How to Tell If a Dog is Scared
First, you must learn how to tell when a dog is scared. Sometimes you can pick up on their body language that they aren’t comfortable with your presence, but many dogs will try and hide any fear they have for you.
Dogs are only able to communicate fear and anxiety through their body language. So as a dog owner, it is crucial to recognize the signs of fear and react accordingly.
These are the most common signs of dog anxiety and fear. If you see these signs in your dog, let them know that you are their friend! This way, they can feel more comfortable around people and not act out when they are uncomfortable.
Get to Know the Dog on Their Time
It takes time to earn a dog’s trust, and you need to focus on what the dog wants rather than what you think might be best. So, how can you determine what the dog’s needs are?
“Giving the dog plenty of space and letting him make all the decisions about approaching is all that can be done in the moment. If he growls or seems to want to get away, let that happen,” says Liz Stelow, veterinary behaviorist at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Signs that a dog needs space include stiffness, lip licking, yawning, panting, averting your gaze, a tucked tail and even growling. All of these signals should be respected and, if the dog you are approaching displays them, give them space.
You’ll also want to make sure the dog doesn’t view you as an intimidating person, says Stefanie Schwartz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. She recommends avoiding big gestures and keeping your voice low and calm. If you’re tall, she advises sitting on the floor and letting the dog come to you. The overall idea is to create an environment where your dog can thrive.
“Making them feel safe is the best thing to do,” says Debra Horwitz, a diplomate of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a vet with Veterinary Behavior Consultations in St. Louis, Missouri. “What you want them to understand is that you’re safe, reliable, [and] when you show, up good things are going to happen.”
Most dog owners know this to be true: dogs love walking. And walking is a great way to bond with your pooch.
“It’s just quality time together. Nothing replaces the benefits of walking a dog,” says Horwitz. “Dogs like to be outside and sniff around. They get a lot of information about their world through their nose.”
Stelow advises walking your dog in a quiet neighborhood or during quieter times of the day to reduce the chances of running into strangers. If your dog is agitated by new people or unusually dogs, try to remove those triggers by walking away quickly, crossing the street or walking in another direction when you encounter then. She also recommends resisting the urge to approach the person or other dog to help the dog “get used to” the trigger, as that is unlikely to work out well.
If you dog is new to your home, he might need time to adjust to the new space. Horwitz advises placing the dog in a mid-size room that’s not too large or small. Give him a nice dog bed or place to hide if he needs it.
“Understand that they may hide for a while as they’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” says Horwitz. By giving him time, space and an environment that he feels safe in, your dog will gradually begin to open up in his own way.
Play Treat and Retreat
This game is somewhat similar to the Plate Game above, but it’s a bit more dynamic, which can introduce added difficulty.
The game works like this – if your dog looks at you or moves towards you, your job is to toss a tasty morsel behind her. She’ll turn around to go eat it, and then will ideally turn back to you for another treat toss. This game generally goes well if you’re sitting down and therefore stationary.
Quickly, your dog will learn to approach you (or other strangers) of her own accord, then go get the treats. Your dog also learns that she can retreat if she’s nervous, helping to reduce the likelihood of defensive or fear-based aggression. Over time, your dog can learn to fully approach people through this game.
Old advice has taught owners to lure dogs to us with food. Unfortunately, food can tempt dogs into scary situations where they feel pressured. Once the dog eats the food after being lured in, they get scared and may lash out. Many people also can’t help themselves but to try to cuddle the dog after luring her in – a huge no-no!
Instead, let the food act as a motivator that pushes your dog in the ideal area outside of the comfort zone that’s still safe. The goal is to bring your dog outside of her comfort zone just enough, but not so much that the task becomes overwhelming or frightening.
This concept applies for humans too – new, challenging experiences should always happen within that magical orange area.
How to work with fearful dog from a dog shelter Part 1 – Training with Americas canine educator
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