Helping a Fearful German Shepherd Puppy With Her Fear of New People

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 18, 2019

For this Omaha puppy training session we share a number of tips to help 6 month-old German Shepherd Asia stop reacting fearfully to people she doesn’t know.

I arrived for the session as the guardian was returning from a walk so I used the opportunity to use a few puppy behavior tips to help her feel more relaxed and comfortable when meeting me. The approach had mixed results with the puppy spending some time relaxed and at other times moving back in a fearful way.

We spent a good portion of the session discussing small things the humans can do to help Asia relax as well as things to avoid doing (primarily petting when scared or failing to provide rules and structure). I think a big part of Asia’s behavior problems stem from her German Shepherd puppy breeder. She was bred and spent most of her time outside of the home before being adopted. While she showed some aggressive behavior, the key problem her is Asia is a fearful puppy due to limited early exposure to new people.

Puppies who spend their first few weeks of life in a barn or other non-domesticated living quarters miss out on valuable socialization experience. It’s not at all unusual for a dog who was whelped outside of a home to be fearful of a great many things that they weren’t exposed to on a regular bases and at a time when the puppy is open to new experiences.

Unfortunately Asia’s lack of early socialization almost definitely included humans. Dogs who are whelped in a farm situation are notoriously under socialized around humans and that was certainly the case for Asia. Her guardians mentioned several things that I would consider a big red flag from a breeder.

A rule of thumb is you want your puppy to meet at least 100 people (in a positive way) before they turn 3 months old. If everyone a puppy meets gives them love, attention, treats and pets while in their Critical Socialization Period (https://www.doggoneproblems.com/criticalsocializationperiod/), they are usually comfortable and confident when meeting new people. If they did not practice meeting people in a positive way during their CSP, its not unusual for them to be fearful around new people. This is most certainly the case with Asia.

We headed outside to do a little BAT training and recorded a video on it, but after reflecting on the session afterwords I decided to not include it here. The first step in stopping Asian’s fearful behavior is going to start inside the home.

Although one of her guardians takes her for a short walk every day, she is in need of far more daily exercise. Your average dog needs at least 1 hour of exercise a day, but higher energy dogs and puppies (like Asia) need more. I shared some tips like exercising before walks, walking at times when less people are out, teaching the dog to run up and down the stairs, scent games and fetch. Increasing Asia’s exercise to a minimum of 1.25 hours a day, spread throughout the day, will make fixing her problems dramatically easier.

Next we discussed the importance of rules, some rules to introduce and how to enforce them. Consistent enforcement of rules for at least 2 months will be critical for Asia to start seeing her humans acting like leaders. The more she sees them this way, the more comfortable she will be in situations that make her nervous just like a friend can give you confidence when dealing with a new or stressful situation.

We also discussed ways to add structure like petting with a purpose. This is a wonderful way to build up a dog’s confidence, increase respect for the human as authority leaders and boost their confidence as they are earning rewards instead of simply getting them.

Giving the dog rewards and attention when they organically offer desired behaviors will also help. I call this passive training and its probably one of the easiest and most effective way to train any dog.

I handed my camera over to one of the guardians so I could share some tips to help the puppy stop acting so fearful and start building up positive associations with new people instead.

While Asia shows some aggressive behavior to strangers, most of this is stemming from fear due to a lack of exposure and confidence. The more the guardians have people over to practice the tips to stop a dog from acting aggressive that I outlined in the above video, the more comfortable Asia will become. The key is to do this in a way that allows the dog to feel comfortable. Exercising her before hand, keeping enough distance between her and the new person and keeping these session short should allow Asia to be around new people without reacting.

Another thing the guardians can do is to teach Asia some new tricks and commands. This is a great way to help develop a healthy leader follower dynamic as it builds up the puppy’s confidence and gives the guardian some options to use to distract the dog away from things its fearful of. One of these should be how to catch as this gives any dog the ability to interact from a distance; something that helps many fearful dogs.

My hope is that as the humans flips the leader follower dynamic through rules, structure and discipline, increase her confidence with some new skills and help her practice meeting new people in a low intensity way – her fearful aggressive behavior will go away. The guardians should start seeing some small changes right away, but in a month, if there isn’t a marked improvement, the guardians should set up a short 1 hour BAT session so we can show them how to help a fearful dog practice being calm and confident through controlled situations.

To help the guardians remember all the things we covered in this in home puppy training session, we recorded a Roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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