and the various appearances of fear in dogs.

The second section contains specific treatment plans for a variety of fears. What I loved about this is that she really does cover all of the biggies. Noises, people, dogs, thunder, grooming, riding in the car. I haven’t seen another book that is so comprehensive. She does make the standard counter-conditioning assumptions that you have both a dog who will take treats in stressful situations and an endless variety of friends and dogs to help you. I found it less obnoxious here than I have elsewhere, for some reason. If your dog has a specific fear, and you struggle to generalize counterconditioning advice to that situation, you should check to see if Wilde covers it.

The third section was the most interesting for me. Here Wilde details all those touchy-feely helps for fear like massage, T-touch, compression wraps, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicine, and even acupuncture. There’s also a short section about conventional medications. While the information is mostly intended as a primer and a basis for further research, it was, again, impressive in the breadth of coverage. You can’t do more research about a remedy if you don’t know it exists.

This is not a great book for an average dog owner. The last book I posted would probably be better for someone who isn’t really interested in all the details. It isn’t that Wilde gets bogged down in esoteric details. The book itself is quite readable. It’s just that it is a big book. Also, I could easily see an unsympathetic reader getting to something like Wilde’s discussion of homeopathic medicine, disagreeing with her, and then discounting the rest of the book. “If she believes that, she must be a quack about all the other stuff, too.”

Bottom line: I liked it.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Help for Your Fearful Dog

  1. I can personally attest to the value of structure with a fearful dog. Getting Sadie to the point where she knew what to expect in a new situation, around a new person, etc was crucial to stop her fear snapping. This involved creating structure and expectations both in her every day life and over time, when anything new came up. We didn’t do it as a NILIF program, or at least we didn’t use that term. For her, teaching her to sit and ask nicely for petting from us helped her to translate that sitting to be petted by a stranger wasn’t a scary thing. We didn’t allow her to meet new people on walks for a very long time – once she realized that she didn’t have to deal with meeting people, she became more curious about them, which was a big step for her to overcome her fears. For us, it was a few simple rules like that.

    This sounds like a great book for people who are dealing with a fearful dog. I’ll have to check it out.

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  2. Nice review. Personally I’m fairly impatient and if I have to wait too long for the information I’m looking for, I lose interest. I’m not sure I could get through a book this long. 😦

    I do hope you got some great ideas for helping Silas though. 🙂

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  3. I think I might enjoy parts of this book. I had a really fearful foster – at least outside of the home. My other foster was very confident though and really helped more than I did in making the fearful dog less of a scaredy dog. I also was able to train her which built her confidence because she loved it when she got something that I was trying to teach her. It was really gratifying to see her come out of her shell little by little – she still had a long way to go when she was adopted, but I had no doubt about her new owners taking on that challenge and she is doing really well with them.

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