Some dog owners find that their happy go lucky, tail-wagging bundle of energy transforms to a timid, suspicious, nervous pup when they take him somewhere new. If it seems as if your buddy should want to see the ducks at the park or check out new scenery, but is scared and clings to you like a preschooler afraid of the first day of school, he is not alone. Many dogs are scared of new places.
Being fearful of new places is an experience common to shy dogs who were not socialized properly. The two windows of opportunity to socialize puppies are when they are between 8 and 14 weeks old and again when they are between 5 and 8 months old, says Stanley Coren, psychology professor and popular author of books on dog behavior, in Psychology Today. During prime socialization times, it benefits pups if you take them to places they might encounter during their dog days. Show your little learner the park, gas stations, grooming salons, public buildings and homes. Make the outings fun to help ensure your puppy won't grow up with a fear of new places.
Dogs who were socialized properly can develop fears later on. If something happened to a dog on an outing that scared him, he might associate that occurrence with the place. You can change the behavior by making the trip a positive one that involves treats, for example. Give your dog a treat before he displays fear as you get ready to approach a new place. He might soon associate the place with treats and good times instead of fear.
Dogs are good communicators, and they let you know in many ways when they are scared. A frightened dog might first flatten his ears and lower his tail. He might yawn, tremble, cower, raise his neck hair, whine or pant. He also might try to run away or hide. He surely won't want to explore the new place, frolic or experience any sort of fun if he is scared. A danger is that some dogs, when scared of a new environment, become aggressive and snap at or try to bite people.
When a dog displays fear of a new place, a natural instinct for most people is to comfort the dog. That is exactly what you shouldn't do because you're reinforcing the scared behavior if you pet or otherwise reward a dog while he's displaying fear. It might be difficult for you, but it's better for the dog if you ignore his fearful display and carry on with whatever it is you wish to do. That displays to the dog that everything is normal. Never punish a dog for being afraid.
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