My rescue dog is afraid of strangers. How do we help him overcome this?
YVETTE VAN VEEN (VEEN, 2018)
VEEN, Y. V. (2018, 12 5). www.thestar.com. Retrieved from My rescue dog is afraid of strangers. How do we help him overcome this?: https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/12/05/my-rescue-dog-is-afraid-of-strangers-how-do-we-help-him-overcome-this.html
We adopted a fearful dog from a shelter. He is sweet and gentle, however, strangers cause him fear. To address this, we have been introducing him to as many strangers as possible. Those people offer him treats, affection and social contact. Unfortunately, he is not responding to this strategy. How can we teach our dog that strangers are nothing to fear?
Positive attitudes, treats and a gentle approach are absolutely the way to go with scared dogs. The goal is, after all, to convince an animal that people are safe and pleasant. But the difference between success and failure lies in the details.
Allow dogs to take in new information about strangers from afar, says Yvette Van Veen. Whatever distance triggers fear, double it.
It can help to imagine a human phobia to make the problem relatable. Doing so can expose problems in the training plan. Envision a fear one can understand. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that clowns cause someone intense fear. Then imagine a rehabilitation program that is similar to dog’s training plan.
It would be like taking a person to the circus daily and introducing them to as many clowns as possible — clowns holding out candy. In response to any initial bravery, the fearful person would be further “rewarded” with social contact from the clown. They would be touched by the thing they fear.
What becomes apparent is that positive intentions are not necessarily perceived as something pleasant by the one who is fearful. We, as humans, see praise and attention as something pleasant being offered. The fearful dog recoils from it despite the food being offered. To avoid this problem, follow a few basic rules to better help a scared dog.
First, distance is the scared dog’s best friend. Allow dogs to take in new information about strangers from afar. Whatever distance triggers fear, double it. Should strangers move unexpectedly, the dog is at a distance where they can continue to feel safe.
Do use food, but not as a lure. Lures that draw the dog in are the wrong approach because they draw the dog in too close, too fast. Food should appear only after a fearful dog has noticed a stranger. Owners can and should be the ones doing the feeding.
Give breaks between exposures. Long-term success is faster when there are fewer repetitions with longer breaks between.
Most importantly, don’t assume that nice humans are perceived as pleasant. The opposite is likely true for the scared dog. They will need to learn to trust the affection they show in order to like it. It will need to be part of the training process.
How can we teach our dog to bring a ball back to us during a game of fetch? Instead of coming back with a ball, he seems to tease us with it, playing catch me if you can
While some dogs seem born to fetch, the majority run into issues. Frequently dogs chase toys, but instead of fetching them, they seem conflicted about whether to return with it or dart off. To achieve a great game of fetch, teach the game backwards.
Before throwing the ball, train dogs to drop the toy by one’s feet or into one’s hand. The reinforcement, or reward, should be about location, location, location.
Once the dog learns to do this, in small increments, add a throw. Initial toy tosses should be boring and less than 10 centimetres long. Focus on drilling the entire chain of events correctly. Accuracy first — distance second. When the dog is doing a nice, neat retrieve, increase the distance of the throw. It generally doesn’t take long to turn a small solid fetch into a long one.