A couple of months ago I adopted a 14 month old dog from a shelter. She is extremely timid. I have a great relationship with her, she is loving and friendly. She is still very scared on walks. Our main concern is in spite of my husband being a very quiet, gentle man, whenever he enters the house she barks and growls. If he sits in the living room with us she hides or paces. If he uncrosses his legs she panics and runs away. She refuses treats from him, won’t pass a chair he is sitting in BUT she will get up on the bed and lie down beside him and lick his hand when he pets her? I went to your website and downloaded your articles they are super but she needs extra help.
M.V. – Texas
One might assume she’s had a bad experience with a man and therefore all men are bad. I have a similar affect on women. One date usually does it. However, sometimes they’ve just not had any experience being around men. I suspect that it is more the latter as her skittishness overall indicates this may be more of a socialization problem. Men move differently, sound differently and generally just act differently and the more sensitive of dogs can be a little skittish if they weren’t exposed a lot before they were 12 weeks of age. I’ve no doubt you can help her with your husband but each new man could be a challenge so for the dog’s sake you and your husband will always have to stay married.
She has to gradually face her fear or she’s either not going to get better or it will take forever and this can’t be easy on her nervous system. You can pick up the pace with a few tactics that I’m sure she’ll be able to handle. First look at this from her perspective. “Better safe then sorry, so run for it.” In her mind she survives the encounter because she runs for it. You may have met single men that embrace a similar philosophy. What your husband has to do is interrupt her instinct/habit to flee so she has to process things differently. If nothing bad happens or better yet something good happens she’ll come around. I did this a while ago with a wolf hybrid, same scenario and it worked wonderfully. The hybrid was the same, she seemed to want to interact with the man but got all spooky unless the conditions were just right. We popped a leash on her in the house, gave the handle to the man and when she tried to high tail it she came to a stop and lo and behold her world didn’t come to an end. He didn’t do anything else, just held the leash, didn’t look at her, didn’t speak to her, just kept her from running. Once her body relaxed a smidgen he spoke gently to her and at first fearing the worst she tensed up again. If you think there are going to be Olympic quality acrobatics if she feels trapped use a longer leash. Better yet, use a 30′ leash but only outside for the first while. He can clip it to his belt while he’s checking fences or crops. Once she’s gaining confidence he can move to shorter lengths. The key is that the leash is ALWAYS on. He has to be consistent. It’s a bit of a pain but the return on investment makes it worth while.
You can test her progress by tossing irresistible treats her way. As you’ve learned highly stressed dogs simply can’t eat. I’m not saying stop if she won’t eat just go slower with more distance. When she starts to eat them regularly for a few days in the context he has set up he can use a shorter line, and so on.