During Luna’s earliest weeks of life, long before being left at the shelter, she missed out on gentle social exposures, causing her to be afraid when approached by anyone. Well-meaning human attempts to make friends triggered defensive lunging and snapping. She got lucky with her second family; they were committed to teaching her a better way. Luna is a calmer dog now; her fear-driven aggressive reactions rare.
There were gifts in this come-from-behind story. Luna’s people, Hope and Brian, grew closer from their shared mission of investing themselves in another creature. They knew they were Luna’s last chance. In the process of helping this scared dog succeed their own wellbeing was lifted, inspiring empathy in those around them. And when they’re ready to raise a small human or two they’ll know the value of patience. Luna’s challenges will have mattered.
If you’re raising a puppy you can side-step fearful encounters by providing the kid with choices. That’s important because you never want him to feel trapped. Carrying or leading a puppy to any creature could trigger fear if he thinks he can’t escape. Approaches from excited people or rambunctious dogs can also be panic-provoking.
Instead, let your puppy choose to interact when he is ready. People should squat at a distance, with their side turned toward the youngster, looking at him with their peripheral vision (no direct staring). The offer of a tasty food lure rewards courage. Gentle praise and petting are high value reinforcers too. And be sure to provide an easy escape and a ready hideout just in case the kid needs a break to chillax.
Finally, NO DOMINANCE moves. Dogs were not put on this earth to challenge us humans for global supremacy. There is no test of wills. Alpha rolls, pinning, shouting, and physical punishment have no research supporting their effectiveness.
In fact, we have ample evidence of the harm these methods cause, especially to a canine youngster who is trying desperately to comprehend the rules of human engagement. Only good things should ever be associated with human hands, voices, and facial expressions. We can bring out the best in others. That’s our choice.
Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnicholor by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.