Did you know that one of the worst things you can do for a dog that is scared of other dogs is take them to a dog park? Taking them to the dog park WILL NOT teach them to socialise, it WILL teach them that you are untrustworthy, that they can’t control their environment and that other dogs are in fact- the devil.
It’s like putting an arachnophobic person into a room full of spiders and telling them everything will be ok. They will be overwhelmed and it will just reinforce their phobia and if you try to keep them in that room to “get used” to it, they will not trust you one bit after that encounter. You have just put yourself in the same boat as those spiders. Something to be feared and never trusted.
You can however, start by building a reliable obedience response, engagement and trust in your dog. Don’t force them into situations without first giving them the skills to handle it. How would you feel if I asked you to go abseiling and then gave you a rope, no instruction and told you to get to it? Terrified? Put yourself in your dogs position always.
Start first by building your engagement through play and basic training AWAY from dogs. Get your dog reliably focused on you and then start working them at a distance far enough away from another dog that allows them to feel comfortable. This is called a critical distance. From there, you can slowly reduce the distance between yourself and the other dog while asking for complete engagement from your dog. Try to make this as fun as possible. If you try to take this too far and too fast, your dog will again react. Don’t panic, just increase the distance and start again. This isn’t a 100m sprint, this is a long distance run. Time and patience are critical.
For all of those people who allow their dogs to run up to other dogs on lead, this is exactly the reason why this is bad practice. Other people with fearful dogs do not care if your dog is friendly no matter how how loudly you yell this. People who are working hard to try to reduce their dogs fearful response will have all of their hard work destroyed in 5 seconds. Please ensure that if your dog is off lead, you have a bombproof recall and you don’t allow them to invade the space of any dog on lead, ever.
To get a solid response and to ensure you are doing this correctly, it’s best off learning with a trainer who can ensure the steps you are taking are the right ones for you and your dog.
Boz -on the left- was attacked while on lead and became incredibly reactive. With hard work his owner can now bring him to daycare and walk him on the lead calmly. He’s turned into a stellar canine companion!