Scared Puppy. Scared of People. German Shepherd.

Monty is a scared puppy and he’s not yet five months old.

A good number of the German Shepherds of all ages that I have been to over the past year have been the same. They have been reactive and scared of people coming into their homes. This is a high percentage compared with other breeds.

Scared puppy Monty is no exception. It’s sad for a dog so young to be thus burdened.

The importance of early socialisation

scared puppyMonty came from a breeder who had a lot of dogs but not many human visitors. I am a firm believer in puppies having a lot of handling by lots of different people from a very young age.  This is more likely to happen in a home environment than a breeder’s with several litters and lots of dogs, probably kept outside the house.

Monty’s owners chose a shy puppy and so he has not only inadequate socialising to humans but an unconfident nature also. Genetics also play a part. This is not an easy combination for a guarding breed like German Shepherd.

It was even worse with my own scared puppy, German Shepherd Milly. I took her home from a client at fourteen weeks old – a truly terrified puppy-farm puppy who hadn’t had any interaction with humans whatsoever until twelve weeks old. Then, shaking and frozen with fear, she was carried to their car.

Milly was in the same state when I carried her into my own house a couple of weeks later. She was terrified of all humans including initially myself.

I have worked hard with her ever since. Now the initial surprise of someone arriving is a few woofs which is to be expected and she settles fast. It will never be ‘job done’.

Scared puppy

Little Monty (with those huge ears!) is a self-controlled puppy. He is not destructive and seldom jumps up, it is like he is being careful. He’s very affectionate – but he is easily frightened.

On walks he is jumpy and skittish even with birds. He feels very threatened if a person approaches, particularly when he’s on lead – people can’t resist saying hello to puppies! The scared puppy will lunge and bark.

His humans will be working hard to show him that he can trust them to look after him by how they themselves react. They need to help him out. They will give him the positive associations with people that he needs and always giving him an escape route if he needs it.

Other dogs

It is also important that Monty learns right away always to touch base with them when another dog appears. There is a disproportionate number of dogs afraid of German Shepherds having been attacked by one.

Likewise, it’s important for Monty to meet only stable dogs so he, too, learns that dogs are not a threat.

His recall so far is good. However, a mix of being a scared puppy, a guarding breed and not being under complete control when out would not be a good scenario for the future. This needs work.

The lady suggested my methods were ‘alternative’. Modern positive methods used now by all principled modern trainers and behaviourists educated in learning theory. The days of old-fashioned punishment-based dog training is long over.

TV programmes and many dog training classes still use force and harsh commands and negatives. For instance, if he is harshly told ‘leave it’ when approaching another dog along with a jerk of the collar, what message does that give to a scared puppy?

The IMDT, the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers, is fast changing this.  How much better ‘Good Dog’ and encouragement – and food!

Importance of Early Socialisation

English Bull Terrier was not relaxed enough for me to take a photoTwo-year-old English Bull Terrier/Staffie mix Norma is a good example of what happens when a dog lacks any socialisation to people and everyday life in the first three months of life – the crucial period for encountering things before fear responses start to kick in. Puppies usually start off being trusting and carefree.

I didn’t take this photo – she was not this relaxed with me there.

Norma started life probably in a shed or barn – a puppy farm, then at two months old the litter was taken to the vet to be put to sleep but the vet refused and they ended up in kennels. She was there for four months until her current owners adopted her at six  months old.

Her people are conscientious and caring, with a good natural insight into Norma’s needs. They have come a long way. They now have a new baby and they are worried about the future.

Whenever anyone comes to the house Norma growls and barks aggressively. She then seems almost to lure them into eye contact by staring or leaning on them – whereupon, when they look at her or move, she springs back into growling and barking. It is a strange case. She is quieter out of the room behind the gate where she can still see the people, but whilst there she will shake until they have gone.

Outside the house it is just as bad. She panics and wants to come home if out of sight of their home. The only way to get her walking enthusiastically is to carry a football and then keep kicking it to the point where she has become obsessive, but at least it keeps her mind of anything else. This is not a natural pastime for a dog and simply stirs her up more. If she sees a person approaching her hackles go up and she barks and lunges, and already fired up it’s hardly surprising. Norma first needs to learn to walk on a loose lead, to enjoy proper ‘dog walks’ with sniffing and doing doggy things. With hard work she should gradually learn that people are not a threat. This will take a long time, and I shall behind them all the way for as long as it takes.

There is hope. Once Norma does get to know people, she is very friendly – a well-behaved and biddable dog. Her people are really on the ball and prepared to give it their all. They are already going that extra mile. They have a supportive family who are also on board.

Possibly fear of humans could be the most difficult thing to remedy because you can’t put the clock back.



Very Scared of People

Rudy looks more English Bull Terrier in the photo but you can see the pale Husky eyes16-month-old Rudy looks more English Bull Terrier in the photo but you can see the pale Husky eyes. A beautiful dog and quite unusual looking. Because of this he attracts attention, and human attention is what he can’t handle.

Like so many of the dogs I go to, his start in life was far from ideal. From the time he left his mother and litter mates at 8 weeks old and until he was four months old, he was shut in a room all alone for hours on end, before being returned to the breeder. The most valuable weeks of his life for socialising and happily encountering many different things including lots of people, had been lost. My clients then took him on.

Rudy is terrified of people coming to the house. He barks and hackles, but is also ready to run. He may empty his bladder if approached. He has never bitten. He barks constantly when anyone he doesn’t know well comes to the house – so much that nobody can speak. Unfortunately this has led to a lot of shouting which simply makes things worse. Very unusually for him, he quietened down for me very quickly and we were able to talk after a few minutes, which goes to show how, if the visitors use the right signals and body language, don’t approach or stare at him and stay seated, if his owners too keep quiet and calm, he can be helped. He is watching me in the photo, fairly calm – but that would change quickly if I were to suddenly stand up.

The other major problem is that he is so dependent upon the presence of the lady in particular that for a year they have seldom gone out. The couple are almost prisoners in their home because they can neither have visitors nor go out and leave him.

So we have two big problems to deal with, fear of people and fear of being left. It is going to take a long time because each must be dealt with in tiny increments, a step at a time, with a lot of patience, and definitely NO SHOUTING!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.