Scared of the Young Man

Published by Theo Stewart on

An online ‘Help Me Help My Dog’ consultation.

They believe Daphne, rescued with her puppy siblings from a well in Hungary, is a Posovac Hound. She is now six months old and they have had her for two months.

Her journey from the well to her forever home must have been traumatic. Not only was the journey itself delayed due to paperwork issues, but the temporary place the puppy was put during the process was terrifying to a sensitive puppy.

It’s little wonder after travelling for five days that Daphne was so scared that she hid in her open crate for days and wouldn’t eat.

In effect, Daphne was suffering from PTSD. 

Gradually, with kindness and patience, Daphne came round. She bonded quite quickly with the lady. It took a bit longer with the men of the family.

Then, last week, she began to growl at the son (twenty years of age).

This is from the lady’s first Facebook post:

‘Unsure whether we should be telling her off, but thought we may be rewarding her with attention for her negative behaviour, or whether this required an alternative approach, or just reassurance’.

This post illustrates just how important some experienced help is with fear issues. People, in doing what they think is best, can make things worse through lack of understanding.

Scolding fearful behaviour can only make it worse. Neither can you ‘reward’ the emotion of fear with attention. Reassurance – yes.

Scared of just the young man

A week ago mum and son had an argument as families do – with raised voices. It was nothing – but it certainly wasn’t nothing to Daphne.

I would be willing to bet she had already been the victim of a shouting man – or men.

It seems her fearful reactivity to the young man started at this point.

It began with growling when she heard him moving upstairs. She growls when she hears him coming down the stairs.

As he appears in the doorway, she barks at him and hides under the table

He attempts to cajole and win her round. He’s understandably upset at being the only person she no longer accepts. 

Our plan includes general confidence building and cutting down her exposure to anything she finds scary. 

What should the young man do?

It’s more about what he shouldn’t do.

She will need time to learn to trust him again and this can’t be forced by coaxing or trying to bribe her to love him. If anything, he’d do best to play hard to get!

This is a matter for desensitising (getting her comfortable with him at a distance she can cope with) and then counter-conditioning (making what she feels are ‘good things’ happen at the same time).

She doesn’t feel his efforts to win her round are ‘good things’ unfortunately.

So we broke down the problem into increments, starting with the least scary. This would be hearing him moving about, well away from her, upstairs.

They will set it up. He will move about and mum, downstairs, will drop Daphne’s favourite food each time the dog hears him.

They can then do the same thing as he walks down the stairs.

The young man’s body language.

As he comes in the room, the young man should do so quite slowly – and not march directly forward. He can kind of casually step in a bit sideways. No eye contact with Daphne who by now will be hiding under the table.

Completely opposite to what he had been doing, he should take no notice of her at all.

He can, however ‘leak food’! As he walks about, food can drop from him!!

Daphne will come out of her hideout when he sits down, so she needs warning when he’s going to stand up – and food!

If they can use food she loves but gets at no other time apart from associations with the young man, that should help to speed things up.

They must be careful not to unwittingly use raised voices for now. That’s another thing they can desensitise her to – later.

There is no rush.

Just one week later: “She’s only growled at Harry once and has been taking treats from his hand”. 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good.

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