FAQ: Is Fear Good or Bad?
When you ask most people if they view fear as good or bad, they will say it is bad, but is it? Fear of rattlesnakes, bears, or mountain lions is healthy. It doesn’t diminish most people’s joy of hiking. We respect those dangers, escape them when necessary, and avoid them if possible. Fear of burning yourself on open flames is also quite good. It doesn’t diminish people’s joy of cooking on gas stoves. We know how to do this safely. These are all examples of negative reinforcement in daily life, keeping us happy and healthy.
Fear is the friend who keeps us alive. What is problematic are excessive fears (e.g., PTSD), constant fears (e.g., anxiety), or unwarranted fears (e.g., from surprises or trauma, etc.). Too much of most things is unhealthy. But that doesn’t mean fear itself is terrible. The correct fears are essential for survival. If you doubt that, check out the Darwin Awards.
How Does Fear Work in the Brain?
In the brain, an organ called the amygdala, part of the limbic system, is predominantly responsible for fear responses of all mammals. Mice, cats, dogs, horses, humans, dolphins, whales, and many more are mammals. All mammals have a limbic system, which is identical across species. This FEAR system emerged during the evolutionary process and is designed to minimize the probability of bodily destruction (Affective Neuroscience by Jaak Panksepp).
The FEAR system drives the flight response when stimulated intensely and a freezing response with weak stimulation, common when animals are placed in circumstances where they have previously been hurt or frightened. It facilitates an organism’s ability to perceive and anticipate dangers.
External and internal events can activate the FEAR system. External stimuli that have consistently threatened the survival of a species during evolutionary history often develop the ability to arouse brain fear systems unconditionally. For instance, laboratory rats exhibit fear responses to the smell of cats and other predators, even though they have never encountered such creatures, having grown up in the safety of a controlled laboratory setting.
Avoid Thinking in Extremes
Obviously, we don’t want our dogs to be afraid of us—that would be horrible. No professional dog trainer is arguing for using aversives to create those kinds of extreme fear responses, but we do have to acknowledge that fear is not a bad thing, and we should all appreciate all the good fear does for us. Most people tend to jump to extremes when thinking of specific words like fear and always imagine the most extreme scenarios. That is not productive.
Everything you would rather avoid is essentially a fear response of some sort. You don’t want to get a speeding ticket or avoid missing the beginning of a movie. You don’t want to be late for dinner or miss your plane. These scenarios can be aversive to someone and could lead to wanting to avoid them. Avoiding any of these examples is essentially a flight response. Is any of that bad? I don’t think so, and most people probably agree.
How Does This Apply to Dog Training?
All this is the same for dogs during training. A dog learning to avoid running into a training collar or successfully avoiding an electric collar stimulation will not make the dog tremble in fear. It learns to successfully avoid unacceptable, dangerous, or harmful things without losing the joy of interacting with us, the game, or any other underlying activity. But we must present the information with clarity so the dog can figure it out quickly.
Further, it must be contingent so the dog understands it is completely in control of its experience. As long as we do that correctly, there is no problem. Just like I enjoy cooking despite learning a lesson about the dangers of hot oven plates when I was eight years old. I learned my lesson, and I am not afraid of the kitchen or my stove because I know how to operate it safely.
If you are ready to get help with your own dog(s), please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation.
Please also check out our other FAQ answers:
Services and Area
We are located in Southern California and train dogs nationwide. Happy Dog Training currently offers local dog training services in the following counties. Riverside County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. In addition, we offer our board-and-train program nationwide and all virtual training services worldwide.
Do you want your new puppy trained right from the start? Are you looking for help for your fearful dog? Do you need to resolve a severe aggression problem? You came to the right place! We are experienced, professional dog trainers. Ralf has trained over 1500 dogs in over 18 years, and Sarah has trained over 1200 dogs in over 11 years. Consequently, we can help you with any dog training goal.
What We Offer
For many of our clients, we train their dogs from puppyhood, getting them off to a great start. However, we also have extensive experience training rescue dogs from all imaginable backgrounds and circumstances. Our Board-and-Train program is our most popular.
We can help you, regardless of your dog's challenges or training goals. Being a professional dog trainer means having experience, knowledge, and skill. Further, we developed a highly effective training program to specifically help fearful dogs gain more confidence and become the best possible version of themselves. Building Confidence is our second most popular training program.
Last but not least, we are experts in dealing with all types of aggression in dogs and are often the trainers of last resort after many other programs have failed. Most of our aggressive dog clients previously spent significant money on half-baked solutions without much improvement. This is different from us. We will give you an honest assessment of what goals are realistic for your dog. We will tell you what can be resolved reliably and what likely needs to be managed before we start.
Our flagship product is our board and train program. But our virtual dog training and coaching services have become quite popular over the last couple of years. Our setup enables us to deliver online dog training services from our indoor and outdoor training areas. This allows us to help clients worldwide.
Also, check out our Free Dog Training tips on Separation Anxiety in Dogs, Potty Training aka Housebreaking, and Leash Handling for expert solutions to common challenges.
Additional Services: Presentations and Q&As on Dogs | Professional Service Dog Training
Contact Us and Start Training
Finally, once you're ready to move forward, please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation or book a paid, in-person consultation.
About Ralf and Sarah
Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.
Ralf Weber, MS, TWC CPDT, IACP CDT, CDTA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.
Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.
Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer
Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.
Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.