In my last post, I discussed dogs who are afraid of men, children or others, why that might be, and how to prevent it. In this post, I will discuss what to do and what NOT to do.
Let’s say you recently brought home a dog from a shelter or rescue group and she is afraid of men. In your case, it might very well be all men, including any who live in your household. If that’s the case, you’re not alone, as I have several clients right now with this very issue.
Many people have been told to have the person your dog is afraid of feed her treats from his hand. This is the method I tell people NOT to try at home! While on the surface it seems like a good idea, in reality it often is a recipe for disaster. While the idea behind it is right, the method is all wrong.
If she’s afraid of this guy, and he feeds her treats, she will start to associate him with treats and begin to like him. Right? Not so fast! Let’s look at it from the dog’s perspective. I’m afraid of this guy and very wary of getting too close. But he has these treats that smell really really good. I really want a treat. But I’m also not sure about this guy. Maybe I will keep as far away as I can but still reach in and get that treat. Let’s say the dog does take the treat. All good, right?
But what happens next? Now the dog is within reach of this man, and his hand is in her face, but there is no longer a treat there. Scary guy with his hand in my face. Uh oh! Panic time! For some dogs, we lure them in with goodies, but then they find themselves in a spot they are not ready for. In some cases, the dog will simply flee. But if the dog feels defensive and thinks she won’t be able to flee quickly enough, she could very well defend herself by biting the hand in her face.
Now let’s look at it from the guy’s perspective. This dog just came up to me and took a treat from my hand, so she must like me now. I think I will pet her on the head and show her I’m really a nice guy! Yikes – worst possible move at this point! The dog took a chance by moving in closer to someone she does not trust, and what did he do? He just erased his chance at building trust by trying to pet her too soon. Now she really is going to flee or bite.
While the idea is right – creating a positive association with the men who frighten the dog – the execution of it is all wrong. We are trying to force something the dog is not ready for yet – being within reach of this man. We can create positive associations without putting so much pressure on the dog.
Let’s set up this scenario again. This time, you have the treats ready and will be feeding them. Have the man enter the visual area from a safe distance (dog will probably be on leash at this point) and YOU begin dispensing treats as soon as the dog notices the man. The man then disappears again, and you withdraw the treats. Repeat a few times. Eventually, you will see the dog turning to you for treats as soon as she sees the man. Now, we are creating a positive association without putting anyone in danger.