This article addresses shy/fearful dogs, but not dogs that will automatically go into attack mode at the sight of a stranger! If you live with a dog who displays this behavior, we will use other methods to re-socialize him, including using a muzzle.
We humans often exacerbate our dogs’ behavior problems. One thing that most of us do is allow our fearful dogs to run wildly to the front door when the doorbell rings. By the time we arrive at the door to answer it, our dogs are already in such lather that they can’t think straight! Then we compound the problem by opening the door and holding the dog back by grabbing his collar to avoid having the dog either jump on or lunge at whoever is standing on the other side. What do we do then? We scold the dog for misbehaving.
The truth is, no dog should have the job of being the main greeter at the door, particularly shy and fearful dogs. We need to set our dogs up for success rather than cause them to fail time and time again. Their behavior should not be construed as misbehavior; they are having panic attacks when they hear the doorbell ring or when someone knocks and enters!
Here is how to prepare to introduce your frightened dog to strangers and other visitors that enter your home:
- Whenever possible, allow your visitor to enter without ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door.
- Have your visitor sit down and get comfortable and ask if they’d be willing to help you re-socialize your dog. I find the best place to seat myself is right at the kitchen table.
- Get lots of delicious food treats ready and place them in a bowl on the table.
- Bring your dog into the room wearing his leash,
- Keep him with you until he is totally calm and relaxed.
- Never force your dog to socialize with anyone!
- Always leave it up to your dog to decide if he wants to investigate your visitor.
- If he is not able to relax in this situation, remove him to a room where he feels safe and comfortable.
Here are the instructions you need to give to everyone who wants to meet your shy/fearful dog:
- Do not make eye contact with the dog.
- Do not speak to the dog.
- Do not reach a hand toward the dog or lean over him.
- Do not try to pet the dog!
- Do not get up and move around unless they tell you they’re getting up! Then remove the dog from the room FIRST!
- Basically IGNORE THE DOG!!
- Allow your dog to approach someone new only when he’s ready.
- If your dog seems interested in investigating the visitor, have them toss treats on the floor but at a distance away from your visitor. If the dog accepts those treats, that’s a very good sign that he’s not terribly stressed.
- If YOU believe your dog is accepting this person, they can offer a treat to the dog directly from their hand which should be flat against their side, not reaching toward the dog!
- Nobody should pet your dog during this first meeting!
You will have to be firm in giving these instructions! You will hear people say, “Oh don’t worry! I love dogs and they love me.” This will be a challenge because you will have to set these rules in stone, even when you’re giving them to your close family members and friends. We tend not to want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we allow people to lean over the dog, reach out to pet the dog, etc. When dogs are frightened and undersocialized, if someone pushes them past their comfort zone, we can cause these dogs to bite defensively! If you do not trust your visitors to observe these protocols, keep your dog in his safe-room and give him a tasty chewy to keep him occupied and happy until your visitors leave.
© 2009 Renee Premaza