Big Dog Scared of the Puppy

Published by Theo Stewart on

Maisie in her ‘safe’ corner

Here is two-year old Dogue de Bordeaux, Maisie, in her favourite safe place, under a chair in the corner of the kitchen.

Maisie is frightened of a lot of things and particularly scared of the puppy. Little Molly is also a Dogue de Bordeaux and she is just eight weeks old. Absolutely adorable of course. She’s not a wild sort of puppy – not yet anyway – but even so, Maisie is very unhappy with her.

The big dog has no bolt hole – nowhere she can escape this new intruder who grabs her tail.

It’s impossible to say why Maisie is such a scared dog. She lives with a lovely and caring family. Possibly because she is a sensitive soul things may be a bit too noisy for her?  She was fine as a young puppy but over the course of her two years she has gradually got worse.

When I arrived she cowered away from the door. She did venture near me eventually but that was interrupted by Molly’s sudden appearance. She caught me looking at her and licked her lips. She is a walking demo of anxiety signals.

Puppy Molly has been the final straw.

What is most surprising is that out in the garden Maisy is entirely different with the puppy. They play! She play bows and invites Molly and they chase one another. She lets Molly leap all over her.

Dogue de Bordeaux puppy


Out on walks and on lead Maisie is her fearful self, particularly when approached by someone. Off lead she is a different dog.

This is all about Maisie not feeling safe. For some reason she feels trapped in the house, particularly when other people are about. She can’t escape from Molly. She also feels trapped on walks when she’s on lead.

They have already ordered a puppy pen for the sitting room along with a gate for the kitchen door. This way the two dogs can interact and Maisie can relax. I’m sure it won’t be long before they are snuggling up together.

The family will be doing all they can to give Maisie confidence in them to keep her safe. They love her to bits and are prepared to follow the plan to the letter. Because she is so stressed, they need to drop out play fighting and stuff that arouses her too much, particularly anything with a scary element to it. They do these things because they love her and feel stirring her up makes her happy. Everything will be toned down. She will always have access to a bolt hole.

On walks they will be changing the equipment so that Maisie feels less restricted. They will also acknowledge she is fearful of being approached by people and help her out. She will necessarily be on a tight lead near traffic and is terrified of walking by a busy road. This will need to be gradually addressed.

We humans often behave in ways we feel are appropriate but mean something very different to our dogs.  Holding a dog tightly on lead when a person approaches is a good example. We think we are ‘in control’ but the dog feels we are preventing escape. It is so much better to walk in an arc around them, increase distance or stand back if we want to chat. We need to be our dog’s advocate and protect her from unwanted attention.

The use of a loud NO is another such example of the message we think we are sending is not necessarily what the dog is receiving. If a puppy is shouted at for chewing a table leg – will she realise this is what has suddenly made the human she should trust suddenly bark at her in anger? Will she perhaps think it’s her being in that area that makes the human angry? She may even think it’s because she is too near to the human which makes him angry.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s not good for the relationship. Using a harsh tone with a puppy can have massive and unseen fallout when we, as mere humans, are doing what we believe is best to help the puppy we love so much to grow to be a stable and well–mannered dog.

A good rule of thumb when we want to get our puppy to stop doing something is to consider how we would teach a toddler. We would speak kindly and guide him onto something else. We would be willing to persist and we would arrange the environment so that it was safe until he grew a bit older.

The man has dreams of walking with two beautiful and confident mastiffs through the fields, one each side of him. With patience and a bit of understanding of the ‘dog mind’ I’m sure that dream will be realised.

And six weeks later: IMG_3665

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)

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