Fear is not the default when a puppy is born. Surely there are dogs who are born with the genetics that make them more prone to becoming fearful but dogs not born fearful. Some dogs are born more skeptical than others, and some more confidence. It’s easy to assume that some dogs are born fearful because we all inherently know that nature plays a role in a human’s development, but that’s not the entire story. More often than not, these skeptical dogs are reinforced for their reclusive temperament, to the detriment of our four-legged best friend. In this blog, we’ll examine some of the reasons why dogs become fearful of an effort to prevent such dispositions from developing deeper over time.
Some dog owners, breeders, and trainers know of fear stages in puppy development. In these stages, some puppies develop a more fearful disposition, and ultimately outgrow the stage in time. Those stages are not the subject of this blog today, this blog will focus on the puppies who have a history of fear dating back to the first few weeks of life. Without critical intervention from their new owner, these dogs will not get better on their own.
The genetically fearful dog;
All dog trainers have met dozens of dogs who are deemed genetically fearful dogs. Typically these dogs are categorized in this manner because their owners report that they were always fearful from a young age. These dogs were noticeably less social with dogs and people even in the first few weeks of age. When these dogs are visited by potential new owners, they are most often seen as being opposed to social behavior even with other littermates, and most often with visiting potential owners who have come to pick a puppy. With our human hearts exploding with compassion, some owners take pity on these puppies. Pity is the last thing these dogs need, but the humans convince themselves that they are doing the right things by picking the puppy who is avoiding interacting, often hiding in the corner. Of course, I’m not suggesting that these owners have ill-intentions, rather suggesting that most of them feel that the love they are willing to give to this near life will absolutely banish the apparent threat. The truth is that love does not heal all wounds, but if harnessed correctly it can be a catalyst for change in a positive way.
Many times, these puppies are given latitude to avoid all things that are uncomfortable for the first 6 months. I don’t know your thoughts, but coddling does not create confidence in humans, and it’s the same with man’s best friend. Usually, around 6 months of age, the humans see the error in their coddling ways and make a change of course based in frustration.
Sentiments like “don’t force him”, becomes, he’s going to have to deal with things in life because he’s getting worse by the day. When this happens, the impressionable puppy now starts to see their owners as untrustworthy. They have grown reliant on the safety of their humans, and when that safety net is taken away, they lose confidence in the one constant they had. Things go from bad to worse, as the puppy learns that they will have to fend for themselves.
Picking an overly sensitive dog is ok if you know what you are doing. If you haven’t got a clue, it’s probable that your lavished love mixed with helicopter parenting will prove to be a disservice to your pup.
So what can be done with these situations?
1: It all starts in picking the right puppy. Unless you want to invest thousands of additional hours into training over the lifetime of these sensitive puppies, don’t pick the standoffish puppy. Don’t pick the puppy who is all up in your face, those ones tend to be the other extreme and they too can be a challenge. Pick the puppy who is social with dogs and people but not pushy. Pick the middle of the road puppy.
2: If you have already taken home a reclusive puppy and are having issues, be sure not to coddle them too much. Freak out when your dog hears fireworks for the first time. Don’t stroke them and reassure them when they are scared, that will make the fear worse.
3: Forcing them to do things is not going to help either. Forcing your puppy to be social usually will make things worse, rather than forcing them, know what is a challenge for your puppy and be sure to ask for just a little bit more from them each day. Throwing your fearful dog in the lake to teach them how to swim is insane, but showing them that their favorite squeaky ball only comes out while on the waters edge will go a long way to building confidence.
Practical things to do with these puppies;
1: Be sure to tell people that they should not approach your puppy, they should let your puppy approach them
2: Don’t take your puppy to dog parks if they that makes them feel overwhelmed
3: Make your puppy work for every piece of food they eat. Not treats, I mean dog food. Give your dog small portions of food by hand when you ask them to overcome small things that they find to be challenging. Over time, work up to larger challenges. If the only way that your puppy eats is from a challenge, they will learn to seek challenge in order to acquire meals
4: Protect your puppy from obvious threats like arrogant dogs and in your face humans until they can deal with such things. The best way to do this is physically. Push those people and dogs out of your dog’s space with your body, arms, legs, instead of picking your puppy up.