His Fear of People is Puzzling

I have just met another Henry – a Miniature Schnauzer age two. He is quite unusual to look at, being brown and with a poodle-like curly coat. Cute! fear of people makes him bark at them

Henry was barking behind a door when I arrived. Let out after I had sat down, he came charging up to me, barking quite fiercely. This didn’t last for long and I could see that he was scared whilst also wanting to make friends. He backed away and inched forwards. He licked his lips.

Within a very few minutes of being left to do things in his own time, he was taking food from me and we were friends.

Fear of people when out is causing problems.

Henry is very reactive to anyone he meets when out on walks. It’s even worse if they have a dog.

Unlike some scared dogs that back away and try to make themselves small, like others Henry seems to feel that attack is the best form of defense.

It’s puzzling why he has become like this. His mother has an even temperament. He was introduced nicely to everyday life at a young age and so far as I can see they did everything right. Nothing seemed to scare him early on, it just slowly developed. Nobody has ever hurt him.

On lead he will walk nicely until he sees a person or a dog, and then, while his human traps him tightly on a short lead as they pass, he strains to get to them, barking all the time. Their very common approach teaches him nothing. It won’t be making him feel any less fearful of people and dogs.

The million dollar question is what should they be doing?

It stands to reason that if people continue as they are, nothing will change. The only way is to do things completely differently.

Any continued close encounters with people and dogs will merely go on making things worse. Where can they go to avoid them? There are people and dogs everywhere.

Where there’s a will there has to be a way.

The three choices are stark.

There are three choices when considering what to do about reactivity, barking and lunging through fear of people and dogs when out.

The choices aren’t based on convenience or lifestyle. They are just fact.

One is great, one is dreadful and the third is doing nothing.

Either Henry’s root fear needs changing so that he no longer feels scared. No longer feeling scared, he will no longer be noisy. He will in time be a happy and much more confident dog. Everyone will enjoy walks. Job done.

It’s all about building up trust.

Another possibility (which Henry’s humans won’t be doing!) is to deal with just the symptom – the barking, pulling and lunging – with no regard for the emotions which making him behave like this. This is punishment administered by a human who is simply bigger and stronger and may also have painful equipment to use on the dog.

This is the ‘dominance’ approach used in the bad old days. Cruelty used to force a dog through pain and fear.

This destroys all trust.

It’s hard to believe in this enlightened day and age that there are still trainers and TV programmes that advocate this kind of approach.

Who could want their relationship with their dog to be on that footing? Certainly not Henry’s owners.

There is a third choice which some people understandably end opting for. That is simply to give up and live with things as they are.

Harry has six loving adult humans in his life who have always done their best for him. Between them they will do whatever is required to build up his confidence. They will all need to pull together. Behind his fear of people is a very friendly little dog ready to burst out.

All people must be consistent in keeping the threshold distance for Henry from dogs and people while they work on things. This isn’t optional. The will each know how to react should someone unexpectedly appear or if they have a ‘near-dog encounter’.

Henry is never let off lead although they live very near to parkland. Here they meet few dogs and people which is ideal for a dog with fear of people. They can drive there. They can even jog to get there. He’s not reactive while they are running.

They will get a long line for him so that he has some freedom. This will make his walks fulfilling.

Fear of people doesn’t involve avoiding people altogether but working on them within Henry’s comfort zone. If Henry’s humans all stick to this and take it slowly, his confidence is certain to grow.

They will need to be tough about appearing unfriendly by creating distance between themselves and people who want to talk to them. If they want success they have no choice. Here is a little video about how to increase space without seeming rude.

There are certain sacrifices to be made but it will be so well worth it in the end.


Excitement or fear? Barking at Dogs. Wants Play? Scared?

Other dogs - excitement or fear?Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Reuben barks at other dogs – but not always.

Sometimes he gets excited and wants to play – but it’s not always that.  Sometimes he’s afraid. Then he barks at the other dog to go away.

Mostly he runs freely with other dogs, playing happily. Just occasionally on these occasions things get too much for him or another dog upsets him. Then he may show aggression. He has punctured a dog’s ear.  Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Even dogs who are mostly fine with other dogs have their moments. Then the owner can be affected out of all proportion, making walks a worry instead of a joy. Continue reading…

Scared of Everything – People, Dogs, Bins, New Things

Scared of everything


Little Odie seems scared of everything when he goes out. He is also frightened of people coming to his house and of sounds he hears coming from outside.

He is a sad little dog in my photo, very sore with a gland problem and not his usual self. Hence the collar to stop him licking it.

He is a Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, age about two and he has lived with the lovely family for about nine months. They have another rescue Jack Russell mix, Penny.

It is very likely that Odie hadn’t been introduced to much of the world outside a house before he came to live here.

The outside world is overwhelming for the timid little dog.

They have worked very hard indeed with their two little dogs and have built up considerable knowledge. However, with Odie they seem to have come to a full stop. The lady walks him, and nothing she tries seems to further reduce his fearfulness.

Odie is scared of everything when out on walks.

He tries to avoid his harness and lead being put on. Once out, he is on high alert. Different things or things in different places frighten him. Even static objects scare him, things that are always there. There is the ‘cat’ house where a black cat used to stare at him. Even though the cat is now long gone, Odie is still scared when approaching the house.

He is scared of wheelie bins.

He is particularly frightened of other dogs.

In order to help move things forward now with Odie, we took a fresh look at dealing with his fears.

Already the lady walks the two dogs separately which is good. Penny is very happy on walks, if a little over-excitable. Odie needs her full attention.

She will now do two different kinds of walks with him. Currently she walks along a road where he is encountering all the scary things, ending up at open fields where she puts him on a long line.

I suggest for starters she does a ten or fifteen minute road walk each day, keeping near to home and working on his fearfulness. She then can get in the car and drive him to the fields.

As he seems so scared of everything when out, how should she help him?

I suggest begin with static things – like wheelie bins.

Penny in a quiet moment

Penny in a quiet moment

She can practise her desensitising and counter-conditioning technique on wheelie bins! I suggest she avoids dogs and people meanwhile.

They can approach the stationery bin. She will walk slowly and watch Odie carefully. He will then notice it. If he doesn’t react she can slowly continue to advance. If he reacts in any way she must increase distance until once again he is comfortable.

He now knows the bin is there. He will realise he’s not being forced forward into danger, thus building trust. Now, at this comfortable distance, the ‘frankfurter sausage bar’ can open. Odie will love frankfurters.

If they go out of sight of the bin the bar will close. Back in sight, it opens again. They can slowly advance, once more ready to retreat at the first sign of anxiety. It won’t be long before Odie will be lifting his leg on this particular bin!

They can look for another bin. She could even point it out – ‘Look at That’! Then proceed with the same technique.

Next, on bin collection day, the lady can do exactly the same thing with other bins. With the technique under her belt she can do likewise when approaching the ‘cat’ house, garden statues or anything else that spooks him.

Eventually they will be ready to do start working with distant dogs.

This is a whole different thing of course because dogs are moving but the process is the same. She must always give herself room to increase distance.

What if she gets sandwiched between two dogs?

She picks Odie up.

He is very small. Everything must seem huge to him. Make a quick escape and remove him from danger immediately. The lady has been told ‘not to pick him up’. I wonder why people advise this? The only danger I can see is that a big dog may leap up in order to get to the little dog.

Here is a lovely training video from Steve Mann, teaching the little dog to ask when he would like to be lifted.

The very short and regular car trip to the fields should help Odie to feel better about the car too. On the long line he can do as much sniffing as he likes and the lady can be ready straight away to deal with anything that scares him. She already has a tabard for herself reading ‘My Dog Needs Space’ which she finds other dog walkers are taking note of.

Scared of everything when out, Odie needs to be ‘built up’ at home too.

This means reducing stress levels in every way possible so that he is less jumpy. This can be a bit more boring for (particularly male!) humans who like rough-house play etc.! Instead, there are plenty of hunting, foraging and brain games activities that, because they give appropriate stimulation, are stress-reducing.

Odie will learn to love his harness being put on – coming for it instead of running off.

Understanding how reducing fearfulness actually works is key to progress. I wrote one of my Paws for Thought blogs on Habituation, Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning.

The family has been working so hard with their dear little dogs. They have taken advice, some of which was good and some not so good. The lady has involved them in agility and flyball but found that it stressed them out too much. Through reading and research they have now nearly conquered separation issues the dogs had.

Now they will be making some more headway with Odie’s being scared of everything. It will doubtless be slow. These things can’t be rushed.


Three months have now gone by: When walking Odie over the moor he is not at the end of the long line, he is sniffing and relaxed and open mouthed. At home Odie will sometimes take himself to his crate, sleep on the bed in the living room, sleep on the floor rather than always looking for a lap. Poppy and Odie play together more frequently. Odie sometimes asks to play.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Odie. 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)


Pootalian Now Goes For Other Dogs

NedAnother first for me. I went to an Italian Greyhound Poodle mix and on looking it up I find this is called a Pootalian!

Ned seems to be much more Italian Greyhound than Poodle. My source said, ‘This breed is best for homes with a fenced yard’. It also says that they are ‘easily trained and fast learners’ and lack of training may be at the route of Ned’s main problem in terms of immediately coming back when called and both trusting and focussing on the person who is walking him when required.

He is now five. He was initially very well socialised indeed, both with other dogs and with people. Then they moved to a quieter area and they let it slip.

A couple of months ago the delicate small dog raced across a field to ‘attack’ another dog that was on lead – for no apparent reason, and although there was no damage done it was a big shock to the gentleman.

After this the very caring and concerned owners tried taking him to a trainer, but he was too frightened to do anything.

The couple have been in their new house for only three weeks and already Ned has ‘gone for’ the dog next door, getting through a hole in the fence. To deal with the barking the lady has used a water spray which seems to have ‘worked’. The trouble with quick fixes is that they work in the present but the fallout comes later. What effect might trying to scare a nervous dog out of barking have on both his existing fear of other dogs and his relationship with his owners?

On walks Ned pulls on a lead attached to a thin collar. He is now increasingly straining, lunging, hackles up and barking to get at any dog he sees. Walks aren’t enjoyable. Like so many people would, the gentleman holds him tightly beside him and continues to walk towards the other dog which unintentionally must cause discomfort if not pain to a delicate neck.

The solution isn’t quick. There is no quick fix. It’s a question of looking at things in a different way. They hadn’t regarded the tactics they are using when Ned is near another dog as punishment (positive punishment if we want to get all technical). Anything that is painful – even just uncomfortable or frightening in any way that is caused by ourselves – amounts to punishment and this includes spray bottles and pain in the dog’s neck.

Punishment usually looks like it works at the time but it’s a patch over a wound that is still festering. The underlying wound itself, the emotion driving the behaviour is what needs to be dealt with otherwise it will just keep getting worse each time it happens. The only way to deal with Ned’s fear of other dogs or of people is to change the emotion and get rid of the fear. Punishing fear can only make it worse – or make the dog quiet because it shuts down.

Because unpleasant things happening when Ned sees another dog is making him worse, it stands to reason that the reverse is the way to go. We need to do the opposite – make sure that when he sees another dog only pleasant things happen.

As I see it, the process starts at home. They first need Ned to feel more secure in them to protect him at home, else how can he do so when they are out? No more open dog flap and boundary barking at the neighbour’s dog or sitting on the bed for a good view of anyone passing by to bark at. Who should be in charge of protection after all – Ned or his humans? He also needs lots of practise in coming immediately when called around the house, else how can they expect him to do so when he sees another dog?

While the home things are being put in place, they will be getting used to much more comfortable walks – loose lead walking with a harness. They won’t be ready to encounter other dogs for a while. There must be no more forcing him to pass them because that will have destroyed a lot of Ned’s trust and that needs to be built up again. They will do anything that is necessary to help their adorable dog.

When the time comes to work on his fear of other dogs, they can start at a distance where Ned can cope and work from there. Over time this distance will reduce if handled properly. His recall needs to be spot-on so that once again he can be free to run and let off steam in a way that a miniature greyhound should.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ned, which is why I don’t go into 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).

On High Alert for Other Dogs

On high alert for other dogs when outOdoe is a bit of a mix – a delightful mix! There is certainly Terrier and probably Whippet in there. He had an uncertain first two or three years. Eight years ago he was brought over from Ireland and this was followed by time in kennels and at least one other home before his present owners adopted him six years ago.

He now has a wonderful home with a lovely caring young couple who have put in a lot of time to train him and make him happy.

Unusually motionless

Odoe however doesn’t come over as a very relaxed little dog; he may chase a bird outside followed by some tail chasing, and although I’m sure he’s not like this all the time I found him often unusually motionless. He sits and he stares. When out, he’s on high alert. Possibly when they can relieve him of his daily fears out on walks he will loosen up a bit. I hope so.

He is reactive and scared of other dogs – especially when he is on lead, but it is very likely that they worry unnecessarily and that this is part of the problem. He has never actually harmed a dog. He is also scared of large vehicles and will lunge at them.

This is really very brave. He is a little dog attempting to chase away things that scare him.

On high alert for other dogs

On high alert for other dogs, as they get nearer to him there is a ‘threshold’ beyond which he goes to pieces – hackles, lunging and barking. When they can they avoid this by escaping as soon as they spot a dog. This is a lot better than forcing him onwards, but it doesn’t teach Odie anything that will help him.

Up to a certain distance he is okay, and then he will flip. His owners can see it coming from is body language. This is Odie’s ‘threshold moment’. With a dog that indicates his threshold as clearly as Odie, the job is a lot easier, because it is here the work needs to be done to increase the dog’s confidence, enabling the threshold to expand over time until he can pass by other dogs without reacting – trusting in his owner.

As with many dogs, exactly how far away from the other dog this threshold is will vary from day to day, depending upon how stressed and tense he is and, importantly, how his walker is feeling also.

Odie starts out on walks in a state of high alert, scanning around looking for dogs. A calm dog walking on a loose lead is not looking out for trouble. Just as some people are a bit paranoid, always expecting the worst, a dog can be the same – especially when nervous messages are being sent down the lead.

German Shepherd Terrified of People

White German Shepherd puppy is feeling stressed It is sad to see such a young dog so scared.

Darcy is only five months old. At home, with family and close friends, she is relaxed, friendly and biddable. She is surprisingly calm for a puppy, she doesn’t chew things and she is house-trained.

The problem is ‘other’ people. When I arrived her hackles were raised high all along her back, she was backing away and barking like mad. This carried on for a while. She would find the courage to come a bit nearer and then back off barking again.

The natural reaction of humans is to either tell the dog to be quiet, or to pet and ‘comfort’ her. They were doing both these things. Scolding a dog for being scared isn’t appropriate, and stroking is reinforcing her fears – telling she is rightDarcy is looking a little happier now to be frightened. I am showing them what are the appropriate ways of reacting. You can see on the right she is yawning – a sign that although she now looks in settled position she is still anxious.

Out on walks Darcy shrinks away from people and other dogs. She has already started to bark at things she hears outside the house or garden. One can imagine what she will be like as an adult German Shepherd if something isn’t done now.

Darcy displays all the signs of a puppy who has not been handled by a sufficient number of new people before she even leaves the breeder. One or more of the following factors could also contribute to the cause: being born to a fearful mother and maybe of a natural nervous disposition anyway, kept out of the way in another room or a shed for the first eight weeks of their life, possibly some inbreeding.

I shall be helping Darcy’s family for the next few months, maybe longer, helping them to understand her and to help her gain confidence. There is no quick fix and we can’t put the clock back.

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

Goes Frantic When People Walk Out

Border Collie Bella is anxious and waryFour-year-old Bella should be a happy dog. She lives with a great family who love her, she is well fed, she has good exercise and a comfortable bed.

However, she is not a happy dog much of the time. Bella is anxious and wary. She has to know where each family member is all the time, running around the house and trying to round them up. She goes ‘mental’ when they try to leave the house and she may nip a visiting person who starts walking out through a door, though, interestingly, she is quite settled once she is all alone.

The little boy is only two years old, and Bella feels threatened and growls if she is cornered by him. So far he’s not been nipped.

Being in a family with three children there is a lot of bustle and excitement – particularly before school in the mornings. Bella gets very worked up indeed, running around the house and as the first ones leave for school, hurling herself at the window, barking.

Bella is very wary of new people and other dogs, especially men, and on walks she will bark, hackle and cower away.

I would say her start in life was far from perfect. Before twelve weeks old she probably never encountered other dogs apart from her own mother and litter mates, and will not have been exposed to friendly people and children, nor things like vacuum cleaners. When it’s left this late, it is hard to catch up. It is very likely that her mother was also an anxious and timid dog and that her genetics were not ideal – puppies are usually friendly and confident, but Bella was scared when they fetched her.

I have been to a great number of anxious, timid dogs – and dogs that round people up and nip – quite of a few of them Border Collies.

Today, the next day, I have received an email: ‘This morning was wonderful. We followed your instructions……..Bella was calm and we were also. What a great start’. I had been suggested by another client, and it’s always very rewarding to hear that I, to quote, ‘could not have been more highly recommended’.

With a mix of practical common sense, understanding things from the dog’s point of view and changing the owners’ behaviour accordingly, big changes can happen – given time.

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

Another Terrier X From Ireland

Anxious looking rescue dog from IrelandHeidi who I saw a couple of days ago came from Ireland and was probably terrier mixed with Collie, and Ben I saw today was also shipped over from Ireland, as a puppy, and may be the same mix if more terrier than Collie. Both dogs are reactive and scared of dogs and people, especially when out, and both live with an older, larger dog. Ben lives with eight-year-old Chocolate Labrador Billy.

As you can see, Ben is lovely. He is affectionate and biddable though can be anxious and over-excited. He is three years old.

Ben barks and hackles at people he doesn’t know entering the house, men mainly, and at people he sees when out. Like Heidi he may rush at them and nip them. Ben’s reactivity to other dogs is spoiling walks. He will bark and lunge. It is obvious that he feels threatened, and simply wants them to go away.

When left alone at home, he is anxious – destroying things and raiding the bin. He has damaged the sofa.

A dog needs to believe in his owners as leaders, I see it like a good teacher with a class of children on a walk. They will stay with the teacher. They won’t be running off in front and they won’t be yelling and shouting at passers by, telling them rudely to get lost (I hope!).  They trust the teacher to make the decisions and keep them safe. If the owners can convince the dog that they are good leaders – and this has to happen at home as well as out on walks – then the dog can relax and stop stressing. It takes time of course.

Too often people make things worse by tightening the lead and forcing the dog forward towards what he perceives as danger.  They compound the problem by being tense and anxious or scolding the dog. If there were genuine danger, our teacher would not lead his class directly into it, would he? If he did, he would soon lose their trust and they may well run away from him. If the danger was not genuine, then it would be his job to convince the children that they were safe. He would be calm and in control. So it is with us and our dogs.

Phone conversation three days after my visit: Off to a very good start. Ben is calmer. Changed his food to something better. Harness has arrived. Bought a long lead.  He was left alone for 5 hours today and no damage or raiding.
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.