Tips to Help a Terrier Scared of People

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 12, 2024

Terrier scared of people

When you have a Terrier scared of people, its no fun. In this West LA dog training session we worked with Athena (left) and newly adopted Phoebe who is scared of new people.

Phoebe had only been adopted a month earlier and while she warmed up to her female guardian and roommate Athena, she had shown trepidation around men. Sometimes she would growl when her guardians male partner comes home or enters the room.

I avoided any direct eye contact or trying to engage with Phoebe and instead I chatted with her guardian and interacted with Athena giving the fearful dog space and time to process things. We disccused the importance of positive reinforcement when conducting behavior modification of a dog fearful of strangers.

Often people think that the best way to help a scared dog is to try to pet them. But when your dealing with dog fears, the best thing you can do is ignore the dog completely. Even if the dog approaches to sniff, you should hold still and not try to pet them. This is especially the case for dogs fearful of strangers or with other dog fears.

I discussed this and a couple of other basic tips with the guardian before we got started. I always go over a number of dog behavior fundamentals with my clients to help eliminate confusion and make sure that everyone’s on the same page.

We introduced a marker word, I showed the guardian how to use hand targeting to practice her timing and we discussed the importance of recognizing and rewarding desired behaviors, something I call Celebrating.

Celebrating is a sneaky easy way to train a dog but it’s also a great way to build their confidence. All you have to do to celebrate is wait for your dog to do any desired action, then say your marker word and pet or reward them.

Rewarding your dog sitting, coming to you, laying down, going to the dog bed, eye contact or any other behavior is a great way to communicate to the dog that you like that activity. This can help put the dog at and build their confidence, important things to do if you have a scared dog.

I also went over a few tips to help reduce the dog anxiety to sounds outside of the home through a desensitization and counterconditioning exercise. Well not directly tied to the Terriers fear of people, unknown noises were causing Phoebe to feel stressed. Changing her emotional response to those sounds will go along way towards her helping her be less fearful around new people.

Changing a dog’s emotional response to a positive is crucial wtih fearful behavior in dogs. I keep this in mind when I engage in counter conditioning, desensitiztion or obedience training with a fearful dog. You need to keep a keen eye out for signs of fear; looking away or refusing to look at you, stiff body, crouching down, ears pined back, excesseive panting or moving away / keeping distance.

Help For a Terrier Scared of People

But the primary behavior issue I was called into help was Phoebe’s fear of people, especially men.

I recommended that the guardian tried to introduce Phoebe to new people outside or at least in the hallway. We often don’t think about it but when we enter a home with the dog, we are invading their space. Most dogs are happy to meet new people, but if your dog is afraid of strangers, meeting outside where there are a lot of distractions and open spaces can help the dog feel more comfortable.

I wanted to show the guardian an exercise they can use to help a Terrier scared of people learn that strangers are a positive thing. The great thing about this tip to help fearful dogs as it works for any breed. If you have a dog that is scared of strangers, you should check out the free positive dog training video below.

It was great to see Phoebe eating the treats and being able to muster up enough courage to come over to get them. But you could clearly see in her body language that she was uncomfortable; she was hunched over, eyes were big, she moved slowly and after retrieving the treat she would move away.

I kept reminding myself that Phoebe had only been in the home for a couple of weeks. Anytime you bring a rescue dog into your home, you should expect them to be in shock for the first three days, start seeing big chunks of their personality by the third week and then the actual personality around three months.

No one wants to see a Terrier scared of people, but it’s important for the guardian to practice positive greetings consistently to help Phoebe build up her confidence.

It will take some time and there will be good days and bad days, the most important thing is to go at Phoebe’s pace. They will need to watch for signs of consent and cut off signals when reading her body language while recognizing it’s OK if she walks away.

Rehabilitating a fearful rescue dog can be challenging but it’s also equally rewarding when you see the dog breakthrough, develop confidence or overcome their fears.

I asked Phoebe’s guardian to keep in touch with me and let me know how she progresses. I’m hopeful that these tips for fearful dogs will help her with her confidence and comfort. However in some cases the fear is so intense we may need to do a follow up session or incorporate medication‘s. Reaching out with progress reports and questions will help me help them.

We covered quite a bit in this in-home West LA Dogs behavior training session. I was worried that the guardian may not remember everything, so I pulled out my camera and sat down on the couch with Athena to summarize everything in a roadmap to success video video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr