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Handling: For Fearful Dogs

Learn the correct way to gain trust from a fearful dogs

If your dog is fearful of people, then teaching it to calmly accept, and even enjoy touch, can be a challenge. It may even seem impossible at this point! But, with the right steps, building their confidence and understanding your dog’s body language, you can create a dog that seeks out touch – even from strangers!

To start, please read The dogma of Handling to learn about the importance of teaching this to your dog and the introduction steps for you to work on with handling your dog. If they are unsure or fussy about handling from you, then do not expect them to be comfortable with a stranger touching them.

When working on handling with a fearful dog, you always start where they are most comfortable and build from there. Be patient with this and understand that you cannot push your dog. If you push them, you may traumatize them and make their fears even worse. Follow the handling steps but keep the below considerations in mind.

  • Work at the dog’s pace. Do not rush the process, but also ensure you are progressing through the steps.
  • Start with the dog approaching you while you are seated. You may need to have treats on the floor to start.
  • Keep your movements slow. Work on the approach, then the duration – will the dog stay near you and take multiple treats.
  • When you do begin to handle them, start by reaching your hand towards them while offering a treat. Then touch them with the back of your hand and below their head while offering a treat.
  • Slowly expand your touch, always pairing the food with the touch.
  • As they become more comfortable, do the touch, and then offer the treat.
  • For standing, toss treats while you stand and ensure you do not bend forward.
  • Work on also approaching the dog and offering food. Start by moving slowly with minimal eye contact and not head on.
  • Then begin moving and offering rewards as the dog follows or approaches.
  • Then work on all of the stupid things humans do! Bend over your dog, pat them faster, get very excited, approach them head on, etc.

As you go through these steps on your own, you will begin to work with familiar people and then strangers. Keep yourself calm and ensure everyone involved in calm. Reward all appropriate behaviour and if your dog does react or flee, simply step back and use the food to get them settled again. The world is a scary place for our fearful dogs, so it is our job to ensure we expose them to it and work them through these fears. Do not use their behaviour or past experiences as an excuse. Work with your trainer to set these training situations correctly and enjoy the rewards of watching your dog’s confidence build! Socialize them to the world as you would a new puppy! Get them out and teach them the world means good things – they will thank you for it and be forever grateful!

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