Handling a fearful dog, be it your own or a stranger, can be quite tricky and is something anybody should learn a few basics about, as you never know when they will come in handy. Whether you are trying to rescue a frightened canine or your own furry buddy is having trust issues with someone or something, it is important to know how to prevent unpleasant incidents. So here are 7 tips on handling a fearful dog you might want to know about:
1. Approach Him Appropriately
One of the most important things you should know about handling a fearful dog, especially if he is one you don't know or is cornered and has no escape, is to never reach over him or approach him directly. Instead, squat down, turn your body to the side, and avoid looking directly into his eyes. Only then call him to you in a calm, soothing voice and very slowly stretch out your arm, keeping your hand close to the ground (never above the dog's head), allowing the little guy to sniff you and see you are not a threat.
2. Pet Appropriately
Though this is many people's first impulse when seeing a cute fur-ball, one of the worst ways of handling a fearful dog that doesn't know you is to pat him on the head. A good approach is to make a fist and hold it under the little one's nose to allow him to sniff you first. Once you've established this initial contact, start petting the dog on the chest and, only if the dog is comfortable, you can gradually reach to the sides of his face and then other body parts. Now, don't understand from this that you should never pet a dog on his head. Head patting (or petting the back, rump or shoulders) is just not to be used as a first approach.
3. Having Guests
If your furry buddy becomes anxious around people and you're having company, ask the guests to cooperate with you and avoid situations that would make your pet nervous. Excessive attention from your guests will only increase the fear and might even lead to defensive aggression.
4. Meeting Children
Handling a fearful dog when children are involved can be very tricky. Never leave your fur-ball alone with kids, as they don't always make the best decisions and might trigger negative responses. Children get overly excited, they make sudden and uncoordinated movements that may be seen as a threat and they may occasionally pull the dog's tail or ears.
5. Wake Him up Appropriately
Never disturb or surprise a fearful dog when he is asleep. It should be obvious why. Instead, if you want to wake him up, call him from a distance or make "kissy" sounds.
6. Don't Reward Fear
Don't pet your dog or say "it's okay" or "good boy" while he is in an anxious state or displaying defensive aggression. What you should do is to first wait for him to relax and then pet him or reward him. If the fear is so severe that your dog simply cannot relax, remove him from the context calmly and reward him when he cools off.
7. The Go-See Command
This is a smooth little trick you could use in many contexts. Basically, the "go-see" command teaches your furry friend that whatever you ask him to approach is safe and positive. Teach him to "go see" with treats and food. Once he builds up this positive association with the command, you can use it when meeting new people or encountering objects he is afraid of (like his archenemy, the vacuum cleaner). Of course, never use "go-see" if you are not absolutely sure the people, dogs or objects you are inviting your pet to approach are 100% safe.
These were but a few ideas to help you handle a fearful dog. Do you have any other tips you would like to share with us?