Henry was barking behind a door when I arrived. Let out after I had sat down, he came charging up to me, barking quite fiercely. This didn’t last for long and I could see that he was scared whilst also wanting to make friends. He backed away and inched forwards. He licked his lips.
Within a very few minutes of being left to do things in his own time, he was taking food from me and we were friends.
Fear of people when out is causing problems.
Henry is very reactive to anyone he meets when out on walks. It’s even worse if they have a dog.
Unlike some scared dogs that back away and try to make themselves small, like others Henry seems to feel that attack is the best form of defense.
It’s puzzling why he has become like this. His mother has an even temperament. He was introduced nicely to everyday life at a young age and so far as I can see they did everything right. Nothing seemed to scare him early on, it just slowly developed. Nobody has ever hurt him.
On lead he will walk nicely until he sees a person or a dog, and then, while his human traps him tightly on a short lead as they pass, he strains to get to them, barking all the time. Their very common approach teaches him nothing. It won’t be making him feel any less fearful of people and dogs.
The million dollar question is what should they be doing?
It stands to reason that if people continue as they are, nothing will change. The only way is to do things completely differently.
Any continued close encounters with people and dogs will merely go on making things worse. Where can they go to avoid them? There are people and dogs everywhere.
Where there’s a will there has to be a way.
The three choices are stark.
There are three choices when considering what to do about reactivity, barking and lunging through fear of people and dogs when out.
The choices aren’t based on convenience or lifestyle. They are just fact.
One is great, one is dreadful and the third is doing nothing.
Either Henry’s root fear needs changing so that he no longer feels scared. No longer feeling scared, he will no longer be noisy. He will in time be a happy and much more confident dog. Everyone will enjoy walks. Job done.
It’s all about building up trust.
Another possibility (which Henry’s humans won’t be doing!) is to deal with just the symptom – the barking, pulling and lunging – with no regard for the emotions which making him behave like this. This is punishment administered by a human who is simply bigger and stronger and may also have painful equipment to use on the dog.
This is the ‘dominance’ approach used in the bad old days. Cruelty used to force a dog through pain and fear.
This destroys all trust.
It’s hard to believe in this enlightened day and age that there are still trainers and TV programmes that advocate this kind of approach.
Who could want their relationship with their dog to be on that footing? Certainly not Henry’s owners.
There is a third choice which some people understandably end opting for. That is simply to give up and live with things as they are.
Harry has six loving adult humans in his life who have always done their best for him. Between them they will do whatever is required to build up his confidence. They will all need to pull together. Behind his fear of people is a very friendly little dog ready to burst out.
All people must be consistent in keeping the threshold distance for Henry from dogs and people while they work on things. This isn’t optional. The will each know how to react should someone unexpectedly appear or if they have a ‘near-dog encounter’.
Henry is never let off lead although they live very near to parkland. Here they meet few dogs and people which is ideal for a dog with fear of people. They can drive there. They can even jog to get there. He’s not reactive while they are running.
They will get a long line for him so that he has some freedom. This will make his walks fulfilling.
Fear of people doesn’t involve avoiding people altogether but working on them within Henry’s comfort zone. If Henry’s humans all stick to this and take it slowly, his confidence is certain to grow.
They will need to be tough about appearing unfriendly by creating distance between themselves and people who want to talk to them. If they want success they have no choice. Here is a little video about how to increase space without seeming rude.
There are certain sacrifices to be made but it will be so well worth it in the end.