Plucking Peace from the Jaws of Fear


Second in a series

Remember what happened to Stimpy, the ankle biter? He was alpha rolled and pinned to change his behavior but, call me crazy, I’ve never known bullying to help anyone get well. The disconnect for Amy (Stimpy’s person) and her visitor was believing that dogs need to be dominated to learn their rightful place as our subordinates.

Unbeknownst to these folks, as they swapped jokes on the couch, Stimpy’s dread had him hiding in the shadows.

His burst of bravado as he ran, snapping and growling at the heels of the departing visitor was not about him trying to be boss. When this big alien stood and turned away, the bottled up fear in that canine brain evaporated. Stimpy’s self-preservation immediately kicked in. With no path for retreat he was bent on creating distance from the scary monster by chasing him out the door.

It’s not that Stimpy was normal; his intense fear of strangers wasn’t at all healthy. He needed science-based behavior solutions to recover and enjoy a peaceful life. My job, in helping this human-canine duo turn disaster into success, relied on Amy’s empathy. She wasn’t genetically programmed to understand canine behavior because she wasn’t a dog but she was smarter than Stimpy. He would never catch on to human followership, no matter how much Amy wanted him to but she could learn canine leadership.

There would be no improvement from talking this out together, box of tissues at hand. It has been established that dogs and cats are capable of reason but they are not little people in furry suits. We let Stimpy be who he was.

I taught Amy how to set her dog up for success. Rather than repeatedly thrusting him into a free-fall of panic with strangers approaching, leaning over, and reaching for him we allowed the unhealthy neural circuits in his brain, those that carried his fear-based behavior, to weaken from disuse. Amy’s first job was to help her dog avoid his fear triggers.

Next week: Doesn’t Stimpy have to face his fears? No, he doesn’t.


For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom ( Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.