It is sad to see a dog of only five months old that is scared of people. Archie, a young black labrador, is also scared of other dogs. Fear makes him bark, which the owners understandably find embarrassing, and they are worried that if someone tries to touch him he may bite them. He barks at people and dogs on walks, and he barks at people coming to his house. His hackles go up. He may continue barking at them for half an hour.
Archie soon settled down when I visited – much more quickly than usual. This was due to how I behaved and my own calming body language. The owners were able to relax with worrying about me and he will have picked up on this too.
Archie came from a gun dog breeder having been with his litter mates until he was nine weeks old. This would seem a good start in life apart from the fact he didn’t live in the ‘real’ world, a world of lots of people, different dogs and living in a house. By the time he had his injections and could go out, he will have been about three months old, having missed the most effective time to socialise a dog – between six and twelve weeks. On his first walks he would sit down and refuse to move. He went to puppy classes and had to be hidden behind a desk where he couldn’t see the other dogs and bark at them. He hasn’t played with another dog since he left his littermates.
Archie needs his confidence building up – and also his confidence in his owners to protect him. 6 months old is very young to carry the burden of protecting himself and also his family. He needs exposure to the things that scare him in a controlled and manageable way rather than the random, potentially volatile meetings that occur on daily walks, never pushing him beyond what he can easily cope with. In this way he will learn to trust people. Using force, pushing him into scary situations he’s not ready for and even using a spray collar for when he barks at people on walks as ‘a friend said’ they should, will have the very opposite effect to what they want him to grow up to be – a relaxed, friendly and confident adult dog. Punishing fear is a dreadful idea and can only make it worse.
Archie is only a puppy still, and if walks become no longer a stressful thing of pulling and choking, of being held back, corrected and scolded when he sees a person or another dog, he will soon be in a much more relaxed state of mind, ready to encounter new things, people and dogs more confidently.