scared dog

Women yes; men no

Question:
I just watched your YouTube video on dog PTSD. I realize that my dog’s trigger is men. We’ve had her three days and she is absolutely terrified of my husband. We don’t know her history and she is just over one year old. I’m wondering if my husband is causing her to relive her trauma and if she may be better suited for an all-female household.

Dr. Nichol:
I’m sad that your new dog is terrified. It’s hard to imagine but some pets have been abused. Dogs who have suffered that way typically associate fear with the individual who was responsible for their misery but not all people of that gender or description.

We can learn a lot from dogs. They aren’t sexist or racist but some are afraid of the unknown. Your pupster may have missed out on healthy socialization as a 5-12 week old kid, leading to a lifetime of fear-driven reactive behavior. Early gentle exposure to all types of people is essential to a dog’s lifelong wellbeing.

Life is hard for scared dogs. Men are bigger. We have booming voices, quick movements, and stomp around like lumberjacks (no offense intended toward lumberjacks). Women, by nature, have more evenly modulated voices and graceful movements compared to us brutes. It’s an easy choice if you’re a nervous wreck. Your girl doesn’t have to live this kind of truncated life; she can and should stay in your loving home.

This shiny new dog of yours needs to abandon her fear. I advise your man to move slowly and speak quietly around her. With him sitting or lying on the floor, with bits of tasty food nearby, your girl can learn to associate a relaxed emotional state with him. If he ignores her completely she will eventually realize that he is not a threat.

If your husband approaches or reaches for your dog, on the other hand, he would risk worsening her problem. He should forget about coaxing or cajoling her into a friendship. She’s too freaked-out at this early stage to laugh at his jokes or eat out of his hand. Slow and steady wins the race.

Dr. Jeff Nichol provides pet behavior consultations in-person and virtually by telephone and Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet questions on behavioral or physical concerns on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.