These days, most of us are aware of the importance of socializing puppies in order to build good associations with the world around them. But what do you do if your dog is showing signs of fear already? In these cases, more exposure is not necessarily better, and in fact, may make a dog more stressed. Instead of socialization, these dogs need opportunities for desensitization, meaning exposure to a fear-inducing stimulus at a distance or intensity level that is not triggering a fear response. As the dog adjusts to the trigger at this level, you can gradually get closer or raise the intensity, again being careful not to push them into a fearful state. You can help this process by associating the scary thing with something the dog really likes, like high value treats, at the same time. Take the time to make sure your dog has a good experience, and don’t rush the process.
For more on the difference between socialization and desensitization, check out this blog post: