Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Ontario, Canada
It sounds like he's overwhelmed both at the dog park and outside in general. I'm going to tell you what worked for me
Rather than force interactions on him, take it slow and work at HIS pace. If he backs off, you back off and let him have his space. There's no need for him to be touched by strange humans any more than he needs dog friends. I have a fearful poodle that dislikes 99% of dogs and strange humans, I allow her to socialize as much as she wants but if she starts licking her lips, avoiding eye contact, or hiding behind my legs I immediately put an end to the interaction. If she starts showing signs of avoidance before they even touch her I step in between and block and politely tell the person that she's not up for being touched at that moment. I don't actively tell people to touch her or offer treats because I know she doesn't like it. If she approaches first that's great, but I let her make that call
Fearfulness is rarely cured through immersion techniques, dogs don't think like humans and rationalize that the fire hydrant beside the sidewalk is just a fire hydrant and therefore not scary. They see the shape and want to flee, it's an animal instinct.
The biggest tool you have in your pocket with dealing with a fearful dog is trust. It doesn't come easy, just like if you were terrified of heights, you trusting another human that does skydiving and wants you to join in is not easy. You can trust a family member or close friend that they will be there to support you through the entire experience or you can trust the instructor once they have demonstrated their capability. But if John Smith says "hey, here's my airplane let's go jump out of it. I'll keep you safe! Don't mind the rips in the parachute, its ok!" Trust doesn't erase the fear, you'll still hate heights but you can get through the experience if you have someone you know at your back willing to help you. What you are conveying to the dog is this: "I understand you are scared, that's ok and I'm here to protect you no matter what. Relax and we'll work through it together"
Your dog will learn to trust you in fearful situations when you have demonstrated again and again that you will protect them in those places.
So if the dog is scared of a fire hydrant as I've already used that example I would walk calmly and watch the dog as you approach. Once the dog shows signs of stress then immediately stop, you've reached that threshold. Relax, sit, sing a song quietly, etc. and wait for the dog to relax, it might take 5 seconds, or it might take 5 minutes or more. Give the dog the time it needs to process the scary thing. Once they've relaxed take one step forward, if the dog balks again then step back and wait again for the calmness then either walk back the direction you came or give the object a wide berth so the dog doesn't react and continue on your way. If the dog is showing only light signs of stress or nothing at all then give the dog extra leash so it's loose and walk yourself right up to the object, walk around it and touch it and prove to the dog that through your actions it is safe and not harmful.
It might seem overwhelming and hopeless and you'll probably have more failures than successes at first but you should slowly see improvement. Always end on positive notes, no matter what and when you look back you'll start to realize how far you've progressed. When I look at my poodle and see her succeeding where before she would fail, and to see that look of confidence and happiness on walks trust me, it's worth every drop of sweat and tears. My poodle will never be a 'normal' confident dog but I've learned that's ok with me, she's special just the way she is
I hope that helps, I wish you and your pup nothing but the best
Jasmine - Female Miniature Poodle - born Aug 15, 2010
Loker Delgado Von Stalworth - Male GSD - born Jan 26, 2012
Koda & Zazu - 7 year old male cats
Alex - Male Cocker Spaniel (rescue) - RIP Cuddlebug 2007-2010
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