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.


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).

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)

Puppy is off to a Good Start

They picked up their nine-week-old Border Terrier puppy yesterday.

New puppyAs part of our puppy parenting plan we had already discussed on the phone where Monty would sleep on his first night and what they would do if he was distressed by being alone. I don’t believe in a puppy ‘crying it out’. Each puppy of mine has had company during the night if he or she needed it and none developed over-attachment because of it. To the contrary.

Last night they put Monty in his little crate in the kitchen – the breeder already had him used to a crate. He cried briefly and then was quiet all night – and clean. What a great start!

My puppy parenting plan supports owners right through puppyhood to adolescence, starting by putting in place things that will pre-empt future problems and dealing with anything that does crop up as it happens.

Over the weeks we cover all basic training cues – sit, down, stay, and much more. We teach puppy to enjoy walking on a loose lead and to come when called. We build up his confidence where needed. We teach him impulse control.

We examine the puppy’s ‘dog’ needs and teach the humans how to fulfill them.

Already, within the first few hours, Monty’s family had learnt one lesson – not to do too much too soon. They had tried to put a collar on the little puppy and he was scared – possibly because of the rattling disc which they removed. Now they will slowly introduce him to it. If he looks away or shows signs of unease, they will pause and wait. They will do it a bit at a time and let him choose how far they can go. He will associate the collar with food.

They have a boy age 8 and a girl, 12, great kids who understand that puppy needs space. They are so excited but they are controlling themselves! They already know that they must not go to puppy when he’s in his crate so he has a peaceful bolthole. I have suggested that as a matter of habit, they should call Monty to them when they want to play with him or cuddle him and not pursue him, so that he has a choice.

I showed them about exchanging things and not simply taking something off him – again it’s about choice so he learns to willingly choose to give it up.

We discussed what to do about nipping and the importance of giving puppy plenty of things to chew.

Monty may be a little nervous of sudden movements or noises. The collar incident shows he may be sensitive. We will show him that big human hands coming from above bring him good things – food. In the garden with the little girl I pointed to the roof next door. That’s how tall you look to Monty, I said.


It is so important that they use some of his food to reinforce and encourage him for doing the things they like instead of just leaving it down for him to graze on. For toileting outside. For coming when called. For letting go of something. For building positive connections with things he may be uneasy about.

People are often surprised when I say, particularly if they have a puppy, that they should carry food on them all the time. If the puppy needs to be told ‘good’, there’s not time to go across the room, open a tub and then feed him. The moment has passed. When puppy is called and happily runs to us, tail wagging, and all he gets is a stroke (does he even like that big hand stroking him?) is that not a bit disappointing for him? I don’t know. He would certain feel a small bit of chicken was worth coming for!

Puppies are inclined to come when called. Adolescents aren’t! It’s good to build up a near-automatic response early on.

i shall be going again in a week. Until then they are just going to let Monty settle in. The children will resist fussing him too much or getting too excited around him and they will keep an eye on any guests to the house. They will work on his toilet training.Leenderts2

Habituating and socialising to real life is so important in the first few weeks that there is no time to be lost. It’s no good waiting until he has had his injections. If all puppies were acclimatised to real life sufficiently early, people like me could be out of a job.

Before he’s finished his injections they can carry Monty around town and introduce him to people with hats, babies, umbrellas, shops, traffic, wheelie-bins, bikes, skateboards and so on whilst looking for any signs of fear. It’s vital he feels comfortable.

I suggested the little girl makes a list of all the new things Monty sees or encounters before he is twelve weeks old.

Next week we will be looking at getting puppy used to wearing a soft harness. He can learn to walk around the garden beside someone, off lead – the lead can be hooked onto the harness later. We will start clicker training.

Happy days!

NB. The whole point of a 1-2-1 puppy plan is that it is specific to your own puppy’s needs and to your own. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy can quickly lead you up the wrong tree. 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 bringing up your own puppy (see my Help page)


Airedale Puppy Starting Off Right

Ten week old Airdale puppy sleeping Airedale puppyOh joy! Today I met Henry. Henry is a ten-week-old Airedale puppy and he’s going to grow BIG.

I was called because the couple couldn’t stop him mouthing and nipping them and because they want to make sure they start of right. I expected jumping up when I arrived, but he was really quite calm for a puppy. In the two weeks since they have had him they have worked hard and he has learnt a lot.

It soon became apparent that, like most people I go to with puppies, they aren’t communicating with him efficiently – in a way that he easily understands. There is an automatic assumptions that dogs understand English! Another automatic assumption is that to train a dog not to do something it should be scolded with ‘no’.

Both are wrong. Actions speak a lot louder than words and the best way to stop a puppy doing something you don’t want is to get it to come away and do something else instead. People also underestimate a puppy’s need to chew – to help teething, exercise his jaw and to release endomoprhins to calm himself down, so he needs a good supply of alternatives that are more attractive than the corner of the coffee table.

All the time while Henry was awake during the three hours I was there – and he had three naps – it was like a dance while I showed him by my own reactions what I would like him to do and what I would like him not to do. He was very attentive and obviously enjoyed it. He used his mouth – I withdrew my attention. He used teeth, I squealed softly and withdrew my attention. He sat calmly on the floor, I gave him attention. He put his feet up on me, I gently tipped him off whilst looking away. His feet back on the floor, I gave him attention. He started to chew the table, I clapped my hands gently or said ‘uh-uh’ and then gave him something he could chew. I called him and he came running. All the time that I was talking with his owners, this dance went on. Soon he was walking beside me around the room with no lead, and then on a long loose lead.

I use only positive reinforcement – rewards – attention and food.

They have already taught him several commands and he’s a quick learner, but they now need to get him to understand good manners and to come to them whenever they call him. At the moment he just looks at them when they call him!

I shall be going again soon to take things to the next stage. They have a challenge getting him not to chase their cat – and for the cat not to run which turns it into prey. Before we can do any more they need to be happy in proximity but safely separated by a gate.

When he has finished his injections Henry will need plenty of socialising – encounters with gentle and friendly dogs and acclimatisation to traffic, children, crowds and so on. The earlier this is established the better, while he still has his puppy fearlessness.

He was delightful. I can’t wait for my next visit. They have their ‘Puppy Plan’ to start them off, and in a few weeks Henry will have reached the next stage.

How to Behave Around Dogs

English Bull Terrier-Staffie mix, a surprisingly small and very attractive little dog.Today I visited an English Bull Terrier-Staffie mix, a surprisingly small and very attractive little dog. Ivor was found as a stray about eighteen months ago at one year of age, and he now has a lovely home. Indoors, apart from being somewhat over-excited and jumping up when people come to the house, he is absolutely fine. Out on walks it’s like he doesn’t know how to behave towards other dogs. He came with scars and it’s probable his experiences of other dogs during the important formative weeks of his life were intimidating.

Because of the excessive pulling, screaming, flipping over and freaking out when they encounter other dogs, they have tried all sorts of gadgets of ‘force’ I would call them, contraptions to make Ivor unable to lunge. These include a prong collar (disapproved of and unavailable in this country), and various types of lead including an elasticated slip lead and ‘no-pull’ harness.

There are at least three dogs that Ivor is OK with, so things are probably not as bad as they seem. Just imagine how he feels when he’s out. Before the walk starts he’s wildly excited – probably not pure joy but apprehension as well, as we might feel before a bunjee jump! He charges out, pulling his strong young male owner who uses his strength to correct and control him. Ivor must be very uncomfortable indeed as EBTSTaffiehe pulls on the short lead – especially if on the prong collar. He will resist the pain and become even more frantic, some of which will understandably be an automatic response to pull away from the discomfort. The lead is constantly being jerked back and he’s scolded. What a tense situation. Then, trapped on lead to a person who is getting frustrated, he sees a dog. He’s in no state of mind react appropriately, is he.

Don’t get me wrong, this little dog is dearly loved and everything else they do is kind and gentle, but the behaviour of their dog on walks, especially with pulling and ‘aggression’ towards other dogs, can drive people to despair as they try everything they can to find a solution. A dog that’s not had the right start in life needs special understanding which most people simply aren’t equipped for. He needs to be taught how to approach other dogs appropriately.

I have found over and over again that for people who are prepared to start from scratch and put in the time and effort, the walk can be transformed. Ivor needs to learn to be tuned in to the person walking him. To achieve this, the humans need to work at becoming relevant and rewarding to be with – and to be trusted to make the right decision around other dogs.

It is a step by step process, which only falls apart if people won’t spend sufficient time on each level before attempting the next, resulting in the chaos of meeting another dog too soon and unprepared. There is simply no quick fix unless it is, basically, an instrument of torture and mostly these only work short term and make things far worse in the long term. Applying certain TV programme techniques can be dangerous.

‘Socialising’ is something that can’t be done with a reactive dog. You can’t force socialising onto a dog. The first step is for the dog to simply accept other dogs nearby without reacting – then build from there in a controlled fashion.

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