SDOS Episode 23 – Talking Fearful Dog’s with Debbie Jacobs

Episode 23 – If you have a dog who afraid of fireworks, people or maybe his own shadow then you need to watch this week’s show, because Dom is talking to dog trainer and fearful dog expert Debbie Jacobs. She talks to me about why you need to pay your dog, why Debbie believes in science (and why you should too), How she rescued Sonny the dog from Hurricane Katrina, How to use food to change the fear association your dog has and Why you need to make your dog feel safe. Don’t forget to share with a dog loving friend who may have a fearful dog. Enjoy!

[0.44] Why did Dom go to Blackpool? [2.42] Why did Toby give up Karate [3.50] Do you listen to your dog? [4.20] What to do if your dog is fearful at the dog park [5.36] The Greyhound Round [7.05] Debbie’s embarrassing dog story [8.56] What was life like for young Debbie growing up with dogs? [13.00] How Debbie learned to train dogs by following the science [14.25] Debbies dog training explained in 4 words [15.00] Why food is so important when training a dog [16.15] Nobody does anything for nothing, and nor should your dog [17.00]Sonny’s story [20.30] How to deal with a fearful dog [23.00] How to make your dog feel safe [25.40] What’s the best advice Debbie has ever been given [29.00] Why you need to buy Dom’s book…

Mentioned in this episode

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Full Transcript

Dom:     Hello, me bonny bairns, and welcome to The Superhero Dog Owners Show. I’m joined as ever by the rather brilliant, and quite handsome Alex the Video Guy.

Alex:      Hello.

Dom:     Today we’re going to be bringing you an interview, and we’re going to be talking about that in a moment. An interview with Debbie Jacobs, who’s a dog trainer from across the pond. I want to tell you a little bit about my weekend, Alex, that I had.

Alex:      Okay, great.

Dom:     We went to Blackpool.

Alex:      Yes, yes, I read your email about that.

Dom:     The Vegas of the North.

Alex:      Indeed it is. Bright lights, big city.

Dom:     Yeah, it wasn’t a stag weekend, or anything like that. It was a lad’s weekend, but a lad’s weekend with a difference, because I went with my youngest son, Tobey, and Tobey does dancing, singing and dancing and stuff. He was in a, they were in a semifinal of a competition. That’s ShowBiz UK talent competition. It was semifinal. We had to go all the way to Blackpool for this. Two buses worth of moms and kids all went down, well just from this dance school. There was like hundreds from across the UK. We went down, we had a little bit of time in Blackpool Saturday. Went out, got a picture in front of the tower, spent a few quid in the arcades. Then, we had a nice little slap up meal before we went back and I had a drink with everybody else. That was it, we crashed, then Sunday we were sitting in theatre all day watching dance girl, after dance girl, after dance girl performing a range of different dances. Most of them are really good. Did get a little bit tiresome towards the end, especially as Toby didn’t perform until about ten to six.

Alex:      Oh, man.

Dom:     Anyway, he did it, and he did great. They performed really well. His troop didn’t get through unfortunately, to the final, which is a little bit of a shame, but life’s full of disappointments, people. It’s good that they learn this when they’re young as well. Some troops went through, some didn’t, but we had a great time anyway. The top part of it is, Tobey, he loves his dancing, you know? He really loves it. He goes about like three or four times, five times a week sometimes, and he’s just absolutely loving his life, you know?

He’s doing a range of different things, as we all do when we’re kids. Football lessons, he did karate for awhile. He was really good at that as well. He really sort of … He was no Bruce Lee, but I don’t know, he seems to take to structure and learning things really well like that. He was flying through the belts, got up to a brown-belt I think, and then one day he just didn’t want to go back. It was weird. He just really didn’t want to go. He got a little bit upset about it, a little bit emotional. We had a chat about it and stuff.

In the end, there was nothing particularly bad about, I mean the class was awesome. The teachers were brilliant, the sensei’s I should say. They were really good, but it just wasn’t his bag. I don’t know, maybe we had pushed him too much just because he was good at it, and I used to push him a bit. This is maybe three or four years ago now. He kind of jacked it in, which was disappointing at the time. Obviously you want him to be happy, don’t you? Then, he ended up starting doing the singing and the dancing and stuff. He changed schools a couple of times since then, but settled in a place in town. Anyway, absolutely loving it. What’s the point of all this story, Alex? Apart from me sitting there like, “This is your life.”

The point of this story is that, if your child, or your dog is doing something, and you’re doing something with your dog and he’s not enjoying it, you know? Maybe he’s fearful, maybe he gets too excited. Maybe it’s the behaviour that he shows when he’s doing this thing is inappropriate, it’s not something that we want to encourage. If you go to the part and your dog’s, he’s getting out of control when he’s playing with other dogs and stuff. Maybe he might be fearful. He might be fearful of other dogs. You, as the owner, you might not be picking up on all of the signs. Well, this interview that we’re going to bringing you now will certainly help with that, because Debbie Jacobs is a dog trainer from the USA, like I said, and she specialises in fearful dogs, treating fearful dogs. She’s got a couple of really cool books out. We’re not going to go into details about it, because we did the interview at home, and this is it right now. Could you press play, Alex?

Alex:      Play.

Dom:     My guest today is a dog trainer and behaviourist from Vermont. She’s currently living in Plymouth, Mass. She’s been helping dog owners for many, many years. She’s probably most known for her work with helping dogs who are shy, scared, and suffering with fear problems. She’s the author of A Guide to Living and Working With a Fearful Dog. I’m delighted to welcome to the show Debbie Jacobs. Hello, Debbie!

Debbie:                Hey!

Dom:     Thanks very much for giving us your time. We’re going to dive straight in, Debbie, with the Greyhound Round.

Debbie:                Okay.

Dom:     This is a quick-fire round where people can get to know a little bit more about you really quickly. Is that okay?

Debbie:                Sure

Dom:     Okay, off we go. Your favourite superhero?

Debbie:                Oh, I don’t have a superhero. They just seem so self-obsessed, so self-absorbed. You know? They’re about saving the world, and you know, fighting crime, and I just, I don’t have one.

Dom:     Okay, okay, that’s a fair enough answer. Do you prefer Indian or Chinese food?

Debbie:                Who’s buying, and who’s cooking.

Dom:     I’m buying.

Debbie:                I’ll have whatever you’re having.

Dom:     Would you prefer to walk a Pug in a park, or a Boston at the beach?

Debbie:                I actually prefer a Weimaraner in the woods.

Dom:     All right, okay. I see what you did there. Very good, very good. Your favourite doggie film?

Debbie:                There’s a film, I remember it years ago. It’s the only one that sort of, it made my husband cry at the end. I think it was called The Longest Journey. It had Michael J Fox was one of the voices, and a Golden Retriever, Shadow, who you don’t think is going to make it, but he makes it. That was the only one I think I could actually sit through without getting angry.

Dom:     Very good, very good. Interesting answers, Debbie. Interesting. I’ll give you eight out of ten for that. Well done, well done.

Debbie:                Thank you.

Dom:     Let’s dive straight in. One of the big things I think pet dog owners think is that us dog trainers know everything. Obviously we don’t. We make lots of mistakes. We always make mistakes. We’re always learning. Just to let people know that we don’t get it right all the time, can you tell us a story about an embarrassing thing that’s happened to you while you were training?

Debbie:                Well, I don’t know that it happened while I was training, but it did happen with one of my dogs who was clearly not trained. I was taking a canoeing course, and they had a big roast on the counter that they were going to feed all the students with. While I’m outside, while we’re practising  with our canoe paddles, and we’re learning all that, suddenly my dog goes running by with the roast in her mouth, which I chased her down, and I got the roast back, and I handed it to the fellow who was running the programme, and he just looked at me with this complete disgust and said, “I don’t want it now.” I don’t remember if I gave it back to her or not, but I just remember being very embarrassed seeing my dog running by with everybody’s lunch.

Dom:     Good story. Are you all sorted there? I was getting a bit of motion sickness with all the walking around.

Debbie:                Sorry. I think, I don’t know whether one of my dogs was starting to bark, so I gave her a new food toy.

Dom:     Yeah, one of mine’s start, can you just hang on two seconds, Debbie? I’ll be back in a second.

Debbie:                Yep.

Dom:     Right so the show is essentially for pet dog owners, Debbie. I want them to find out a bit more about what they can do with their dogs. First of all, I want to find a bit more about you, and where your motivation comes from for working with dogs. Before you were a trainer and an author, what was it like for Debbie Jacobs growing up with dogs? What was your experience?

Debbie:                Well, I grew up, I was born into a family with a dog. Probably some of my earliest social experiences were probably with a dog. When you’re a little kid, you tell all your secrets to the dog. I remember when I was in grade school which would be up to about age 12, when I would go to take walks alone, or in the woods, in the cranberry bogs, which no kid does nowadays, no parent would do nowadays, but my mother used to say, “Bring the dog!” I had this little fat Fox Terrier named Samantha. As an adult I remember thinking, “What did she think Samantha was going to do for me out there when the evil boogeyman came for me?” That was pretty much, I just grew up with them. I just enjoyed their company. I liked to take walks. I liked to hike. I always had a dog for company. That was probably my interest.

I went into, I did some volunteer work, I volunteered for a shelter, I got involved with a rescue. Primarily rescue from dogs from the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, they have a tragic, really tragic overpopulation problem there. I bring dogs over. That was sort of, you know, I was a hobby trainer. I’d take agility classes with my dogs, or nose-work classes, or just kind of played around. That was really, I was not interested in being a dog trainer. I had no interest in … I liked it, but it just didn’t seem, I didn’t even realise that it was a possibility as an occupation, because when I was growing up there were no dog trainers. You were a vet or you were an animal control officer. Those were your options if you were going to work with animals. People would say, “Oh, you should be a vet. You like dogs so much.” Yeah, but I’m allergic to cats. Not interested in medicine.

Dom:     Where did it come from? What was the point when you realised that you could become a dog trainer?

Debbie:                I have to confess, I still sometimes, I’m a very lazy trainer myself. I am just so lazy. I could care … I know my dogs wish I could care more about agility and them doing all these tricks, which I love to watch people train their dogs to do all those tricks, and their rats to do tricks. I think it’s so great, all those freestyle dances, I look and go, “Oh, that’s so cool!” Then I think, “Eh, I think I’ll just go for a walk.” I’m a fairly lazy trainer, but it probably was about, even though I had already sort of started on the path of dog training. In the United States we have a certification called the CPDT, which is the certification for professional dog trainers, which I actually got after I started writing my book.

Really, it wasn’t until about, I’d say about three or four years ago when I was introduced to the concept that behaviour is lawful. That this training of animals is based on the science of applied behaviour analysis. That’s when I suddenly realised, “Oh, I could do this.” Prior to that, dog training seemed like, “Well, you go take this seminar, and then you go take that seminar, and then there’s this technique, and this method, and this protocol, and on and on and on.” I remember thinking when I would go out with a local trainer who used to take me on, you know, a mentor.

I remember thinking, “How could I ever know. What if I haven’t gone to the right seminar? What if I haven’t learned the right protocol? What if I didn’t read the right new magic method? How would I know what to do?” I was scared. I was afraid. What if somebody has a really bad problem with their dog? I show up, and I’m like, “Oh gosh, I didn’t take that seminar on how to work with food aggression.” Or, “I didn’t know how to deal with separation, and oh jeepers, the dog is doing this or that.” Then, when I discovered that there is actually this science that it’s based on, and if I could learn it, if I could learn the science, then I could deal with any problem.

Dom:     Anything and everything, yeah.

Debbie:                Just follow the science. That to me was like the clouds parted, the sun rays came shining through, and it said, “You can do this. You can learn this.” Then, I just started, I believe in the science, so I use the science. When you use it, you get results. That, for me, was just fabulous.

Dom:     For the pet dog owner, if you could break it down, the science, you know, really, so for someone who doesn’t, you know, they haven’t got a degree in canine psychology, or whatever. They just got their pet dog. Break it down for me, if you can, really quickly.

Debbie:                Sure. Let me see how many words it is. Dogs do what works. Four words. Dogs do what works. Our job, the only thing we have to do is we have to make it clear to them what it is we want them to do, and why they should do it. That’s it. It’s why they should do it, because we have the food. Food works for every animal that you see trained on the planet by professional, modern trainers is trained using food. Food, do they want the food? Yes. Will they figure out what they need to do to get the food? You bet they will. If we can be clear what do you need to do to get this cheese. You need to put your rear end on the floor, you need to sit, and you get chicken, or you get cheese. Guess what that dog is going to do more of? They’re going to put their behind on the floor. That is really the meat, to be a bad pun.

Dom:     Yeah, or the cheese.

Debbie:                That really is what we do.

Dom:     Yeah.

Debbie:                The very thing, if we could get pet owners to do one thing, one thing only, and that is stick a bunch of cheese in their pocket, put a treat belt on, and when they see their dog do something they like, give them a piece of food. When they ask their dog to do something, and the dog actually does it, pay them. Nobody does anything for nothing, not even our beautiful, fabulous dogs, neither do our significant others, our children, our employees, our bosses, our kids, our spouses.

Dom:     You got that right.

Debbie:                Nobody does anything for nothing.

Dom:     Yeah, no I like that. Use the food. I always say, “Use the food, use the food. You know it’s there.” The dogs need it, the dogs like it, so use it.

Debbie:                It works!

Dom:     Use it, use it, and it works.

Debbie:                It works.

Dom:     Moving on Debbie, moving on to, I mentioned about your websites primarily deal with fearful dogs, you know? Fearful dogs website, which is full of great resources and the e-book you can purchase and stuff. Can you tell us about how that came to be the thing that you concentrate on a lot, and particularly the story about how Sonny came into your life, and where that lead you and stuff?

Debbie:                Sure. I had been, in 2005, after the hurricanes, we had Katrina and Rita, the big hurricanes that wiped out huge portions of the … Flooded the South, Southern part of the United States around specifically around the Louisiana-Mississippi area. I went down to volunteer at one the rescue camps where they had set them up, and they were bringing all these hundreds and hundreds of animals. There were bunch of dogs, I was there. They had pulled in a bunch of dogs from a hoarder. This was somebody who was collecting dogs.

After the hurricane, she went around collecting dogs, saying that she was a rescuer. She wasn’t a rescuer, she was a hoarder. She had 477 dogs when they finally figured out that this woman was a hoarder, not a rescuer. Sonny was one of them. He was brought from her property to this camp Katrina, where I was. He, and this gets every single one of us. He looked like a dog I had. Right? He reminded me of a dog that I had. He’s black and white, there’s a border collie look to him, I had a border collie. Oh my gosh, look at this, and he was so shy, and when I went to his pen he ran and hid, and I said, “Look, send that dog up to me in Vermont, and he’ll live in paradise, and he’ll have a great life. We’ll find a home for him.” When I bought him, and I took him out of his cage, he circled the living room, and then landed in a corner, and he didn’t move for weeks. He was terrified.

I realised at that point that everything that I thought I knew about dog training was not adequate. It was not good enough. I had a lot of rubbish in my head about what to do. I did things wrong. I got lots of well-meaning, but not great advice. There’s miserable information online, and that’s when I realised that really, I needed to add my voice to the voices in the choir that were actually using good information to work with these dogs, because there’s so much rubbish out, I mean, it’s changed now in ten years, now you do a search and you can find, not just my website, but lots of good information. Many of the professional organisations, the vets, and the vet behaviourist organisations, they have also started adding to the choir. That wasn’t going on ten years ago. That was really it. I found some people who helped me, who mentored me. Again, I started [inaudible 00:20:11], I started learning. That was really the … That was it.

Dom:     That was it, yeah.

Debbie:                It became the catalyst.

Dom:     Yeah, really interesting. Helping people who have fearful dogs obviously is going to require a lot of patience, and I would generally recommend pet dog owners that if they can, they should seek the help of a qualified behaviourist or trainer, because there’s so much you can do to make things worse, isn’t there, unintentionally.

Debbie:                Yep.

Dom:     The owner’s obviously very important, they’ve got a huge role to play, because they’re with the dog everyday. What advice would you give to dog owners who have a dog who is fearful or nervous? What’s the best things that they can do to-

Debbie:                Sure, let me just move this girl. She’s insisting on barking at something that’s in the other room. Go ahead, go bark. Go bark away from me. First of all, I would highly recommend, like you say, find a trainer. You make sure that that trainer is clear. That they are very clear about not ever doing anything that scares or hurts the dog. Number one, if they do anything, and don’t, any excuse, any reason they make for intimidating, using force, anything that makes your dog duck their head, cower away, behave aggressively, look scared, or actually physically hurts them, walk away, because the damage that we can do to a dog may be irreversible.

That’s really important. It’s very easy to instil fear in a dog, or instal fear in a dog, and maybe in some cases, and this is not to be depressing, but it may be impossible in some cases to ever get rid of it. We have to be very, this is why we tread very carefully. There’s no downside to treading carefully, because for the dogs who have a little bit more resilience, the dogs who are a little bit more flexible or adaptable, they’re going to benefit as well. Even those that have a little bit more-

Dom:     Everyone benefits from taking it slow, yes.

Debbie:                That’s right, that’s right.

Dom:     If you have a … That’s great advice about the trainer and seeking a training. I guess in a similar way, they could take that advice on what they do with the dog. If they’re taking the dog places where they think the dog is afraid or he doesn’t like. They’d be best off avoiding those kinds of places as well, wouldn’t they, you know?

Debbie:                Yes, because the next thing we want to do, Dominick, and it’s one that we’ve sort of, the general format for it is, number one, keep the dog feeling safe. However that is for that dog. Does the dog feel safe? The first thing we have to do is stop scaring them. This is not the last step, and the goal is not to keep them wrapped in cotton wool hidden in a room somewhere, that’s not the goal, but we have to stop scaring them. They have to feel safe, whatever that means for that dog.

Number two is we change the association they have with things. If they’re afraid of little children, if little children scare them, we change was little children predict for them. When little children are around, the dog gets chicken. Oh, okay. Oh, that’s great. When they go for walks, they get cheese on the walks. When the scary man with the hat and a beard comes in the house, the dog gets a bone and gets to go eat it in the other room. We change what the scary things predict for the dog. That’s number two.

Number three is, we give them skills. We train them using, primarily, high rates of positive reinforcement. We teach them, what do I want you to do when you see a toddler? All I want you to do is sit down and eat cheese. Give the dog information. Teach them what you want them to do. What do I want you to do when we go for walks outside? I just want you to walk nicely next to me. If I need to feed you a lot of chicken and happy talk and get you along, and then that’s it. We give them skills. We would never give a firefighter a brand new piece of equipment, send him into a burning building, and say, “Good luck. Go learn how to use your new air tank.” We would never do it. We do that to dogs all the time. We put them in situations, they don’t have the skills, and then we say, “Look he’s behaving inappropriately. He’s growling. He’s aggressive.”

Dom:     He didn’t know, yeah, he didn’t have enough information. Yeah, yeah. I think that’s, what you said there would be enough for, if people listen, and they take that advice on board, and try and avoid and try and think about how they can make that scary association not so scary anymore, then they’ll go a long way to making their dogs lives a lot happier, and their own lives too. We’re coming to the end of the interview now Debbie. Can you tell me, what is the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given in your life? This can be dog related or anything else?

Debbie:                Well, I would say, when I was growing up and I would be moving somewhere, or getting a new job, or whatever it was, my mother would always say to me, “As long as you’re happy.” I think that I’ve taken that, and when I’m working with my dogs, or anybody’s dog, I also think, “As long as they’re happy. If I can make you happy, I can get you to do practically anything.” That’s it. We work for the wag.

Dom:     I like that, yeah. Very good, very good. I was going to say, “Can you tell me a story about how you’ve used that in your personal life, or your business life, but you kind of explained that there as well. That’s brilliant. Where can people go to find out more about you and what you’re up to, Debbie?

Debbie:                There’s the website.

Dom:     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Debbie:                There’s, I’ve got a page on Facebook that just is a bunch of things that I think are interesting.

Dom:     Yeah.

Debbie:                Then there’s also the fearful dog group on Facebook where we have people, we have trainers, we have vets, we have vet behaviourists, and we talk about our dogs, we help people, we try to provide support to people, and we stick with the science. We stick with evidence based information, we’re not throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks. We don’t have time. These dogs, they never live long enough. However long they live, it’s never long enough. We don’t want them to spend any longer being afraid than they already have.

Dom:     Yeah, I agree. When you’re not posting to Facebook group, or helping out dogs, or walking your own dogs, how does Debbie Jacobs like to chill out and relax?

Debbie:                Well, that’s probably, I think that’s probably it. You know, I love what I do so much that when I have the choice, I’m talking about dogs, I’m thinking about dogs, we’re reading about behaviour. I’m basically pretty lazy, although I did just finish painting our deck. I do get some work done.

Dom:     Very productive, very productive. Thanks very much for your time, Debbie. I really, really appreciate it. I’m sure everyone who is watching is really going to enjoy listening to what you’ve got to say. I want to thank you very much for your time, so take care of yourself, Debbie.

Debbie:                Thank you so much for having me.

Dom:     No problem. Bye now!

Debbie:                Bye.

Dom:     Alex the Video Guy, how brilliant was that?

Alex:      It was, it was awesome and brilliant.

Dom:     Awesome and brilliant and cool. She was really good to talk to. I did think at one point when she kind of wandered off, I was worried that she wasn’t going to come back. She did come back, and she did finish, and she shared a lot of wisdom with us as well. You know, having a dog who is extremely fearful can be really upsetting as a dog owner. I’ve been fortunate enough not to own a dog has been particularly fearful. Barry was afraid of the wind and fireworks and things, but not overly so.

If you do have a problem like that, it’s well worth you trying to contact a behaviourist or someone really experienced who can help you to just manage the situation better. That’s the main thing. A lot of these severe dog problems, you might never fix completely. People don’t want to hear that sometimes, and it’s true. You have to just work with what you’ve got. There is no reason why if you don’t go and see a behaviourist or a trainer, or someone who can go and help you, then you can certainly improve the situation, so you can manage it a lot better and have a more enjoyable life with your dog. It may never be that, there never is a perfect anyway is there?

Alex:      I was just thinking yeah, nothing and nobody, no dog is perfect.

Dom:     For sure. You can certainly make your life a lot better by managing the situation a lot better. You should see a trainer as well. If you have a dog who just don’t listen to you, maybe he’s a bit of a minx, maybe he’s more interested in birds, squirrels, other dogs farting, things like that, whatever, maybe he’s just more interested in other things than he is in you, and there is something that you can do as a pet dog owner, and that is to buy my book. This is my bestselling dog training book, how to be a dog’s superhero, that’s me and Barry. I’ll send you a signed copy of the book, and you’ll also get a bookmark, and you might even get a Barry Bar, if you’re especially lucky.

Alex:      Tasty!

Dom:     Yeah, organic chocolate, fair trade, I think it is anyway

Alex:      For humans, not dogs.

Dom:     Yeah. Buy the chocolate bar and you get a free book. That’s how it works. If you want a copy of my book, you should go to, and you can get it there, or it’s available as an audiobook on Audible. You can purchase it that way. It’s also available on Kindle too. You only get the chocolate bar and a little note from me and the bookmark if you buy the paperback book from the address I just gave you. If you haven’t done that, that’s what you need to do. Next week, Alex, to wrap up, next week we’re going to be talking to another dog trainer. This one is, follows on quite nicely from this week, because Emily who we’re talking to, she runs a dog rescue in France.

Alex:      Awesome.

Dom:     Yeah, I was a big fan of her blog, and I contacted her, and we got the interview set up. We’re going to be talking to her, because obviously when people get rescue dogs, some of those are fearful as well. They can come with problems and things. Yeah, we got a really interesting conversation coming up next week with Emily. We’ll catch you then. Thank you to Alex the Video Guy

Alex:      No problem

Dom:     If we don’t see you through the week, we’ll see you through the window.



Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson