Tips to Help a Small Dog with a Big Fear of New People

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 30, 2017

Mini Me is an eight-year-old teacup Poodle who lives with her guardian in their home office in downtown Omaha. Her guardian set up a second dog behavior session with me to get her to stop nipping and the aggressive behavior she displays when guests or clients visit.

My first session with Mini Me was right before the holidays and due to a number of parties and the crazy time of year, the guardian was a little overwhelmed. Combined with how much help Mini Me needed, I decided to take a more focused and methodical approach in this session.

I will say that although she did try to nip me a few times when I arrived, the greeting was an improvement from my first session with her.

Its pretty clear that Mini Me is coming from a very insecure place. She knows only one real command “come” so there isn’t much for her to take pride in or feel good about. Because she feels so insecure, she is acting aggressively as a defense mechanism to keep new people away.

Because her self esteem is so low, I want her guardian to put a BIG emphasis on passive training which is basically petting a dog when it does something you want as a command while say8ing the command word, when the dog does it on their own.

I detail the technique in the following video.

Training Mini Me to do basic commands will help build up the dog’s confidence, but its not going to fix behavior problems on its own.

Right now, the only person Mini Me is comfortable with is her guardian. But we need to help the dog learn that other people are ok too in order to help her learn to  stop fearing everyone.

Because dogs get over things by literally moving forward, taking a dog for a structured walk (with the dog beside and not in front) is a very helping tactic to use when rehabilitating a fearful dog.

By having the assistant take Mini Me out for a walk every time she gets to the office, the dog will eventually start to become more comfortable around her. This will be the beginning of teaching Mini Me how to make human friends.

Using the hallway in the building is a great option as there are no real distractors and only one way to go. Plus, its winter in the midwest and as a tiny dog, staying inside will be more comfortable for dog and handler.

The assistant was concerned at how Mini Me would act on these walks, but as you can see below, that concern was unwarranted.

Regular walks combined with me-time in the assistant’s office will help the dog stop being so afraid of being away from her guardian. Eventually, the dog should bond with the assistant which will be a big step forward for Mini Me’s psychological development.

Because Mini Me is reacting so strongly to new people, I initially thought some kennel training would help. Right now the dog sees the entire home office as her domain to defend and protect. I have found that shrinking a dog’s world can help them feel more secure and less anxious.

But a kennel by itself may be too limiting in this situation so I suggested that the guardian install a puppy play pen so that Mini’s world will shrink. Plus there is a dog training secret that I share that makes for some easy  kennel training.

Its a safe bet that Mini Me is going to protest being left in the play pen. It will be EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that the guardian does not cave in and let her out when she barks, whines or has an outburst. Doing so will only train the dog that those actions are the way to ask to get let out.

Practicing putting Mini Me inside when the guardian steps out to dinner or to run errands will help as there will be no one to complain to. But after a dozen or so trips like this, the guardian will need to practice putting Mini Me inside the play pen when she is there.

Any time the guardian wants to let Mini Me out of the play pen, it will be important she wait for the dog to stop and settle down and be quiet. This will be a challenge so I recommended the guardian start this process when she has plenty of time the first few times.

Walking away and waiting for the dog to stop protesting will be important. If the guardian is firm about this for the first week or so, Mini Me will learn that protesting and outbursts no longer get her her way.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Set up the puppy play pen and put the kennel inside with several  interesting chew items (bully sticks, cow’s ears, kong filled with peanut butter or a soft spreadable dog food)
  • Practice passive training as much as possible until Mini learns how to sit and lay down on command.
  • Assistant needs to take take Mini Me for a walk as soon as she arrives for work every day.
  • After giving Mini Me a chance to recover, guardian needs to take Mini to assistant’s office and spend at least 3o minutes there.
  • Arrange for Mini Me to go elsewhere if the guardian has multiple people coming by for an appointment or social gathering.
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