Adjusting to Everyday Things
For puppies, everything is new. Normally, the first time a puppy sees or hears something unusual in your home, it will startle her. The second time she is exposed to the same thing, she will be curious. By the time she experiences the stimulus a third time, the puppy will have figured out that it is nothing to be afraid of and will ignore it. During this process, don't react to the puppy's startled or curious behavior. She will become more comfortable in time.
Adult rescue dogs tend to find more things in the home startling than puppies, largely because these dogs often haven't had much experience living in a house with a family. The flush of the toilet, the hum of the vacuum, or the slam of the door could really startle your dog. For this reason, you need to be prepared to act appropriately when your dog gets caught off guard.
Basically, this is the same method that you would use with a puppy. If your shepherd is terrified when you turn on the garbage disposal, don't respond to her reaction. Your dog's reaction is not punishable behavior — it's natural. Simply ignore her fearful responses and reward her when she doesn't respond at all.
If your shepherd is afraid of something outside, such as a school bus, do not drag her closer to it. Move away from the bus until she is at a comfortable distance. Let her watch. Then reward her with praise and a treat. Every day, bring her a little closer to the bus, rewarding her for calm or curious behavior and ignoring any fearful responses.
Another method of helping your shepherd if she is afraid of something is through desensitization. Using this method, you increase your dog's exposure to the stimuli that frighten her. With thunderstorms, for example, you would play tapes of thunderstorms in the home. In theory, she will learn over time that nothing happens to her during a thunderstorm, and her fear during an actual storm will decrease. With this method, you would also ignore any signs of fear that she might show and reward calm behavior.