The Fearful Dog—Part 2

Hesitant Dog

You own a fearful dog. You need to build trust with the dog and help the dog to feel safe. Let’s get started.

First, don’t dwell on your dog’s negative characteristics. Focus on the positive while you work on things that need improving. Most dogs have a behavior or problem that needs working on. They probably don’t see it as an issue, but humans do. For example, digging, chewing, and barking are all normal doggie behaviors. It’s just that the human finds them undesirable.

Stop trying so hard to be your dog’s best friend if they are fearful of you. Just let your dog be. Give him plenty of space to be able to keep his distance until he becomes comfortable. Chances are that if you ignore him he will relax much quicker and will start to become interested in you.

You’re going to have to take your dog outside or put him in a crate, so, to make handling easier, put a “drag line” on your dog. This is just a long line that your dog will drag around and when you need to get him to do something like go outside you can simply pick up the line and take him outside without getting close to him.

Set up a consistent schedule for your dog. Your dog may begin to settle down once he learns where he will sleep, when he goes outside, when you leave and return from work, when mealtimes are, etc. Once your dog begins to be able to predict what’s going to happen then his stress hormones will begin to relax and his confidence will increase.

Always remain calm around your dog. Try to minimize loud noises which could scare your dog. Keep all interactions with your dog non-confrontational. Remember that direct eye contact is very threatening to dogs. Don’t stare him down. This will only make your dog’s lack of confidence worse and he may also begin to show signs of aggression.

Dogs use their body language to communicate. They give each other calming signals. Try giving your dog some calming signals. These include turning your head away, softening or squinting your eyes, turning your body away, licking the tip of your nose, raising your hand, doing a play bow (lower your arms and upper body to the floor while keeping the butt raised), yawning, sitting or lying down, blinking your eyes, or sniffing the ground.

Lucky for us, most dogs are food motivated. Use a very high value treat such as tiny pieces of chicken, steak, or cheese. Begin to leave treats in areas where your dog is frequenting so he can find them. When he explores and finds a treat, reward him with a phrase such as “good boy.” As he becomes more comfortable, move the treat farther away from his safe spots. You can also put treats on a dog bed or blanket for him to find. As he becomes more relaxed with this spot you can leave other rewarding things there for him to find such as bones, new toys, a bowl of food, etc.

Encourage and reward eye contact. At first you want to reward any glances in your direction. As your dog becomes more comfortable you’ll wait for him to look closer and closer towards your eye until he’s making direct eye contact for very brief periods of time. Gradually you’ll increase the duration that your dog can look at you and still remain calm.

Be patient and go slow. Your dog gets to determine the timetable. He will let you know when he’s willing and ready to take a chance. He will begin to seem interested in you or your activities and will start to interact more.

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