One of my responsibilities when I foster a dog is to give them as many skills as possible for making sense of people. This is helpful for any dog but crucial for a fearful dog. Along with teaching a dog basic life skills such as; waiting at open doors or gates, coming when called, getting in and out of cars, getting off of furniture when asked (sorry folks I’m bad, I let them on to begin with), and walking nicely on a leash, I also try to give the dog a few cute tricks to perform. People love dogs that can do tricks, but that’s only part of the reason to do it.
First of all it’s fun. Most dogs enjoy training when rewards are involved. It helps to create positive relationships and associations with people. A dog who is afraid of people but learns that we do all kinds of things with our bodies, hands and voices that lead to a reward, if they can come up with the correct response, may feel less frightened when a new person makes some of those similar movements or sounds. In the big picture it can mean people lead to rewards. It may not happen easily or quickly but over time dogs can learn.
It’s hunting season here in Vermont so it means no walks in the woods. The dogs and I go a bit stir-crazy these couple of weeks so I try to spend more time tossing toys and teaching new behaviors. It’s not the best set-up for training, with each dog having their own agenda, as you can see in the following video, but I do what I can. I also like working with several dogs because it helps them each learn to be ok having other dogs around when food is involved. Fearful dogs are also prime candidates for resource guarding the human they feel good with. They’ll growl or snap at dogs or people who come to close to their person.
And then there’s all the silly talk and kissy face stuff we like to do with dogs. We often can’t help ourselves, but once a dog feels safe with you it can be a great way to get their tails wagging. When I first met Nibbles there was no way I would put my face near his, he was very clear about not feeling good about that! Now he enjoys a good cuddle and thinks silliness is just fine.