I have the opportunity to talk to many people about their fearful dogs. One thing almost all of them have in common is that they waited too long to get help for themselves and their dog. I’m not pointing a finger of blame at them, I understand the delay. Many of the dogs we’ve lived with have been adaptable, resilient and tolerant. Some have been shy at first but they quickly have ‘come around’. Others have retained some level of fearfulness but it wasn’t enough to impact our lives significantly.
It’s helpful to have a picture of what an emotionally healthy dog looks like. An emotionally healthy dog starts off looking like an emotionally healthy puppy. Puppies should be curious, they should be attracted to people and other dogs, they may startle and move away from something but so long as they are not hurt or scared again by it, should investigate it. Puppies follow people around, they greet other dogs, they pounce on toys and chew computer cables. Puppies lick your face and nibble your shoe laces.
Red flags should go up if a puppy repeatedly moves away or hides from people. An emotionally healthy puppy may display some timidness or wariness when in a new location with new people but this shouldn’t last long. Hours of this type of behavior is a warning sign, days of it should have alarm bells ringing. Don’t mistake aggressiveness based in fear for puppy bravado.
If you have any inkling that somethings isn’t ‘right’ with a puppy, run don’t walk to your nearest reward based trainer. The sooner a dog with fear based behavior challenges is handled properly the better their chance of learning skills to feel comfortable and safe in their world.