With so many puppies missing out on that critical early socialisation they need due to Covid-19 restrictions, and many rescue dogs being re-homed, there are now many nervous dogs that can be reactive when meeting new people, particularly those coming into their home.
If you have a nervous dog or one that reacts to people inappropriately, it is important you don’t introduce them to too many people too quickly.
Ideally you’d only bring a new person into your home once or twice a week at the most and your aim is to create a calm, positive experience every time.
The steps to introduce nervous dogs to new people
1. Put your dog on a leash and, assuming they are food motivated, have the other person slowly come into the house or room with the treat easily visible. If they are toy or ball motivated you can use those too.
2. If your dog moves towards them to investigate they should offer your dog the treat and speak in a low, calm and encouraging voice. Having your visitor give your dog the reward will help create the positive association we are after.
3. If your dog display any signs of anxiety or aggression, use distraction such as the ‘look at me‘ technique to get their focus on me and your visitor should stop and calmly back away increasing the distance between themselves and the dog.
4. You might instead then both sit down at a safe distance from your dog and ignore him, all the while your guest can hold the reward in sight. If ignored, dogs will sometimes get curious and slowly make their way over to investigate, or once your dog is calm you can mark the desired behaviour with ‘yes’ or a ‘clicker’ and your visitor could offer a ‘good dog’ and the reward.
5. Never push the issue, force your dog to go over or tell him off as it can create further anxiety and a negative association with that person or other people in general.
My tip is to always ensure people take off sunglasses, hats or hoodies, avoid carrying bags or other items the dog might react to, and no sudden movements towards you or the dog.
Nervous dogs want space
Remember, most nervous dogs are reacting out of fear and anxiety, so we don’t want to push them over their threshold that they feel threatened. So give them distance and space, be a calm and confident leader that shows them it’s all under control and never force them to interact with other people or dogs.
Give them a safe place they can go to as well, if they really want their space.
Never punish them, as to them the threat is real, so it is up to us to work on the socialisation slowly and positively, building up their confidence so they can relax and enjoy the new experiences.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog