I once went to a pet vist for two dogs and were warned by the Owners that..."the dogs will bark and growl, but he won't bite you, he just wants to be pet." Well, I got bit twice. I have studied and worked with dogs, just like this little guy, for about 10 years. Any Veterinarian or Trainer will tell you that barking, growling and showing his teeth is NOT a sign that he wants to be pet or played with at all; that he is having fear and anxiety at that very moment.
ALWAYS keep in mind that what might seem scary to a dog will feel normal to us. Respect how that dog feels. When I was very young, there was a family member that used to "tease me" when he caught a roach and I was terrified of them! He would then pretend to throw it at me and I would scream out of shear terror and run as fast as I could. Picking up the roach, to that guy, was no big deal, but for me it was scary and cruel. Have you ever walked your dog and he saw a Halloween decoration in a yard and backed away from it, barked or growled at it...that is fear to them but normal to us. Sometimes dogs will see just some litter on the ground and react the same way...fear for them but normal for us.
There are several ways that I have shown my staff and owners on how to manage a situation like this when you walk in the front door and some of them are:
1. START BY understand that you are entering the DOG'S home, probably for the first time and he doesn't know you. His [distressful] barking or growling likely means he being anxious and fearful. Fearful and anxious dogs will bark, back up, growl, show their teeth and not let you touch them or maybe even try to nip at you. Dogs that aren't socialized correctly will usually have this before to new people walking THEIR home. That being said, NEVER try to touch, pet or stick your hand out when a dog is clearly distressed and do NOT bend over his head. Always have bite size treats with you when you go to a fearful dog's home.
2. Always Assess First before walking further into the house: Is the dog's tail wagging while he is barking or is his tail stiff and he is growling and showing his teeth? Is he moving closer to you to smell you while he is barking or is he backing away due to fear, continuing to bark? If the tail is wagging, that is a good sign and means that he is a little nervous because he doesn't know you. If he is reacting more viciously that is called a REACTIVE dog and he is scared and doesn't know what to do.
3. So the first method: Show the dog that you respect his space and it's his house. I always talk calmly to the dog, let him sniff me and literally ask him, "can I come into your house?" or "show me your toys? It sounds ridiulous but the tone of my voice and my body language can be calming and most times I can walk past him, but follow through with taking him outside, seeing his toys or taking him for a walk. But if is still showing signs of anxiety or fear, just go about your business WITHOUT MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH THE FEARFUL DOG. Let him hear your voice and speak as calmly and friendly and always mention the dog's name. If he follows you to go outside to potty in the yard or preparing his food, etc., give him a little treat for every calm and positive effort that he is making.
4. Second method: If you CANNOT get past him (likely a bigger dog), then you stay at the entrance of the home and wait till he can calm down. Once he calms down a bit, lower yourself to his eye level but not close in front of his face; that takes away the fear of you towering over him which can be intimidating for any dog just meeting you and it keeps you from possibly getting bit in the face. Keep avoiding eye contact, which is a trigger and can cause a dog to take that as a challenge. While lowering yourself to the ground, don't make any gestures or try to touch him or bend over his head. Let him calm down even more and he should start to sniff you. If he doesn't, go to #5.
5. Another method is to lower yourself to the ground slowly BUT turn your back on the dog. Turning your back on him removes eye contact, your arms are in front of you and away from the dog and you aren't trying to engage with the dog in any way. That removes some immediate fear right away. Every fearful dog whereby I use this technique, has always slowly approached me (feeling safer w/my back turned) and starts to sniff all around my back, my hair, then my shoulders and neck while you just stay still and talk to him calmly mentioning his name. If you happen to have a small treat (not a large one), slightly hold it out with your arms extended, still with your back to the dog. Let him take the treat and that will be one sign, to him, that you are not there to hurt him. If he is calmer, then slowly try to stand back up.
6. After he has settled down more, don't move around the house in a rush, as that couldl trigger the dog that something might be wrong and he likely will return to being anxious. Just move about the house calmly, go to the back door and let them outside to potty. If you're taking him on a walk, put the leash on the floor, with a treat, and use the word "walk" or "outside" to elicit some sort of response, from him that he wants to go for a walk with you.
WRAPPING THIS ARTICLE UP, LET ME SAY;
Knowing canine body language is very important. All dogs have fears and triggers; it's so important to discover what they are in an effort to help them. Sometimes it may appear that he is fearful or aggressive when he actually is in pain somewhere. SO BEFORE AN OWNER ATTEMPTS THESE STEPS, FIRST RULE OUT, WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN, THAT HE IS OKAY. So many times the owners thank me because their Vet said that he had something in his paw, his arthritis was worse or he had a virus. It could easily be so many things that aren't easily recognizable to us. So always rule out pain first with your Vet.
Experts say that walking or taking them out to a dog park, a run on the levee, dog play dates or even Petco to smell all of the goodies, are all great ways to provide your dog with different stimuli and experiences [adventures] that will provide him fun, exercise and socialization. How will a fearful or aggressive dog ever learn that poeple are okay and safe if they never meet them? So it is SO IMPORTANT to provide these adventures for your dog to give him confidence rather than fear, enrichment rather than living only within the house and backyard.
We definitely get it; your life is busy with work, cooking, laundry, homework, baseball or soccer practice, school events, etc., THAT IS WHAT WE ARE HERE FOR...to make YOUR life a little easier and to provide your dog enriching experiences and you will find a happier, calmer and better behaved dog for your family to enjoy.
Written by Liz Schneider,
Owner of Nonie's Pet Care
I am going to attach an article from the Anti-Cruelty Society, 2022. that addresses determining your dog's triggers and then how to deal with them.
Finding your dog’s trigger(s):
It’s crucial to always be aware of your dog's behavior and to take note of the things she is afraid of, aka her “triggers”. Along with noting what her triggers are, observe the amount of the scary thing she can handle before behaving in a fearful manner. This is called her threshold. It is important to never exceed your dog’s threshold throughout the training process.
Managing your dog’s trigger(s):
Once you have determined her triggers and threshold, create a plan to limit her exposure to these things. When you’re training her, it’s important that you don’t scare her more.
In most cases, it’s almost impossible to completely avoid every trigger. Make sure to have a “Plan B” in case you aren’t able to avoid a trigger, such as taking a U-turn on a walk or crossing the street. Be sure to always have treats on you to reward your dog for moving away from the scary thing!
Reintroducing triggers through positive reinforcement:
Introduce your dog to the things that scare her slowly, gradually, and in a controlled environment. To prevent your dog from being more afraid, it’s incredibly important not to rush this process and never to force your dog into a situation where she is scared. Remaining calm throughout this process is also key. Use calming gestures such as stroking her head and talking to her in a soft tone of voice to help ease your dog’s anxiety and fear.
Start off by introducing the scary thing to your dog at a distance and rewarding her with lots of treats and praise when she does not show signs of fear. This will teach her to associate yummy treats with the scary object. If at any point she does start showing signs of fear, take a break and calm her down by softly petting her. Start again from the last point when you succeeded and go even slower.
For example, if your dog is afraid of strollers, feed your dog a treat every time she sees a stroller, even if it’s from a distance. Soon enough, your dog will start associating the stroller with treats and be less fearful of them.