Helping an Anxious Portuguese Water Dog Get Over a Fear of People

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 28, 2019

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with Orion, a 10 month-old Portuguese Water dog who is extremely fearful of humans, especially the other of his new family.

Orion was adopted at 8 months from a breeder who also shows dogs. Ive never been a big fan of the show dog scene. Often these dogs don’t know how to sit or have many basic commands as the guardians want the dogs to “stack” for the judges and then walk nicely in a square pattern. After that, they get sent back to the kennel so they can parade another dog around the ring.

Orion was a classic example of this. At 8 months old he didn’t even know the most basic of commands; the sit. He was also clearly under socialized. I wouldn’t say he was a fearful dog so much as an anxious one. He was lucky to get adopted out of that life and to find a family who is so intent on helping him as he is still young enough to change.

While the other members of the family could interact with Orion in a limited capacity, he wanted nothing to do with the mom. This was sad to see as the mother is such a nice woman. Im guessing the breeder or another adult woman had some negative interactions with the dog, but that is just a guess based on his flight movements any time the mother was near by.

The mother let me know she would spend 10+ minutes a day petting Orion each day in his kennel while he stayed motionless to try to show him she was a good person and he was safe. While her intentions were the best, and not uncommon, petting a fearful dog can make it even more fearful. This is a key difference between dog psychology and humans.

I shared a number of tips people can use to help an anxious dog feel more comfortable around someone in the free dog behavior training video below.

Although Orion wasn’t taking treats in the above video, he was doing so before. We ended having to film it twice as I got a phone call half way though the first attempt.

To help Orion start to build up some positive associations with the mother, I invited her to bring him to our puppy socialization classes and lent the family my dog Cali to hang out over the weekend after the session.

I was very pleased to hear that the mother was able to hand feed Orion some food a few days after the session. The family also started to have the boys offer Orion a treat any time he came near them in the back yard. But they avoided calling him or showing much interest. This allowed him to come over on his own time and speed. By the second day, I was told they were able to leash him up too! A great example of the benefits of giving a dog time and space to do things when its ready.

By taking Orion to positive activities he enjoys, giving him some space at times and letting him come to her, the mother will eventually demonstrate that she is no threat and in fact a positive in his life. It will take some time and lot of patience, but fortunately for this stressed out dog, that is a trait this family has in abundance. And you dont have to become a professional Portuguese Water dog trainer to do so.

To help the guardians remember all the things we covered in this in home dog behavior training session, we shot a roadmap to success video you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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