What to do if your dog is frightened of other dogs
Last week on the blog we talked about how a high percentage of puppies bought in lockdown haven’t been to the park, met a child or even met people from another household due to the current coronavirus restrictions. A survey of 1,000 UK adults also revealed that some 42% of dogs acquired in lockdown are yet to be introduced to another dog - and this can lead to all sorts of problems if it is not addressed. So this week we thought we’d take a look at some of the issues arising from lack of socialisation and what you can do if your dog is frightened of other dogs.
Anxious puppy Photo by Mia Anderson on Unsplash
The benefits of puppy socialisation
It is perfectly natural for some puppies to be wary of things that they are unfamiliar with, including other dogs. Often this fear or uncertainty is simply due to the fact that they are unfamiliar with them it and this is why it is vital to socialise your puppy as much as you can whilst they are young – although this is understandably more difficult in the current situation. Socialisation involves exposing your puppy to all different kinds of people, animals and situations and fostering positive interactions during the first few months of their life. It’s always easier to address being scared, uncertain or apprehensive by gently exposing your dog to different situations and building up their confidence when they are young - rather than trying to treat them retrospectively. So the more you can do (within government COVID guidelines) the better it will be for your pup. The importance of socialisation shouldn’t be overlooked and you should include it as a vital part of their training.
Early positive experiences and positive reinforcement are crucial for the development of a happy confident dog, Socialisation and communication skills are developed in the early weeks to months of your puppy’s life. These early life experiences influence how your puppy will play, communicate and learn as they develop into an adult dog.
Dogs playing Photo by David Taffet on Unsplash
Although it’s harder to treat a nervous or anxious dog who has missed out on socialisation, it is not impossible. There may also different reasons why your puppy is having problems with other dogs. Whilst a lack of socialisation may cause your puppy to be afraid of other dogs, some breeds are simply predisposed to anxiety or may be timid. If your puppy has had a traumatic experience with another dog, where they have been attacked or felt threatened they may also be nervous around other dogs too. The best thing you can do to address this is with positive reinforcement. Create positive experiences. Never punish your dog for being afraid, and don’t force interactions, allow them to interact in their own time. Provide them with opportunities where they feel safe enough to interact, with repeated positive reinforcement and rewards.
Sad dog Photo by Richard Horne on Unsplash
Signs that your dog is scared
Sometimes it may not be clear that your dog is acting in a certain way because they are afraid as they may lash out rather than back away. Common signs of fear and anxiety in dogs are: trembling, whining, hiding behind your legs or furniture and urinating or defecating – but they may also display defensive aggression such as growling, biting or barking and it’s important that you are able to spot this behaviour and remove them from the situation, rather than punishing them and heightening their negative experience, which could potentially make it worse next time.
One of the best ways to approach this kind of behaviour is by taking your puppy to training classes. However at the moment this isn’t feasible as people aren’t allowed to meet in groups – but there are plenty of puppy schools and training resources available online and it is worth checking these out to see what types of things you can be doing to ease your pup’s anxiety and build their confidence until lockdown is finished.
Dogs running Photo by Mark Galer on Unsplash
You can also try desensitising your puppy but it is a good idea to get some advice from a vet or puppy training professional before you embark on this kind of behavioural training. It is crucial that you do not push your puppy too far, too soon as this can make the situation worse and it is important that they trust you and that you can maintain this trust. This is something that you can work on together in your own time as well. Once you have built up trust, where possible, gradually, patiently and gently expose your pup to other dogs and unfamiliar situations and teach them to associate this exposure with positive feedback.
Use something rewards such as a tasty treat (high quality food such as sausages or chicken are best) or a favourite toy. Sometimes your dog may refuse food if they are anxious so it is important to keep going and build up the exposure slowly, over time. This does take a while and it is unreasonable to expect you will fix everything on the first attempt.
If you find it too difficult, scale it back a bit and make an appointment to see a dog trainer once lockdown ends – but don’t give up! Remember that socially-challenged puppies grow into socially-challenged dogs and you can still work on your own trust and relationship exercises with your dog at home until you are able to take them to see a trainer or participate in puppy classes. Just keep going!
Dogs and cats Photo by Chewy on Unsplash
Have you got any tips of socialising your dog in lockdown? As always, we’d love to hear about them. Let us know in the comments section below!
Main photo: Dogs meeting by freestocks on Unsplash