Helping a Shih Tzu Mix Get Over His Fear of Males

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 3, 2016

Ace Angel

Ace Angel is a one-year-old Shih Tzu / Chin / Maltese mix who is fearful of most men and runs away from the guardian’s 14 year old grandson; staying near the guardian at all time. Helping a dog get over his fear of strangers is always something I look forward to.

The guardian wanted me to build up Ace’s confidence so he no longer runs from her grandson or men he doesn’t know. The guardian wisely arranged for her grandson to join us for the session so that I could see how the dog interacted with him.

They were out running errands so we ended up meeting outside of their home. Ace was nowhere near as anxious as I expected him to be when we walked in, but this is likely due to the fact that I was accompanied by the guardian.

As soon as we sat down to discuss the situation, I started to get a sense of Ace’s insecurities. He hovered near his guardian; standing or sitting next to her or under her chair. I avoided any direct eye contact and tried to adopt a softer body language and slower movements to help Ace feel more comfortable.

Unfortunately the guardian had previously hired Dillion’s Dog Training to work with Ace. I’m familiar with this person and would not even consider him to be a trainer as I find the techniques that he uses to be nothing short of abusive. There’s absolutely no reason why you would ever put a prong collar on a dog this small or this fearful. But that’s what Dillon’s decided to do.

But if you have a dog that is anxious or fearful, you always want to utilize positive reinforcement and ways to build up the dog’s confidence. Not look for ways to punish the dog for something that it cannot control on its own.

I spent a couple of minutes showing the guardian how she could utilize positive reinforcement to help Ace feel more comfortable with her grandson. In less than three minutes the dog was taking treats directly out of the grandsons hand, something he had never done before.

I advised the guardian to have her grandson continue to practice this technique for the next several visits until the dog approaches and plays with him without needing any additional reward. She can also apply the same technique to any other male guests who visit her home.

With enough practice, Ace will eventually start to associate the positive reinforcers (treats) with the arrival of male guests and look forward to that experience. The sort of positive dog training is not only effective, it’s fun for the dog too.

In the course of my initial discussion with Ace’s guardian, I learned that there was a favorite toy that he liked to play with. I asked the grandson to go and retrieve that toy so we could that to help rehabilitate him.

Using similar techniques to what was applied in the above video, Ace’s guardian’s grandson was playing with the dog within minutes. This was also something that he had never done before.

When you get two firsts within a matter of 10 minutes, you know you’re on the right track, LOL.

This is another activity that the grandson and future male guests should also participate in. However, since the grandson visit more often than other guests, it may take a couple of practice rounds of dropping the treats for new males before the dog is comfortable enough  to start playing with them.

A little later on, I started to suggest that the guardian start practicing my Petting with a purpose strategy of petting the dog for sitting or laying down on to earn attention.  That is when I learned that Ace didn’t even know how to sit on command.

I had the guardian sit on the floor across the room from the grandson and I and then coached her through some hand motions and movements to teach Ace to sit on command. It took a little bit of patience, but within about 6 minutes, Ace was sitting down in front of his guardian on command and receiving a positive reinforcer each time he did.

After the sit, I suggested that the guardian start to pet any Ace any time that he laid down near her while simultaneously saying the word “crash.” If the guardian can consistently pet the dog while simultaneously saying the word crash within three seconds of him laying down, he will eventually start to associate the attention with the action of sitting down with the command word of “Crash.”

One Ace knows how to sit and lay down on command, the grandson should start practicing these commands with him as well.

I also recommended that the guardian use YouTube to find 10 new tricks or commands and teach Ace a new one every week for the next 10 weeks. The more skills that Ace knows, the better he will feel about himself. This will lead to a boost in confidence and self-esteem which should help lessen his fearful nature around things and people he does not know.

I also recommended that the grandson start joining grandma whenever she takes Ace out for walks. By having the dog practice walking between them, eventually Ace will become more comfortable with the grandson as he will associate his presence with an activity that he enjoys. Once that is the case, then I recommended that grandma start handing Ace’s leash to her grandson on the halfway point of the walk. Eventually, the grandson should take Ace out for solo walks to really cement and enhance their relationship.

At the end of the session, I started to walk over to where Ace was on the couch, but I stopped as soon as he showed me that he was uncomfortable with my approach. I used this opportunity to film a little segment on how you can best approach an anxious or nervous dog. Sorry for the dim lighting. Didn’t realize I was back lit until after the session.

By the end of the session, Ace had adopted a much more confident and relaxed body posture. He was also doing things that he had never done before like jumping up on the couch, playing with and coming near the grandson.

By teaching him some new tricks and commands, communicating with him in ways that he understands and utilizing positive reinforcement to help him get over his fears, Ace should stop being so anxious and nervous in the presence of the grandson and unknown men in no time.

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