How to deal with a fearful puppy
Puppies are hardwired to be fascinated about the world around them, but because of their inexperience, they’re liable to be fearful of things as well. In the article to follow, we’re going to lean on insights from expert dog behaviorists who explore how to tackle – and improve – the behavior of young dogs.
Inexperience is the root cause of frenetic behavior
Struggling to keep your puppy under control? Unable to go out in public without her cowering in fear? That’s not unusual.
As dog behaviorist Jeff Stallings notes in his article on the topic, puppies are hypersensitive to the world around them, and they learn about their world “by closely observing it.”
But because experiences are new, they’re also more intense.
As a result, you can’t expect miracles. It’s downright unrealistic to bring a dog home and expect it to find comfort in unfamiliar surroundings – at least right away. Yes, a select few dogs will need no training whatsoever, but a great many will.
Here’s what to keep in mind.
Familiarity takes time
• A great many puppies will grow more comfortable with their surroundings naturally, allowing you to take them further and further away from home. Walks in the park, trips to the coffee shop – these experiences will open up over time.
• One thing you shouldn’t do is force situations on your pup. It takes two to tango, and it’s important to not only make yourself heard, but listen to your dog as well.
• Your dog’s hardwired responses should be listened to. Whimpering, cowering dogs that try to make themselves invisible want the ground to open up and swallow them whole.
• Take things slowly instead, balancing new experiences with positive reinforcement. Use treats, toys and reassurance to reprogram habitual responses. If a dog is scared, start to reframe the situation in a new light by giving them something edible to snack on. Rely on edible snacks that your dog likes and knows.
Take it slow
Should home items be causing distress, unleash them in short bursts. The hoover, a source of so much noise in the house, doesn’t need to be on for ten minutes at a time. Get your pup acquainted to the sound by turning it on and then turning it off.
Going up and down the stairs can be another phobia in young dogs. A sense of vertigo might stop them from easily embracing passage from one floor to the next. How to deal with this? Turn it into a game. Use a favorite treat to lure her up, one step at a time. When progress stalls on a particular step, keep using a treat to try and coax her forward. Within a week or two you can expect your pup to make it to the summit. Once there, she does of course need to come down. Repeat the trick, using positive verbal reinforcement, and the same treat, to bring her down to the bottom.
Another common fear is a fear of men: young puppies often find deep, male voices intimidating. Ask the man of the house to approach slowly, in a crouched position, and to respectfully keep a distance if the pup yowls or barks. Socialization can be slow going – it’s all about baby steps.
Practice makes perfect
Most dogs as they get older will learn to block out stimuli. The wise older dog knows not to get excited about the smallest thing. By practicing situations, you’ll see great gains in the process. It’s important to place a lot of stock in a puppy’s development.
However, it’s also important to bear in mind that certain situations will never be palatable for some dogs. As Jeff Stallings notes: “I encourage [some] folks to take the longer view, to not expect everything at once, and to consider what does make their dog happy. That may never include being tied to a post while you go into Starbucks for your latte.”