Golden labrador scared
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What can I do when my dog is scared of dogs and people?

By Emilie Heyl Content Writer

Updated on the

We tend to observe the fear of dogs and people (relationship phobia) among dogs who have been raised away from their mother and other puppies, and equally with dogs that have only had contact with their breeder. 

The lack of social relationships makes them wary and scared of people they do not know. 

My dog is scared of humans and dogs 

This fear is sometimes caused by a bad experience, such as being beaten. Many owners complain that their dog is afraid of a particular member of the family, even though they seem to like other people. This behaviour appears to be without reason, but usually, this attitude stems from an unpleasant experience involving the person they fear. 

Fearful behaviour towards other dogs can also stem from a traumatic experience. For instance, when a male dog tries to mate with a female when she first comes into heat, this can scare her so much that she will run as soon as she meets another dog. 

The most common behaviour in dogs that are afraid of people or an animal is to run; they can also hide behind a piece of furniture or behind something that protects them. A dog that has not learnt to face a fear will avoid it for the rest of his life, keeping a safe distance or placing a barrier between him and what scares him. 

If he can’t do this, he will hide in a corner, with his ears low and his tail between his legs, trembling and panting, he will drool and crawl forward with his tummy on the floor. If he doesn’t have a choice, he may growl and attack. In some dangerous situations, he may bite without warning. It is usually a submissive dog that when in danger will deploy everything in his repertoire. 

Training techniques to boost your dog’s confidence

You must isolate the cause of the dog’s fear (is it caused by people or dogs?) and establish what kind of people or animals scare him the most (is it mainly men, those wearing uniforms, women, dogs or other animals?). 

You have to schedule sessions, starting with situations that do not frighten your dog, to get to those that trigger fear.

Before starting an obedience training session, it is advisable to let the dog relax by taking him or her for a  walk in a place where people or animals do not frequent or play with him. It is important that he knows the meaning of "Sit!” and "Lie down!", orders that stop him when exposed to a source of anxiety.

Your dog has to meet new people

If the dog is afraid of people he encounters when out and about? In that case, your dog needs to meet new people. 
You need to organise exercises in the garden: make him sit down and stand by his side to calm him down when necessary. Show him a person standing at a safe distance (so that he is not agitated), and when he gets used to this new presence, let him come closer. 

The next step is for the stranger to move their arms, then to come into the garden, let them approach and pet the dog. The transition from one step to another must take place when you are sure that your faithful friend shows no sign of fear (he must not be agitated, panting or trying to flee); if he is, it is because you are going too fast.

If the dog is afraid when a guest he does not know enters the house, training must take place indoors. In the first stages of training, the dog is placed in a cage in a room used by both family members and guests (if the dog is small, a baby enclosure is appropriate), this will allow him to get used to strangers while feeling protected.

Start with a friend, that the dog knows, they must come in and sits near him but they need to ignore him. When the animal reaches a certain degree of self-discipline, let him out of the enclosure and make him sit near his master. Next, bring a stranger into the house, and repeat. The owner should always stroke his dog and, if he is upset, try to calm him without allowing him to flee.

If your dog tolerates the stranger, but does not approach him, you can let him go freely in the room; the guest should not interact, but ignore him and wait for the dog to make the first move. When he has become accustomed to the stranger, the latter drops a treat near the dog's paws, then a second (to be accepted) until the dog comes close enough to touch and then stroke him. 

Positive training with treats

If food is used as a reward for good behaviour, the dog should be left on an empty stomach the day before each session. If stroking and compliments are used, the trainer and family members must ignore him during the hours preceding the exercises because, when deprived of attention from the people who usually take care of him, he will be obliged to overcome his fear and approach guests for attention. 

Dog training therapy 

During therapy, the dog must have no contact with strangers (except those chosen for training) and if this is not possible, guests must be indifferent to him (they must not look at him, neither touch him or talk to him).

To alleviate the fearful behaviour towards other canines, arrange training exercises with other dogs that will act as trainers. Before starting, it is advisable to prepare the dog by playing with him for a while, so that he is relaxed.

Just as for the phobia of people: from a safe distance (which is gradually reduced) show him a dog he does not know and constantly stroke him for reassurance. If you’re unable to organise such sessions, take your pet to places where there are other dogs and approach the calmer and smaller ones, that are under the control of their owner. To prevent him from running away at first contact, he must be kept on a lead and encouraged using positive words.

It is important that he socialises with others; if he tries to run away, hold him back and reassure him. The therapy should continue gradually, slowly approaching a dog that is similar to him, and if he shows a particular fear, continue to talk to him to calm him down, but do not allow him to run away.

When the shy dog is happily playing with another dog, remove the leash and move away so he can be with him alone. If he behaves properly, reward him with hugs and treats and continue the training using various objects to stimulate him.

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