It is important to note that not all dogs that are fearful around people have had traumatizing experiences. A good amount of puppies is naturally shy. This is especially true for breeds that were originally developed for work in remote areas with little human contact or breeds that were used as guard dogs. These dogs were never required to be friendly to strangers, in fact they were supposed to be on guard and not trust everyone.
Here is a step-by-step program to let your dog progress to a point at which he can be around people without feeling scared.
1. Distance Observation
Start out by bringing your dog into a wide, open environment with few people. Parks work very well for this step, as do spacious outdoor malls. It is important that you are able to bring as much distance as necessary between you and the people your dog fears.
You want to have him be as relaxed as possible. That means holding the leash loosely (the tighter you hold it, the more tension your dog feels) and not making him do anything.
Do not even ask him to sit. Sitting makes dogs feel more vulnerable than standing. For a dog who is already feeling uncomfortable being forced to sit can be very threatening!
The duration of a session like this should be kept fairly short. Five minutes are sufficient while starting out! For a timid dog it is mentally very tiring to be close to people and he has to slowly get used to it without being overwhelmed.
2. Getting Closer
Keep on feeding your dog the treats for being around people. Again, he does not “need” to do anything. While it may look like your dog is not actively training, his subconsciousness is busy linking the treats with the people and creating all kinds of new connections and emotions.
3. Pit Stop
If your dog is getting even more comfortable around people it is time to take him along on all kinds of trips. Wherever you are headed, let your dog tag along. Going to the gas station? Bring your dog and walk him around there. Picking up a parcel at the post office? Bring your dog! Getting takeout food? Dog comes to get it with you!
4. Patio Dog
By now your dog has been to many places on many short adventures. Now we want to make him comfortable staying around people for longer and longer periods of time.
Go slow and steady and follow your dog’s lead in letting you know how fast to progress. Soon you will have a companion who is less afraid of people
Steffi Trott, founder of SpiritDog Training, is a dog trainer in Albuquerque, NM and offers local training classes, online classes and online consultation. Ask her questions in the comments below.