Is Your Dog Afraid of People?
30 July, 2013

We love our dogs and the abundance of affection that they show us.  Most dogs love to be around new people and are rarely afraid of meeting new dogs and people.  However, some dogs, especially those who are adopted, can sometimes act skittish and insecure around people and other dogs because they were not socialized when they were young. If a dog or puppy has been kept in only a backyard or kennel, he or she can also become extremely nervous when they are out in the world.

Most dogs are merely fearful

Dogs respond to fear in different ways. Sometimes a frightened dog will retreat, try to run away, hide or display fearful body language, such as trembling, panting, avoidance, whining, salivating, lip licking, hiding behind familiar people or under furniture, or urinating. At other times, instead of trying to run away or avoid a frightening person, a dog will respond to fear with defensive aggression.

I’m not mean, just afraid.

We dog owners/lovers often mistake fear-related problems for stubbornness. If you ask your dog to do something that will increase her fear, she might refuse to obey. Keep in mind, however, that if this happens, your dog isn’t disobedient or stubborn. He or she is afraid. Her anxiety and fear might make it impossible for her to do whatever you’ve asked her to do. Instead of getting frustrated, try to focus on helping your dog overcome her fear.

Try to manage your dog’s behavior

When your dog experiences extreme stress or fear, he or she can sometimes become aggressive. It’s very important to try to manage the situations so that you encounter with your dog to protect other people, your dog and yourself. One of the best ways to avoid provoking your dog’s aggressive response to fear is to avoid the person or people that frighten her.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to avoid people at all times. For example, say your dog fears strangers. You’ll periodically need to take her to the vet, and you’ll probably encounter unfamiliar people at the vet’s office. Likewise, strangers might visit your home—either unannounced or for social gatherings.

If you know your dog might see people that frighten her, always keep the below in mind:

1. Always keep your dog under your control. If you’re out of the house, keep her on a leash. If people who frighten your dog visit your home, confine your dog in a crate, in a secure room or behind a baby gate.  Be sure to provide something fun for your dog to do while alone. Give her a special treat, like a chew bone or a Kong toy. If your dog has a way to occupy herself, she’ll feel less stressed and nervous.

2. Keep your dog as far away as possible from people who frighten her. Because she’s afraid, your dog might growl, bark or even bite people who get too close to her or attempt to touch her.

3. If people try to approach your dog when she’s frightened or nervous, tell them to please stay away. Handling or attention from people who scare your dog will only increase her fear and might provoke defensive aggression. You can politely explain that because your dog isn’t feeling comfortable, she doesn’t want to visit.

4. Keep your movements slow and your voice calm. If you seem anxious or upset, your dog might become even more afraid.

5. If you unexpectedly encounter a person who frightens your dog, focus on calmly and quickly removing your dog from the situation.

Socialize your dog

If you try to manage your pup’s behavior and reward her with love and affection, you can overcome his or her fear of people.   Slowly introduce your dog to situations that can help your pup get over her fear of people by socializing her with other people and dogs.  Introduce friends to your dog in controlled situations.   The more people, he or she encounters, the less threatened he or she will fear in the outside world.   This also applies to dogs and dog parks.  Good luck!

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