The Dog is Fearful of Men

Greyhound Saluke Lurcher fearful of men

What a beautiful boy! He is lying in his corner beside the lady and well away from the gentleman.

Initially we were discussing the possible reasons why Greyhound Saluki mix Reuben could possibly be scared of the kind and friendly man. Did he remind him of someone who had scared him either by how his work clothes smelt perhaps or his voice? Had the two-year-old an early experience in the company of the man that scared him when they first got him from the rescue?

Even now after six months Reuben gives the man a wide berth. He is only happy to be near him when his back is turned.

It soon became apparent that he’s mostly scared of him simply because he’s a man. It’s not personal.

Men’s body language may be seen as more threatening along with a deeper voice. A recent study reported in Scientific American Mind as to one reason why many dogs may be more fearful of men and it’s to do with how they walk.

Understandably, the man tries his hardest to get Reuben at ease with him. He talks to him, plays with him (the dog allows this outside in the garden so long as he’s running away after a toy); the man watches him, subconsciously responds to his everything action and does everything he can to please him. The dog is having none of it.

When Reuben is in the garden he won’t come back in unless the lady calls him. He would happily stay hiding down the end of the garden for hours rather than come in to the man.

I have been to several cases like this before. It’s hurtful to a man because the bond is ever closer with the lady which, unintentionally, pushes the man out. Because the lady comforts Reuben when he is looking at the man, it can seem like they are in cahoots.

Indoors, his bolt-hole from the man or from callers is in a bedroom where he spends a lot of time. Outside, his sanctuary is down the end of the garden.

When I rang the bell on the gate and the lady came out and down the garden to open it, Reuben came running out with her, barking at me and obviously scared. When people come, if he’s not already in the garden he will be let out. They have regular visitors, many of them men due to the man’s work. This is giving the dog constant practice in barking at people who come through their garden, reinforcing his fear of approaching men.

We have a plan! There are three areas where his being fearful of men must be slowly addressed. Because it’s fear of men in general it has to be all men he encounters. These three areas are: encountering men out on walks, encountering people coming to their property (women as well as men) and fear of the gentleman himself.

The rule is: don’t force Reuben to go closer to a man than he feels comfortable. This applies to any and every man including his male owner. The longer they can keep him at a distance where he’s happy enough to take food and they can work on reducing his fear in the ways we discussed, the more progress they will make.

Firstly outside on walks. Instead of holding the barking dog tight to prevent him lunging at passing men, the lady should immediately create distance. Her idea of a ‘walk’ may need to be a bit different for now. One good idea for Reuben who seems better behind a man than being approached, is to follow one at a comfortable distance whilst plying him with food to give positive associations.

Secondly – the garden. Reuben, to my mind, should not have so much run of the garden for now, free to react in a fearful manner to men (and women) coming to the gate, much as he likes being out there. Again, if on their property Reuben can be at a distance from a man where he feels sufficiently safe, he can be plied with the special food.

If his fear of men in general isn’t addressed, progress with the gentleman owner himself will be compromised.

Thirdly, the man himself. The naturally warm and chatty man is going to find it very hard indeed, but for ten days or so he’s going to avoid all eye contact, speaking, efforts to entice Reuben to be friendly and resist outside play even if initiated by the dog. He’s going to remove all pressure on Reuben to interact with him in any way at all. Instead, he’s going to run a ‘chicken bar’ – Reuben loves chicken.

Every time Reuben has to pass a bit too near the man like going through the kitchen to the back door, chicken drops on the floor. Each time when the man is sitting in his chair the dog has to walk past to get to the lady, he drops a piece of chicken. Every time the man gets up and walks about and Reuben is nearby, he drops chicken. That is all.  When the man’s not about the chicken bar closes.

Reuben’s loves his food but his meals will be relatively boring so all the good stuff will now be associated with men.

I would be very surprised if, after the ten days is up and if the man can manage it, Reuben’s not walking happily and calmly past the man, trusting him not to try to touch him, no more taking a wide berth or making a run for it. Then, with great care, the man can add things one at a time. For a few days, as he drops the food but with no eye contact, he can gently say ‘Good Boy’. After a few days of that he could add eye contact, ever ready to drop back to the previous stage if pushing ahead too fast, and so on.

If they are sufficiently patient I can see Reuben eventually coming happily and confidently to the man when he calls him over for a piece of chicken. That will be the first step towards allowing himself to be touched. Then, no longer fearful of him, he will dare to come in from the garden when the man calls and so on.

This issue of being fearful of men is deeply ingrained in poor Reuben and could even have a hereditary element. It will take as long as it takes.

Here is an update from an email after about 8 weeks, demonstrating how their patience is paying off: Everything with Reuben seems to be progressing pretty well.  (My husband) is now able to feed him from an open hand, whilst sitting on the floor, and Reuben is much more relaxed in his company now.  Reuben will sometimes sit with us in the sitting room, while we’re watching TV, and quite happily follows (my husband) around in the garden – sitting on the grass a few feet away, and has even ventured into the workshop…….The traffic problem is improving too……
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 Reuben. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 Get Help page)

Whippet Lurcher is Scared of Men

Tilly was a stray dog found on the streets in Greece along with a male dog from whom she was inseparable and who now also has a new home. She is one year old and some sort of whippet cross.

Tilly is a remarkably stable dog in all respects bar one – she is still, after four months of living with the couple, very wary of the gentleman of the house, this is despite the man doing nearly everything for Tilly because the lady is often away for a week at a time for her work. Many dogs that have not suffered abuse are scared of men.

Tilly is worst of all when he is standing up or walking about. One can only guess at what must have happened to her earlier at the hands of a man, perhaps the dog-catcher. Apparently the other dog is even more scared of men, which is a tribute to the efforts Tilly’s people have put in so far.

Sitting on the sofa with the lady, I watched as the man walked around the room, making us a coffee. Tilly made sure she had the kitchen table between her and him, eyes darting, tail between her legs and licking her lips.

When he sat down on the L-shaped sofa, Tilly jumped straight up too but as far away from him as she could, between the lady and myself. Here was his dog, snuggling up to me and kissing my nose, whereas if the man so much as moved on the other end of the sofa she shrank back into the seat (see her picture). He feels so very hurt. He is the sweetest, gentlest of men and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my saying that he’s not a macho type. He has tried so hard with her.

The fact that the other two little dogs (photos below) enjoy his cuddles doesn’t seem to help Tilly at all.

Here is a very short video of Tilly thinking the man may be about to stand up, but relaxing when he doesn’t.

He really does adore her, but I feel his efforts to make her accept him are the crux of  the stalemate they have now reached. He needs to start behaving in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him – with some indifference.  I believe that all the effort he makes is, in a way, driving her away. There is too much pressure upon on her (I have had personal experience of this when I took on my German Shepherd, Milly).

Weirdly, off lead out on walks with lots of space she is a different dog, running about and playing, and (mostly) coming back to him when called, but at home, before they can go, she runs around before cowering in a corner for him to put collar and lead on her. Again, it does make one wonder whether it was a dog-catcher that caused her problems with men. Once collar and lead are on, he gives her a fuss – but I did point out to him that at thLittle dog being cuddledis stage a fuss was in effect punishment to her. It can be hard for a loving human to see this from the dog’s point of view.

I am certain that playing harder to get is the answer and to release her of all obligation to come to him or to be touched by him. Easing of all pressure by acting indifferent is one half of the plan for desensitisation. The other is counter-conditioning.

She will now only be fed dog food at meal times and the special stuff – chicken – will be used for ‘man’ work. Starting at a level she could tolerate, each time the man moved and Tilly looked at him, we said a quiet ‘yes’ and fed her. We gradually upped the ante until he stood up and sat down again, all the time feeding her. When he walked around it became too much for her – she ran off to the other side of the kitchen table.

While he walks about, as obviously he must, he will either silently throw food to her as he passes or drop it behind him as he walks, encouraging her to follow him rather than to run away. If he can manage to resist words and eye contact, she will slowly relax I’m sure.

He will become a walking ‘chicken vending machine’! In time she will associate him only with good stuff.Crested Powder Puff

If he resists approaching her in any way for long enough, the time will come when she actively invites his attention, and I feel he should still hold back! To value it, she needs to have to work for it (rather than, as she probably now feels, it being forced upon her). She needs to learn that coming over to him doesn’t result in something that is (to her at the moment) punishing.

I am sure, if he takes things sufficiently slowly and resists showering her with demonstrative love until she is well and truly ready, all will be well eventually. It’s a question of building up her trust.

One month later: ‘Tilly is doing exceptionally well and is turning into a fantastic lady. She is incredible on recall and sits down for her lead in the morning. She sits for her treats etc on the run and walks beautifully. She still goes under the bed but is first on the bed in the morning to lick JIms’s face and licks his hands a number of times during the night to say hello. We are delighted with the progress. Jim is grinning from ear to ear and is very proud of ‘their’ progress. As I write Tilly is lying with her head on Jim’s lap.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Lurcher Bows, Stretches and Yawns. Dog Body Language.

Lucy watches from her box


interesting dog body language


Here are three beautiful Lurchers, all rescues left behind by travellers. 16-month-old Maggie, the one I was called out for, is the dog on the left, stretching. I was told that she was very withdrawn, does not interact with her human couple but loves the other two dogs.

Yesterday was an instance of how what I see through my own eyes can be something completely different.

All three dogs, including Maggie, came over and sniffed me politely when I arrived (I smell good of my own five dogs).

Dog body language

Knowing she was hand shy, I didn’t try to touch Maggie, but soon she was making overtures of wary friendship. It was interesting dog body language. She was frequently bowing whilst yawning at the same time – which her people thought was simply stretching rather than trying to communicate. She had her body towards me but her head turned away as you can see. (When my own confident Lurcher Pip wants to initiate communication with play bows, his head will be up and he will be looking in my eyes).

Maggie is trying to ask for something – but the ‘look-aways’ and the yawning suggest it’s not the response she’s getting. People reach out. Maggie backs away from them. It’s like she is speaking a different language.

Lurcher Saluki mix


She obviously wants contact but not the kind of contact she is offered. She gets stroked and patted on top of her head and body. It’s clear she is a lot more comfortable being touched very gently on her front and around her ears.

Actually, I don’t think she is asking to be touched at all. Mirroring her own body language back to her is like replying. She’s seems happy with that – or a few gentle words.

There is another element to her behaviour. The older Lurcher Lucy, in the white box, is watching her all the time. Subtly controlling Maggie perhaps. I suspect this is inhibiting her. I watched her body language also.

I suggest Maggie is not touched at all for a while. At the same time, they can work on teaching her to come to them and ‘touch’ their hands with her nose upon request, secure in the knowledge that the hand won’t then reach out to her. She can also be taught to give and hold eye contact.

At present  she is ‘one of the pack’ and largely left to relate to the dogs. She needs to be singled out and her dog-to-human communication skills worked on, to help to build up a bond with her humans.

Maggie is making some sweet overtures that are misunderstood.

Lurcher in a Lampshade

Lurcher in a lampshadeThey have had two-year-old Lurcher Lena for four weeks. There is no history of her previous life.

She is a delightful dog, full of character – friendly and funny, but will be a lot easier to live with when she calms down and develops some impulse-control. She pulls terribly on lead and will generally do as she pleases. To quote her new owners, ‘she is totally unresponsive to our commands. She needs to learn some manners’. I found that she simply does as she likes despite their best efforts. She lacks self-control

A major problem is she torments their cats. She obsessively looks around for them when she leaves the house; she barks and whimpers when she sees one and lunges after it.

Lena was certainly active when I arrived! She was flying all of the sofa and vigorously shaking a rope toy, or charging around dropping a bone on the hard floor and skidding about after it. Manic! All this was made worse because she’s having to wear a lampshade that added to the chaos as she crashed into people and furniture. Out on a walk she had gashed her side badly on barbed wire, and whilst under anaesthetic the veLurcherLena1t spayed her as well. It certainly hasn’t affected her energy levels!

I found her very responsive to a quiet voice and rewards.

A while ago I went to two whippets who similarly were on obsessive ‘cat-watch’ when they left the house. The people carefully stuck to the plan with great results (you can see the story)

Lena’s new owners know that this is going to take time and are prepared to put in whatever effort it takes. I only saw them yesterday and already Lena is testing the new boundaries!

Excited When he Sees Another Dog

William Lurcher watching one of the StaffiesWilliam is a three-year-old Lurcher, or maybe a Greyhound, who came from Battersea Dog’s Home at four months old.  He is inclined to get very excited, very easily.  For some of the time two Staffies stay in the same house, and neither are calm dogs, one plays rather too roughly (William isn’t innocent as he usually provokes him) and the other is not a good influence, with plenty of snarling and baring of teeth.

A bit like a teenager that has got in with the wrong friends, I feel that much of William’s behaviour has been influenced by them. He has not been learning polite dog-to-dog language and behaviour. He has not practised normal polite interaction and play with other dogs.

The owners’ dream is to be able to take William for walks in the park and go on holiday with him, but when he sees another dog he is so wild with excitement and fired up with anxiety, made worse by the reaction of the humans, that he is rearing, lunging and screaming. He has never attacked another dog, just been pushy and over-excited. Never aggressive.

The most shocking thing is that the lady, in her very best efforts to give her Battersea dog a good life, has had three people in to help her with her lovely dog. One gave her a prong collar and the other an electric collar. I’m relieved that she never used the e-collar, but just imagine the prongs of the other collar on a skinny Greyhound neck.

The way to reverse a particular behaviour is to get to the cause of it and deal with that, not to inflict pain or fear.

William isn’t an aggressive dog but he just lacks manners and experience. He needs working on, alone. Much of the human response when he’s been confronted with another dog will have made things worse. It is tragic, because a dog owner who wants to do the very best for their dog has in good faith called in ‘experts’ and basically been told to torture him. I feel that they are now very relieved.

Gradual but controlled exposure to other dogs at a comfortable distance, with owners who react appropriately, like proper Leaders and not bullies, will bring things around for William and his family, but it could take quite a long time.

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

Lurcher Frantic When Owner Out of Sight

Lurcher Bovril is a sweet natured dogLurcher Bovril is a sweet, gentle natured dog with two problems. He has separation distress big time, and he is scared of other dogs.

He is now six years old and came to live with his lady owner about three years ago. Before that he was kept in single a room with lots of other dogs and in a terrible condition, full of parasites. He was, however, never alone. It is puzzling why he should be so scared of other dogs now. Maybe he was bullied.

The family has dwindled from four to one in the past few months as people have left home, and the lady has not been at work for a long while. She and Bovril are inseparable. He sleeps in her bedroom and keeps his eye on her all day. He will cry when she is out of sight even though he knows she is in the house, and he will howl constantly while she is out. Even when the daughters are there to look after him, he paces and cries until the lady gets back. If she goes away he simply doesn’t eat and he is already a very thin dog. The lady has no freedom.

When on walks another dog comes towards them, especially an off-lead dog, Bovril wants to run and hide, but because he has to be on lead all he can do is to wrap himself around the lady’s legs in panic.

Bovril is badly in need of a ‘leader’. A ‘rock’. They have so wanted to compensate for his start in life that it has made him insecure and needy. He makes all his own decisions and there are no boundaries, which I believe with a sensitive dog can lead to insecurity. He chooses where he sleeps, he chooses when he eats, he chooses when people play with him or touch him. Being the ‘decision-maker’ comes with responsibilities that he’s not temperamentally up to. When the lady is out of sight he panics like you would if your three-year-old went missing. Out on walks, trapped on a lead with someone who is not his protector but more his responsibility, he feels very vulnerable when other dogs come their way.

The lady is moving house in a couple of weeks. She is going to start changing things right away, starting with very short indoor partings from Bovril. This will need to be done in tiny increments and it can take a long time. She will eventually need to go back to work. On walks he will no longer be held tight when other dogs are about. He will have a longer lead and when they see another dog the lady will be his ‘rock’ and act appropriately.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.



A Very Good Dog

Lurcher Berkley is settling well into his new home Berkley is a brindled lurcher. He had been in rescue kennels for seven months before his new owners found him three weeks ago. Seven months! I cannot understand why nobody wanted him. He is beautiful, confident, friendly; he is calm – and he has been well trained by someone.

Berkely confidently knows what he wants. His new owners are being a little too obliging and I could see that he is beginning to call all the shots. I was called out because they want to get things right, and because they are worried about his reaction to other dogs when they get too near and are too boisterous, pushy or impolite. Berkely is quite happy to ignore them altogether and he makes this quite clear.  Because, if they push it, he snaps at them and growls, his new ownerLurcherBerkley11s are concerned he may bite one. They hold his lead tight. He is never yet off lead, and the dogs in question are all off lead dogs, so Berkley is at a disadvantage. He can’t escape and he can’t after all say ‘Go away, I don’t want you sniffing my bum!’ The owners need to be in control and save Berkley from awkward situations rather than push him into them. If he were free I am sure he could deal with dogs himself without a fight. This isn’t aggression. Understandablly they don’t yet dare let him off lead yet, so there is work to be done!

We had a very good evening looking at things from Berkley’s perspective so they could see if he continues to make all the decisions  – when to be touched, when to be walked, when to play and when to stop playing, where to walk when they are out and so on, they could actually spoil a very sound dog.

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

Anorexic Lurcher

Is the Lurcher anorexic?Ruby is a very thin dog. She is refusing to eat. Her brother Bandit, on the right, who lives with the owner’s friend is how Ruby should be looking.

This is a very worrying case because Ruby is anorexic.

Why, we still don’t know. It is also very puzzling. I thought before I arrived that it would be behaviour issues, common around fussy eaters, but now I am not so sure although certain events leading up to her refusing to eat could be relevant. Last year there was a family death, followed in October by the death of their other Lurcher – her father. The owners were experiencing great grief and Ruby was experiencing loss. Possibly they were over-compensating and redirecting their feelings onto Ruby and we know that dogs pick up on the emotions and stress of their humans.

However, by nature Ruby is a calm and confident dog. It is difficult to imagine she would be so badly effected so long after the event – several months. Usually when I go to see a dog, I can see quite quickly what the problem is and what to do about it.  Not in this case. Everything points to a physical problem maybe made worse by the atmosphere of stress in her life and absence of the other dog. Either something medical, minor and passing, may have triggered off full blown anorexia, or unhappily maybe it is something chronic.

They have had extensive tests at the vet and Ruby has been on a drip to re-hydrate her a couple of weeks ago. They have discovered nothing. The last course of action will be to go to a vet hospital for observation and tests which would not help her if it is psychological. I have a fearful feeling that the gradual decline in appetite may be something sinister developing inside her as yet undiscovered.

I so hope not, and that Ruby will slowly pick up in an atmosphere of calm without fussing nor humans over-compensating for the loss of the other dog. Too much effort put into trying to get her to eat could well be having the opposite result. Her concerned owners are very emotional at the moment, understandably, and this can’t be helping.

But, driving home and gathering distance away from the situation, I felt uneasy. I noticed before I lost my Chocolate Labrador through heart disease a few months ago, that my other dogs sensed it and would lie down near her but make no demands on her at all. Even my young cocker spaniel lay still near her which was not like him at all.  When an animals feel unwell they may even take themselves off somewhere alone. We can learn from other dogs. Be near. Just be there for her.

Four hours later: I have just had a phone call. Ruby has now, as we discussed, been to a different vet and has been diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, a disease of the adrenal glands. Serious but not usually fatal although requiring lifetime medication. She is staying in for at least a night on a drip and to get her going again. Great relief all round.

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

A Lurcher, a Greyhound… and a Hen!

Hen in the house with the dogsThis evening I have been to see two beautiful dogs – a lurcher and an ex-racing greyhound who came from Ireland three years ago. And a red hen. They are all treated like royalty and waited on hand and foot by their elderly owners. What was so surprising was that these dogs were in fact so well-adjusted. There is a bit of grumbling when the lady’s foot may nudge Jessie in bed at night, and Charlie may growl slightly if someone sits next to him on the sofa, Jessie will steal any food she can see (but then she is hand fed from the table) and Charlie barks when they come home (but they make a big fuss of him).

The people and dogs seemed happy with the two dogs being King and Queen and the owners being their loyal servants – apart from Charlie’s attitude towards other dogs when out on walks. Having been kennel-bound all his young life, civilised country walks were not something he had grown up with. He is very wary of dogs and his attitude is that he will bark at them and try to get rid of them before they have a chance to attack him – or more particularly Jessie who unlike Charlie loves other dogs. The nearer she gets to them the more frantic and aggressive Charlie becomes. A while ago he bit a man who was trying to protect his dog, so now poor Charlie, who can live in harmony with a chicken in his house, has to be muzzled to protect other dogs – and this will make him feel even more vulnerable.

They have a wonderful dog walker who was also at our meeting and who does much of the walking. She is going to help the owners work on treating their dogs a little more as dogs, and dealing with Charlie’s fearfulness with other dogs – so that the lady, in time, will be able to enjoy walking her own dogs together.

If you live within my area, would you like me to help you too?

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.

Nightmare Walks

Lurcher and brindled cross breed on their bedI had a relaxing Sunday afternoon with two friendly dogs. Sitting there with Noodles the lurcher asleep much of the time and Tofu a brindled cross breed a bit more active but happy, it was hard to imagine that these same two dogs could be so fear aggressive to other dogs when out on walks.

I briefly walked in the garden with Noodles. She was so tall it was like leading a pony!

Noodles had been attacked several times by off lead dogs so was very much on the defensive.  They had recently acquired Tofu from Wood Green for company for Noodles. In many ways this has helped Noodles enormously, she is much more relaxed in the house and when the owners go out. However, Tofu isn’t an altogether good influence on her! Egged on by Tofu, the two together are a menace when out on walks. They pull and lunge at dogs and would attack if they could get to them. It is a dangerous situation for the owner who may also be pushing a buggy, and the chaos upsets their little girl.

At home there are excessive bouts of barking, with the slightest noise setting them both off, rushing from the front of the house and out through the dog flap into the garden.  I only witnessed this once in the three hours or so that I was there. This is because we had created a calm atmopshere so the dogs chilled. Both dogs, incidentally, are wonderful with the two-year-old daughter. They love her and she loves them.

The people have worked very hard with both dogs from the start, and have made great progress already.  We are now filling in a few of the basics which are less to do with training the dogs, more to do with changing their own behaviour, so that the dogs see them as the protectors, providers and decision-makers. We have worked out a strategy for making walks enjoyable – basically by going back to square one and starting all over again in a totallyl different way than ‘dog training’ and ‘correction’,  a step at a time, with the dogs understanding that the only way to get anywhere will be on a loose lead. The work has to start before they even step out of the door. It will take time!

If you live within my area, would you like me to help you too?

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