Jack Russell Chihuahua mix Rollo is scared of hands. Until a couple of years ago he was a friendly little dog who enjoyed gentle petting from most people.

dog scared of handsThen something happened. Some friends had been looking after him and he bit the man. Maybe the man was playing too rough or maybe trying to take something off him. We can only imagine what followed the bite, but after that Rollo has been wary of men. Now scared of hands, he avoided people touching him unless he knew them.

Some months later a second thing happened that caused him further distrust of humans. Again he was being looked after by someone else. This time he snapped at a lady. Again the lady had been doing something that upset him involving hands. One can only guess from the fallout, but very probably punishment of some sort followed. He is now even more scared of hands and won’t even let females touch him.

Scared of hands, even friends’ hands

Rollo’s so scared of hands that he will no longer let the lady’s best friend touch him, let alone have a cuddle like they used to.

The little dog is stressed and on alert most of the time. He guards food items. A hand coming towards him may take it from him. This may be what happened on the occasions mentioned. When he growled a warning, snarled or nipped, a hand will have punished him.

To help him calm down, I dropped a couple of chews on the floor. Immediately, instead of picking them up, he lay looking at them, guarding them.

This was near my chair and soon I would need to move. I knew if I didn’t do something, it could trigger trouble.

I demonstrated how we could pick them up without upsetting Rollo.

I threw tiny bits of food, first near the two chews and then further away. I did this several times to reassure him that I wasn’t tricking him.

Then I threw the food, and lifted one of the chews a couple of inches off the floor. He came back and I gave it to him. I did this several times so he wasn’t suspicious that I was going to steal it from him.

As he’s scared of hands, I wanted him to trust my hands were neither going to touch him nor take something from him.

Soon I was dropping food and lifting a chew, no problem. At the end of the meeting, I let him keep one.

Hands should deliver only good things

For a dog so scared of hands, hands should deliver only good things.

The young lady will encourage him to see her as a ‘giver’ and not a ‘taker’. This  will result in him being able to enjoy and benefit from chew items rather than regard them as something to worry over and guard for fear of losing them.

I started to teach Rollo to himself choose to touch my hand. He would trust me. I began teaching him to come to me and touch my open hand, using a clicker.

The magical connection of the hand touch

I’m reading a book at present by Pippa Mattinson (Total Recall) and have just read this:

‘Generally speaking, all animals ‘repeat in the future’ behaviours that have led to a rewarding consequence in the past, and ‘avoid in the future’ behaviours that have led to unpleasant consequences in the past’. Rollo, in his reaction to hands is ‘avoiding behaviours that have led to unpleasant consequences in the past’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)