Why has my dog become terrified of people?
(Q) We got our Standard Poodle about two months ago; she is now seven months old. She had been badly treated and lived mostly in a cage.
When we got her she was friendly and had a lovely personality, and she met many of our family and friends. After about four weeks, she developed some caution around people, including people she had already met. This has escalated to the point where if we have people round she will hide under a table or at the bottom of the garden and visibly shake. When we are out she has trouble even walking past people.
We’ve tried getting people to give her treats but even if we can get her close enough to take the treat, she nearly always runs away again afterwards. How can we help her?
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Sadly there are often consequences of puppies being raised in such barren, stressful environments. They tend to be significantly more wary about novel situations and in particular they often struggle with social interactions. It is not uncommon for the real underlying fear to only become apparent after an initial short period of time and it will be important to try to address this as soon as possible so that she has the best prognosis. It is impossible to reprogramme a poorly socialised dog’s brain but when they are young like this we can often teach them to relax when around familiar people.
A referral to a behavioural specialist who can work through this in detail with you is vital. The key is not to rush or try to force contact on her; although frustrating this has to be done in her own time.
Give her choice about whether she approaches a person. If she likes food then this is wonderful but she should be offered it with the person at a distance at first so that she feels comfortable. As she learns to anticipate nice things she will naturally be inclined to come closer for the food. It may be a while so be patient.
Start using an Adaptil pheromone therapy diffuser at home and a collar to support her while out and about. I doubt this will trigger a complete change but it should support the work you are trying to implement.