Fearful of People Despite Puppy Socialising

Stunning seven month old Chow Chow Chai is fearful of people. Sometimes the best laid plans simply go wrong.

Very carefully socialised.

Chow has become fearful of peopleI can’t fault her young owners. From the start they have done everything by the book. Then, sometime between four and eight weeks ago she became fearful of people.

They simply can’t trace what could have changed her so dramatically. They can however pinpoint that it was something during this four-week period. She would have been in her fifth or sixth month.

Their superb vet likes her to come in every month, no charge. All they do is put her on the table and keep her used to being handled, examined and weighed. They give her treats. She was due for her monthly visit last week.

Five weeks ago however, the last time they had taken her, they got her to the door and she didn’t want to enter. Once in, she was frantic, scared, leaping onto them, terrified of the other people in there. A different dog from the previous time.

Why so suddenly fearful of people?

All I can think of is that something happened that was huge to her but that her humans hadn’t noticed; that it had coincided with a fear period.

It makes me think back to when I was a child of about seven years old. I was in a group of people along with my mother, and something happened. It traumatised me to the extent that I shut it out until counselling unearthed it years later.  I could remember what we were doing before, but I had a blank period of time. I since asked my mother what it could have been and she had no idea.

What I found out seems very trivial now and I understand why my mother hadn’t even noticed. It had affected all my childhood.

I think it must be the same with young dogs when something happens at just the wrong time. The dog may, or may not, remember just what happened. To us it could seem so meaningless that we hadn’t even noticed. To the dog it’s life-changing.

In addition, as she matured some of the reported breed characteristics may have begun to surface: ‘…..can be aloof …….and downright suspicious of strangers. But for the right person, he’s a fiercely loyal companion’.

Chai is extremely attached to the man. (Interestingly, though initially she barked at me, when he left the room she stopped. Protective, maybe).

Who could be behind the door?

My questions unearthed that Chai had become particularly scared of entering into places. She is now so fearful of people that I believe it’s because she can’t see who might be the other side of the door.

A few days ago she had refused to go into the pet shop where she had been before. They didn’t insist, brought her home and called me.

I could see and hear how scared of me she was as I opened the gate into their high-fenced garden. I shut it again and waited for someone to come and help her then let me in.

Now they will do everything they can to help their beautiful fluffy dog become less fearful of people. People should be good news and not scary.

People-watching.

They will help her to associate people with only good things.

Recently, in order to control her, they have begun using a slip lead which tightens up if she pulls. Sometimes she is so desperate to avoid an approaching person she may try to run into the traffic.

She will feel more fearful of people when trapped on a tight lead. To make matters worse, just when she should be associating people with good things, the lead tightens. She will feel discomfort, pain even.

They will now get a harness and longer leash. With the lead fastened both on the back and the chest, they will have all the control they need without causing any discomfort.

They will stand at the entrance to their drive and ‘people-watch’. Her lead will be long and loose so at any time she feels fearful, she can retreat up the drive.

She first will be taught that looking at a person from a comfortable distance (to her) will bring her food.

They will then build this technique into walks, beginning early in the morning when there are few people about. They won’t walk her in busy places or at busy times until she is ready. It is only a short way to go to fields where they let her off lead.

Doorways into buildings

They will work on taking her through doorways into buildings, starting with their helpful vets. They will go together. The man, to whom she’s most bonded, can go in first and sit down. He will check the coast is clear of people for now.

Letting a little time elapse so Chai both feels she has choice and is also missing the man, the lady will then take her in. With the man inside already it’s pretty certain Chai will willingly walk in. Then they can then come out and do it the other way around – lady in first.

This technique can be worked on many times and in different places.

They will lock the garden gate so people can’t simply walk in – and put a bell on it. Chai will no longer be allowed to feel vulnerable in the garden with someone able to walk straight into what should be her safe place.

It is quite heartbreaking when a puppy, despite such dedicated socialising and habituating to life, suddenly becomes unaccountably fearful of people or other dogs.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chai. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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).

She Barks at People Despite Being Well Trained

Goldie probably already had the seeds of timidity before they got her as a young puppy. If she had encountered many more people sufficiently early it would have helped, but they were caught in that trap of having to wait for vaccinations before taking her out (another matter I frequently write about). She’s now fourteen months old.

She barks at people.

Goldie barks at certain people when out, not everyone. She barks at people she doesn’t know who come into her she barks at peoplehouse.

One thing is for certain, if they had not been the dedicated owners they are, putting in so much love and training, the small gun dog Golden Labrador could now be a great deal worse.

It didn’t take her long to stop barking at me. It was a treat to visit such an gentle, friendly and well-trained dog.

Goldie has a lovely life, just tarnished by her fearfulness of certain people in certain situations.

Training alone doesn’t address this fear.

When out she will walk nicely, looking up and engaging with whoever is holding the lead. Keeping and holding attention is very valuable for managing situations but it it doesn’t get her to feel differently about an advancing person. It merely takes her attention away from them.

(It’s common for dogs to feel uneasy when approached. See the pulse project).

For what we want to achieve, Goldie needs to change how she feels. Distracting her by getting her to look at them instead is avoidance. It’s like telling a child who has seen a masked man at the window to pay attention to his Xbox.

Emotions drive behaviour. She barks at certain people. This is driven by fear.

To help to address this fear, she needs to register the person. Direct approaches are intimidating so they should always arc. They should keep at a distance where Goldie is aware but not reacting.

Looking at the person will then trigger goodies. Food can rain down.

Training her to keep attention on the handler is perfect if caught unprepared or too close, but it won’t change how Goldie feels. It’s merely management. They want to be able to relax and trust her to react calmly by herself. She won’t unless she loses her fear.

People invading her space.

Another responsibility of the owner is to protect their dog from unwelcome attention – who doesn’t want to touch a beautiful Labrador, after all. A yellow ‘I Need Space’ vest should help greatly.

Off-lead Goldie is less likely to react to an approaching person as is usually the case. She will have freedom to increase distance, something she doesn’t have when someone comes to the door of her house. At home the stranger is walking directly towards her.

They could of course train her to settle on a mat away from the door when someone comes in, but this is a big ask when she’s scared and reacts with barking rather than hiding.

Training will have its place later. For now she should be kept away from the door when someone arrives. Standing people are more threatening, so she can join them when the person is sitting down. They can then work on the person ‘triggering goodies’. It worked well with me.

They can desensitise her to the knocker too. Starting with Goldie at the door beside them and letting her see them knock whilst dropping food. They can do various kinds of knocks: short, multiple, loud and soft. Then can then have a family member the other side of the door knocking while another feeds her inside. Gradually they can increase distance and later make the knocks unpredictable. This will need hundreds of repetitions over a period of time.

When she eventually becomes more confident and relaxed, training her to go and lie on her bed away from the door when there is a knock on the door would be reasonable.

One last thing. They would like to take her places like the pub or a cafe without fearing she may suddenly have a bout of aggressive-sounding barking when a person approaches.

Goldie should end up with the ideal mix. Emotional stability and great training.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Goldie and I’ve not gone fully into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (click here to see my Help page)

Fearful of People but Needs Socialising. Conflict.

Lottie is fearful of people.

Fearful of peopleBeing fearful of people is unusual in a puppy of just three months old. It’s very sad to see.

Lottie is already growling when someone looks at her or approaches her, and it’s getting worse.

The beautiful Golden Retrieve puppy is also scared of noises and of anything new.

It’s hard to trace just why this is. Her family had done all the research possible over a long period of time before choosing her and she came from a good environment – from a family home, living with her mother.

She was the last of the litter and they found her lacking confidence from the start.

A puppy of eight weeks old should be confident and fearless.

Perhaps something occurred to make the already sensitive puppy so fearful of people, something during the puppy’s crucial fear period.  Something that nobody was aware of.

Lottie’s fearfulness may simply be genetic.

She should have had early socialising with different people from a few weeks old. She should have had habituating to daily life, people, other dogs and so on. Unfortunately they have been caught in that common trap of believing they can’t take her out to mix until her vaccinations are finished.

Now, at three months old, she’s ‘allowed’ to go out and they are playing catch up. This is what Linda Michaels says about this situation: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together.

Conflict. A dilemma.

Finding the best way to go about helping Lottie creates a dilemma – a conflict between the two things she most needs. One is time to build confidence around people and the other plenty of positive encounters as early as possible.

The need for patience and time to grow her confidence must come first, because without this, encounters are unlikely to be positive for her. They need to go very slowly so that she can get used to the scary world one thing at a time

Combining the two needs will best be done by as many encounters with people as possible but from a ‘safe’ distance, and associated with good things.

I suggest for a start that they put her in a comfortable harness and attach a long lead. They can simply take her to the end of their drive and let her watch the world go by, well back from any cars or people.

With every sound they will drop food. Every car that passes they can drop food. Every distant person she sees – drop food. Any dog she sees – drop food. If she’s scared, the lead is long and loose and she can run back to the house.

If this is still too much for her, they may need to start further back by the front door. It’s vital she’s allowed to choose her own pace.

People must not be allowed to crowd her or touch her. Believing they were doing the right things, they had been carrying her to allow people to touch her. She shook. From now on, getting near to a person must be her own choice and it doesn’t look like this will happen for a while.

They will start to invite people to their house – under strict instructions.

A typical happy Golden Retriever puppy!

Lottie’s not scared all the time however! In her home with her family she can be a typical happy little puppy tornado! She may suddenly race around with things going flying. She chews and she nips when excited! This is a lot easier and more normal to deal with.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lottie and I’ve not gone fully into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (click here to see my Help page)

Schnauzer fearful of dogs and children.

Look at this for a face! Hector is an eight month old Miniature Schnauzer who looks like a teddy bear. He is a remarkably calm pup most of the time. He is intelligent and biddable. He has been given sensible boundaries from the start, but is now quietly testing them as teenagers do! It is amusing to see how much he can get his unsuspecting humans to do for him, on his own terms, and how he chooses just what he does for them on their terms. He knows exactly hminiature schnautzer Hector looks like a teddy bearow far to push it!

This is typical puppy stuff which makes owners wonder whether it will ever end, and even causes some to give up.

The problem with Hector is his fearfulness. He is a very confident little dog when at home with his family, but when someone new comes into his house he barks at them and backs away.  Out on walks when on lead he is likely to bark at people and dogs. The worst is that he barks at children. When young children come to the house from time to time he is very scared, and if they are toddling or walking about he barks incessantly at them and this sounds aggressive and scary. He is very reactive to children playing outside or riding past on bikes.

It is natural for a dog to be wary of small children. They move suddenly and upredictably, they can be noisy, and they often approach in what the dog perceives a threatening manner, directly and staring, and most likely with arms outstretched. The owners then get anxious or cross when the dog is barking or growling, which compounds the problem. If there isn’t opportunity to acclimatise the dog to young children every day or so over a period of time, then he needs to be protected and to have a ‘safe haven’ where the children can’t go. In Hector’s case I suggested putting a gate on the kitchen doorway to keep the dog in and the children out. Maybe the child can throw little bits of the dogs dry food through the bars – but only if Hector is sufficienlty relaxed and not barking – so that he associates children with something nice.

Whether the dog is frightened of children, people, other dogs, traffic or anything else, it needs to be worked on gradually in a controlled way. Complete avoidance to start with and then introducing the trigger slowly and gradually whilst dealing with it the right way – never forcing the dog out of his comfort zone and being ready to retreat. Complete avoidance gives no opportunity to rehabilitate, but pushing ahead too fast can even result in shut down or aggression.

Hector is only eight months old, and with the right guidance and responses from his owners, over time he should gain his confidence.

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