Question: Sophie, our Brittany, is afraid of the toaster. She'll try to climb into my husband's lap trembling, or she'll run away, ducking as if someone is shooting in her direction whenever the toasts pops. Can we resolve this problem, or should we just stop eating toast? — D.M., Stafford, Texas
Answer: Dogs can develop all sorts of inappropriate fears. It might be that early on, someone tried to train Sophie as a gun dog, and using force made matters worse. Now, Sophie generalizes about all sorts of sounds. However, if her fear is centered on the toaster alone, my guess is that the sounds it makes once startled your pup. Then, you may have paid attention to Sophie, unintentionally reinforcing the fear when you only meant to comfort her.
In any case, the fix (if the sound of the toaster is Sophie's sole fear) is desensitization and counter-conditioning. Begin by placing Sophie's food bowl in a room far away from the toaster. As Sophie eats, pop the toaster. If she responds with even the slightest hint of fear, she's too close. Once Sophie is chowing down without a care in the world, gradually move her dish closer and closer to the toaster. Take your time. This conditioning program could take several weeks, but eventually, this problem should be "toast."