One of the most fascinating things about dog behavior is that you learn something new every day. I have been studying dog behavior for 15 years, and I love learning new things that can help dogs and people communicate better.
Many dogs and puppies can be fearful of people. It might be because of a lack of socialization as a puppy, something bad that happened to them or just genetics. Simply understanding your fearful dog and seeing the issue from his point of view can give you the successful relationship you're looking for. The answer may surprise you.
You might think that increasing his socialization would be the answer. I used to think so, too. But that can actually make him more fearful and turn his fear into aggression that can lead the dog to bite people. Read on: This will make sense.
Dogs will do whatever behavior works to get them what they want. This works for getting treat rewards, praise or a toy, but it also works for a fearful dog.
People love dogs and always want to touch them. If you have a fearful dog, you need to be his advocate and not allow people to touch him. You might think that this will help your dog to become more social, but it can actually turn your dog into one that bites.
Many people give their dogs human characteristics. But dogs have their own language that they keep trying to teach us. To avoid turning your dog or puppy into a fearful, aggressive dog, here's what to do:
A fearful dog or puppy that meets a person that he is scared of will first try to run away. Many times this happens in a household or on a leash, and they cannot get far enough away. The well-meaning person will continue to go try to pet the dog. The dog is using his dog body language to say "let me run away." Once he realizes this body language is not working, he will move on to something new.
The next body language that he might try is standing stiff. It makes sense to the dog because it works with other dogs to keep them away. Unfortunately, most humans do not understand this and again continue to pet the dog.
Since this body language didn't work either, they move on to acting bizarre. They will behave oddly, by grabbing things they normally wouldn't or dancing around. Again, they are trying to tell the person to back off, but it still doesn't work. So they try something else. Of course, this final behavior works because they growl or snap, which makes the person jump back. The dog is thinking, "Yeah, something finally worked."
They have now found the behavior that works to get them what they want. This simply was "give me some space." Since this behavior worked, they continue to move forward with growls, barks and snaps to get the person further away. Many times, this turns into actually biting people.
We have no trouble understanding growling, barking, snapping and biting. But most of us don't understand the other body language the dog originally tried.
I personally have two fearful dogs at home. When people come to visit, I ask them to ignore my dogs. Do not look at them or touch them. Eventually, my dogs will seek them out for attention but only after they have become comfortable with this new person.
Be your dog's advocate; if they do not want attention from someone, don't make them!
Char Quinn is the executive director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society and a certified professional dog trainer. Email column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.