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Joan Morris: Helping a newly adopted dog that is afraid of people

Joan Morris, The Mercury News on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

DEAR JOAN: I could use some advice on how to help our sweet, newly adopted 11/2-year-old rescue dog become less fearful of people during the shelter in place.

Any advice would be much appreciated.

Sue, Pleasanton, Calif.

DEAR SUE: Many rescue dogs have led stressful lives. They might not have had the best home before ending up in the shelter, or maybe they had a great one that they lost. Even in the best shelter, life can be unsettling.

The pets can be fearful until they have time to get comfortable and know they've found their forever home, surrounded by love.

Because your dog is afraid of people, safely introducing him (or her) to other people is the best way of socializing him. Unfortunately, other people are hard to find these days, so you may need to become the "other people" by dressing up for your dog.


Put on coats, hats and wigs that somewhat disguise your appearance, then talk to your dog, reveal yourself and reassure him he has nothing to worry about. Give him a treat as a reward. You can also use different props, if you have them, such as walking with a walker or cane, pulling a suitcase or carrying packages.

If you have other people in the house, use them for practice, too. Always speak quietly and reward positive behavior. It can be a slow process, but it will eventually make your dog less fearful.

If your dog is afraid of particular people, such as the males in the household, have them work with the dog by playing, petting and giving treats. Don't push it. The dog should always take the lead in whether he can be approached and petted, but spending time near any people he is fearful of will eventually break down that barrier. Love really does conquer.

Although we still need to keep our distance from others, practice positive reinforcement when you're out on a walk with your leashed dog. When your dog sees another person, stop walking, remain calm, get your dog's attention and give him a reward. Continue walking, stopping, reassuring and giving a treat until the person is out of sight or your dog begins to ignore the person.


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