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My puppy dog is scared of other dogs

Nervous DogA scared, shy or nervous dog is not a happy dog, especially if it’s a puppy. Without good corrective training and socialisation your puppy may grow into an adult which is quite fearful. This type of dog can be quite unpredictable and cause its owners a lot of stress.

The usual background to a scared / nervous dog is a series of events which put it into this state. For instance a common incident would be taking your dog for a walk and it sees another dog and either barks at it or stops and turns into a lead weight which you can’t move, often curling into a ball with its tail between its legs.

Common signs of a scared / nervous dog is barking, erratic behaviour, extreme wagging of the tail while moving around another dog, tail between the legs, growling, turning into a lead weight and not moving. Extreme cases your dog may even turn into a catatonic state, where its muscles get so ridged that it is virtually impossible to move it.

Socialisation

It’s very important you give your puppy good socialisation when it’s young. Often puppy classes are great; however the emphasis is on GOOD socialisation. If you drop your puppy into a high energy situation then it will only encourage bad socialisation skills or heightened nervousness. It’s best to socialise a puppy with only a few other dogs at a time so that it can cope with the new situation and make sure the other dogs are of a similar level energy wise. If there are any barking dogs or high energy dogs its best to keep your puppy clear of them until they have been brought under control. Puppy classes often are very exciting places for your dog and they should be kept on the lead till you are confident you have control over them off the lead or they have a fenced of area for puppy’s. Often puppy’s the same size, same energy level will get along well, I have found larger out of control dogs just aren’t good influences on your puppy. Good socialisations will help to prevent your dog been nervous or scared of other dogs. It will learn its boundaries and how to deal with different breeds of dogs as they often all have slightly different behaviours.

Nervous Triggers

When you are faced with a scared or nervous dog the first thing is to identify what the triggers are that gets it into this state. Often it comes about from a series of events that builds up this nervous energy. A walk for example starts as soon as you signal to your dog its leaving the house. If your dog leaves the house in a high energy state it will continue through the walk and can contribute to your dog’s nervous behaviour (read this article on dogs pulling on the leash). It’s a good idea to drain your dog of energy before it goes for a walk, so this maybe throwing the ball around the backyard for 15mins. The next trigger that could occur on a walk is scent or smell. A dog can often smell an approaching dog before it even sees it and without us knowing it can start to get into a nervious state. Signs might be excessive sniffing or a slow down in walking pace. To overcome this trigger you need to be aware that your dog’s behaviour has changed and quickly snap it out of this mood with a quick tug of the lead. The key here is not to heighten its energy by using your voice but to correct its behaviour. The next common trigger will be seeing the approaching dog. A dog will already know what the energy of the approaching dog is well before it actually meets it (they pick up on body language, scent, eye contact and often size of the approaching dog). This is why the dog will often be in a scared / nervous state before actually meeting the approaching dog. If your dog barks you need to stop it straight away – quick tug will off balance your dog and should stop it. I would also use a “ssssssssssssssst” sound and touch it on the back of the neck if it continued. It’s very important you don’t yell or hit your dog as this only reinforces this behaviour. The next part is to simply walk past the approaching dog and make no big deal about it. If your dog gets fixated on the approaching dog you simply correct it. I often walk between my dog and the approaching dog so that it never gets the chance to assert itself and also to lower its dominance in this situation. It means you have better control over your dog and its nervous state. The more times you correctly walk past a dog without your dog reacting the less nervous it will get around other dogs.

The Ball State

The next common issue is your dog sits down making it virtually impossible to move. This again comes about from a build up of triggers as mentioned above. Your dog firstly will slow down as a first sign, when this occurs you need to hold the lead shorter and snap them out of this mood. If your dog doesn’t snap out of this mood and turns into ball which you can’t move then do your best to get it upright and walking past the approaching dog in a calm state. To get your dog out of the ball state you can try to touch them under the stomach and often this will get them onto there feet. If this works then simply snap them out of the state and walk past the approaching dog in a calm state. Continue this as you walk past anymore dogs on your walk and never make a big issue about any dog approaching. If I’m approaching a dog on the street I often look around the street ignoring the approaching dog. I find this helps me forget about the thoughts that go on in your head like “oh no here’s another dog how’s he going to react to it?” Also stops me from pre-empting any bad situations that have occurred in the past.
Submissive Dog
If your dog curls into a ball and won’t move or you are just having no luck then you may need to address this in role playing situations. Use a friendly dog it knows in neutral places – such as your back yard. Attach both dogs to a lead and replicate the approaching dog scenario. See if the nervousness behaviour is replicated or if it’s much happier in this situation. Once it gets use to the dog approaching it and doesn’t show a sign of the nervous / scared behaviour then move to the streets doing the same scenario with your friend’s dog approaching yours. Replicate this till it is done successfully. Once you feel confident your dog is happy doing this then take your dog for a walk see how it handles random dogs approaching. If it doesn’t work then continue with the role playing / training situations. The more you do this successfully (i.e. your dog walks past an approaching dog without showing any signs of nervousness) the more likely it will lose this behaviour when on walks.

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