My Dog is Scared of Everyone!
I have a 21 month old lab that has taken up the habit of barking
at any person that walks by our house. He also seems to be
afraid of the oddest things, and is constantly barking at things
that are different or he has never seen before. For instance,
the other day on a walk, we went by a man doing some yard work
who had a wheel barrel on his driveway. My dog had his hackles
raised and he crouched low, sniffing the wheel barrel. Seems
like strange behavior for a 98lb lab to be displaying. Is there
anything I can do to make
him more confident?
The behavior that your dog is displaying is technically called
"neophobia" which basically means a fear of new or novel things.
Genetics play an important role in how easily a pup will develop
confidence, however during early puppyhood, (6-12 weeks) but
most notably between 8 and 10 weeks, pups are the most pliable
regard to developing confidence and a safety history with
approaching and interacting with novel things in their
environment, whether that's strange people, a wheel barrel, a
garbage can, or whatever. It
is during this period that a pups social motivation to approach
and investigate new things (which creates confidence) outweighs
it natural wariness (fear), so it is considered the optimum time
for exposure to as many new things as possible.
Exposure, or lack of it during this period of development
heavily influences how confident the adult dog will be with
handling novelty in the future. Either the dog learned as a pup
to socially attract (confidence) to new things or flee from them
(fear). This is why it is so important that pups be socialized
to as many novel things as possible during this time.
Although some dogs are genetically structured for greater ease
of sociability, and have no trouble with new things seemingly
regardless of their social history during this period, others
need lots of exposure to lots and lots of new and different
things in order to be confident when encountering something new
for the first time as they enter adolescence and adulthood.
In your case, it is important to get him out more and help him
to have good experiences with things he's never encountered
before. Since dogs learn to make associations with things that
can either be
pleasant or not-so-pleasant, you'll use food to help him make a
better association with things that are scary to him. For
example, let's look at the wheel barrel incident and formulate
an approach that
will help him be more confident next time he's concerned about
At the first sign of concern (hackles raised, woofing, hunkering
down, etc.) stop, back away from the object to a more
comfortable distance for him, and begin stuffing his face with
his favorite food
treats. After a few seconds, turn and walk away from the object
- at which time the treats stop. Turn and begin to approach
again stopping before he's concerned - and feed, feed, feed.
Again turn and walk him away - treats stop. Repeat with the
treats starting as you get a little closer than the time before.
As you do this, he will begin to associate the previously
"scary" thing with something he loves - treats - and will look
forward to gradually approaching closer and closer because as he
does, good stuff begins to happen.
With lots of practice and patience, you will begin to see him
get excited about new things, rather than worried. Always be
sure to use the food to reward investigating/approaches to
things that he's never
Another great way to help him feel more confident in
approaching/investigating a novel object is to teach him to
"target" or "touch" objects. This employs teaching the dog to
"target" or "touch" your hand for a reward first. Once he
understands the behavior of target or touch and he responds to
your verbal cue to do
so, begin having him target/touch things that are familiar, and
gradually move on to have him "touch" things that are
increasingly less familiar. It really becomes a fun game for the
dog and helps him to feel more confident.
If you live in the Metro Detroit area, I would encourage you to
enroll in one of our clicker training classes. Once you
understand how to use the clicker, it becomes the best and
fastest way to teach
your dog anything. It does wonders for confidence and bonding
too. Read our clicker training articles at www.woofology.com and
check out the behavior articles too, for more helpful tips and
suggestions. Thanks for writing.
Best of Luck!
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT
Sign up to receive Woofology's Tip of Week via