An improperly socialized puppy or one that has had scary experiences with people and other animals can become shy and fearful of them as an adult. No matter what the cause, you can socialize your fearful pup to others slowly and carefully. Use praise and rewards to teach Fido that other living things and various situations aren't scary, eventually changing his negative perceptions into positive ones.
Socializing to People
To prevent Fido from cowering in fear when he sees another person, teach him that all people, including those of different heights, genders and races, are all good. Have a friend quietly sit several feet away from your pup. In the presence of the person, give your pooch a series of yummy treats and talk to him using a calm tone of voice. Keep each session with your friend to around 15 minutes. During each successive session, allow your friend to move closer to your pooch, eventually having her feed treats to Fido herself, the Partnership for Animal Welfare recommends. Repeat this exercise with different friends, ultimately having them cheerfully interact with Fido.
Socializing to Animals
Some pups become scared in the presence of other dogs. Avoid this by exposing your pup to a friend's dog, whose temperament you know is calm, recommends Cesar's Way. During your dog's initial meetings, allow him to sit with you and watch the other dog from a distance, while treating and praising him. Let the two dogs meet eventually, with both pups on a leash. Reward and praise your pup when he displays nonfearful behavior. For another type of animal, such as a cat, allow your dog to interact with her through a baby gate, eventually working up to a face-to-face meeting, with lots of treats for both animals if no fear is shown.
Socializing to Situations
If your pup is fearful, certain situations could frighten or upset him. Expose your pooch to a less threatening version of these events, says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This could include having a few calm, trustworthy friends over for a mock "party" or playing the sounds of a thunderstorm, if such things are triggers for Fido's fears. During these situations, praise and treat your pup the moment he sits calmly or distract him with an interactive game such as "fetch." If some situations, such as a car trip to the vet, only end in a way that is upsetting to your dog, change his perception by simply taking him on a trip around the block, treating and praising him, then returning home.
In severe cases, your vet may recommend giving your frightened pup a medication to help to calm him during the socialization process. These medications include benzodiazepines or tricyclic antidepressants, according to the Hilltop Animal Hospital. When dealing with a frightened pooch, don't accidentally reinforce his fear by praising or treating him when he's displaying signs of fear. A fearful pooch will tuck his tail, have dilated pupils or flatten his ears. Instead, wait for him to calm down before you reward him. If your dog displays aggression when he's afraid, work with a veterinary behaviorist to tackle his behavior safely. An aggressive pooch may need to wear a muzzle during training, according to 2ndchance.info.
- Cesar's Way: Dog Problem: Rehabilitating a Fearful, Unsocialized Dog
- Nose to the Ground to Help Hounds: Socializing Shy and Neglected Hounds
- Partnership for Animal Welfare: Dog Tip: Socializing Adult Dogs and the Importance of Maintaining Socialization
- Hilltop Animal Hospital: Fearful Dogs
- Perfect Paws: Is Your Dog or Puppy Shy and Leery of People; Afraid of Strangers, Certain Situations or Objects?
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Desensitization and Counterconditioning
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Socializing Dogs to People
- Animal Advocates Alliance: How To Train a Scared, Shy, or Traumatized Dog
- 2ndchance.info: Curing Your Fearful or Frightened Dog
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.