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.