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)

Sensitive Puppy From Ireland

Maya is wary of visitorsBeautiful five month old mixed breed puppyMaya is another little dog over from Ireland, with nothing at all known about her past. She is now five months old and she has been in her new home for a month. You can see how beautiful she is, and can perhaps wonder as to what breeds contribute to her makeup.

I would guess that in the most important weeks of her early life she wasn’t exposed to people, everyday things like vacuum cleaners and possibly other dogs. She has a lot to get used to. She is very scared when people visit, barking and backing away. On the left you can see her hanging back, her puppy curiosity trying to get the better of her wariness!

Dogs like this need habituation, a lot of exposure to people in a controlled and rewarding way – stuff puppies should have had plenty of by twelve weeks of age. People now should put no pressure on her at all – no eye contact and no attempts to ‘make friends’. She needs to be given time.

One problem they have is that she won’t come indoors when called. My German Shepherd Milly had a similar – probably much worse – start in life, and I found that sometimes when I called her towards me it’s like she couldn’t handle the pressure. It wasn’t defiance. If I was very casual and turned away, gave her space and didn’t keep calling her, she would come.

Understandably, Maya’s very loving owners are doing everything that they, with their human heads on, think will make Maya more confident. This involves opening up boundaries and giving her constant company – day and night. This can unfortunately have the reverse effect and lead to a dog becoming more vulnerable when what she really needs is to learn to stand on her own feet and to be independent. Maya has now started barking fearfully at sounds she hears outside so she needs good, steady parenting/leadership – to be able to trust them to keep her safe.

Maya is a delightful, well-behaved, gentle puppy with no toileting indoors and very little chewing (perhaps some digging in the garden)! She is a gift and has landed firmly on her little feet with people who want to do the very best for her.

About 10 weeks later: ‘Have had the plumber in, the washing machine engineer in, no problems at all, had a sniff, wagged her tail and went away minding her own business. The other day, the loft insulation chap came and she went and sniffed around his legs, wagged her tail and went-off into the garden, no yapping, no barking. Used to go barking mad when the postman dropped post through the letterbox, and that has now turned into a little yap and that’s it! And in the park, she is no longer frightened of people, although she holds back at time and if invited, will then go to them, but with a little holding back, but definitely much, much better!
An amazing change, is coming when called at home and especially in the park, both times, morning and evening. No problems what so ever! She disappears into the woods and immediately out of sight, blow the whistle and she comes back like the clappers. She runs off towards another dog in the distance, blow the whistle and her direction changes and she comes belting back like a racehorse! Just unbelieveable! She is right in the middle of a pack of dogs playing, start walking away, blow the whistle and she comes rushing back! So with your help and the all-mighty’s grace, the two daily walks in the park are a pleasure for all parties concerned”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.