I’ve had a couple fear related questions these past few weeks. Usually, they start out, “my dog’s afraid of men. I think she was abused before we got her. I don’t know why people do the things they do to dogs!”
Well, I don’t either. But I don’t know why people do what they do to the ones they supposedly love best in all the world either, so we’re going to kind of skip that question for now.
As a very practical person, I sigh and nod sympathetically and say, “you just don’t know, do you?” And what I mean is, literally, you don’t know if some mean male abused this dog. You really don’t. You can’t know and won’t ever find out unless he knocks on your door, hat in hand, flowers and candy and says “I came to apologize to your dog.”
It could have happened, sure. Or a hundred million other things, or maybe nothing.
What you need to do to help the dog get past this, is quit feeling sorry for the dog. That’s just not helping anyone. Not you. Not the dog. Not the males she’s afraid of.
So when she sees a man and pees herself, you aren’t going to go “oh poor baby! He’s not going to hurt you! He’s a nice man!” Pick up the dog and shove her in his face, “see? He won’t hurt you!” And man is going to be thinking “Scared dog, proximity to my nose. Not good.” And you aren’t going to be happy because neither of them will kiss and make up. Unless the dog does some submissive appeasement licking, which again, is really no good for anyone.
Okay – so your dog is afraid of men. We are going to call her Sadie and we’re going to pretend she’s a nice medium sized dog. Not a lab, not a Chihuahua– oh, let’s say she’s a Chinese Crested! I like it.
So, Sadie the Chinese Crested came to my house as a year old dog. She’d been given up to the rescue because her people ‘were moving’. No, the shelter didn’t believe it either, but they pretended to.
I discover she’s terrified of men. I’m not sure how I discover this, because I have no men living in my house. Well, my 13 year old son, but she probably loves him. All the dogs do. But I have some visit occasionally. And she is fearful. She’s fearful of a few other things too, but not as bad as her fear of men.
So. What’s the first thing I’m going to do with my shy fearful dog and her terror of men? Housebreak her. Oh yeah. No peeing in the house here! (Submissive urination is NOT the same as housebreaking and that will be discussed later.) So I put her on a food and elimination schedule. I take her out on the leash because its important she gets used to the leash.
A schedule is comforting to a dog. They have internal clocks. Know when the kids get out of school, when Dad is coming home from work, when its time for food. Use that to your advantage. I want Miss Sadie all relaxed and comfortable in a routine.
I give her a safe place. In a cozy crate. Since she’s shy, I’ll use a plastic one, because that makes it feel more den like and she will feel she can be well protected. She will be in and out of her safe place a lot. She gets chewies in there and depending on how shy she is, she might eat in there. (I have one who ate in his crate for three months before he was bold enough to find his bowl in the kitchen).
If the scary men come around while I’m establishing this routine (or in your case, if they live with you) I keep them apart as much as possible. I ask the scary men to ignore the dog. Then I ask them again a little more firmly because the men will want to try and make up with the dog. “Hi baby! I’m nice, want to come see me?” No. She doesn’t. Leave her alone. Be in the room, speak in a normal tone, do what you want but ignore the dog, please.
And I am not going to comfort the dog for showing me fearful behavior. If she sneaks up to me despite scary man being there, I’ll pet her and say Hi. But I’m not going overboard with my praise and I’m not going say ‘its okay baby. Mommy’s here. Bad man isn’t going to hurt you.” Because what she hears when I say that is “what a good doggie you are, Sadie. You are acting just like mommy wants you to! What a smart girl you are!”
And she wants to please me, so she’s going to keep on doing those same behaviors.
Okay, so I’ve had her a bit of time now, and she’s working on the house breaking and we are successfully ignoring the fear behavior and the scary man. So now, I’m going to….start training her! Yes! You thought I was going to say shove her in the man’s face, didn’t you?
Nope. What I want it for Sadie to have confidence. I want her to be a proud strong female and I want her to have some skills.
Now, realize, Sadie may never be the most social crayon in the box, but that’s okay. We just don’t want to clean up pee every time she sniffs testosterone, right?
So I start with walks, and the basics of sit down stay come. If she freaks out on walks, walk her back and forth in front of your house. Back and forth back and forth. You can get a mile in going back and forth. Soon she will get used to that and you can go one house down. No hurry! Yeah, the neighbors may think you are nuts, but if they are talking about you, they’re leaving someone else alone.
I want her to be comfortable in her environment. I want her to have fun on her walks and be confident in her abilities to ‘do for me’, perform basic chores and commands.
After a bit of this, if scary male is in my house, he’s going to start feeding her. And treat tossing. Mommy gives no more treats – they all come from the scary guy! He still gives her no eye contact and kind of ignores her. Just ‘here you go dog, have a treat’ toss it on the ground and ignore. If he does this a time or two and someone is cleaning up pee or pulling her out from under the bed, we back up. There’s no hurry – you have another ten or fifteen years with this dog. A couple more weeks isn’t going to be more than a blip.
If he only comes over occasionally, or if I see him on our walks, I’m going to give him some very yummy treats to toss. First we toss far away from his scary male self, and then after a while closer. Eventual goal is for him to be about to crouch down, give no eye contact but have her take the treat from his hand.
Soon she’ll be going “MALE! TREATS!” and then we are going to have a whole ‘nother issue on our hands.
I’ll be posting more in the next day or so.
But basically the steps are: Back the Scary off. Build the dog’s confidence in other ways. Introduce the Scary in a non threatening manner. Take it slow. Back off as necessary.
Look for more in the series of My Dog Hates coming soon!