Fearful Dogs | Avoiding Hand Shyness

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What does being hand shy mean?

Hand shyness is created when your dog starts to associate your hands as being a negative experience more than a positive experience. Fearful dogs often display hand shyness towards their owners or strangers fearing reprimand or abuse.
Dogs can display fearful behaviors due to genetics, life stages, training programs that use your hands or touch to discipline the dog, or from living in abusive environments.
This article will focus on how to avoid creating a hand shy or fearful dog during the training and socialization process. Touch training styles are effective since dogs also communicate through physical contact. BUT, if the handler is inexperienced, has bad timing, is inconsistent, or training is too dominant, the dog will get the wrong impression and may become defensive.
Most people understand that hitting a dog is wrong, but there are other ways that your dog can start to get defensive when you reach for them that you may not realize.
It is hard to stay calm when coming home from a stressful day at work and the dog has ripped apart the house for the third time this week! But yelling and throwing a fit while cleaning up is a sure way to communicate to your dog that you are unstable. Although your anger is justified, unless you are catching your dog in the act… your dog will see this interaction as an unprovoked attack and become weary of your “random” mood swings.
The key to having a good dog is to be proactive instead of reactive. This means investing time in training and practicing exercises with your dog, instead of hoping they figure it out on their own and get mad if they don’t.
Dogs create order by showing dominance with each other, sometimes this means getting physical. This is why using touch or corrective collars gets results so quickly and efficiently. However, using any tool and training method can backfire if the handler uses it incorrectly.
A lot of training TV series show trainers using touch to communicate or “pinning” dogs in some situations. Pinning a dog is an ultimate form of dominance and should only be used when a dog shows real aggression, like the dogs featured on these shows.
If your dog is barking or stole something from the trash, this is not a reason to be “pinned”. Becoming overly dominant and using extreme punishments for basic obedience issues, will most likely cause your dog to begin to fear you and training progress will stop and go backwards. Dogs can develop a negative associations with your body or energy, and begin to shy away or even bite when you approach them fearing reprimand. It is important to keep your dominance level in check when using a touch style of training. The correction intensity has to match the dog’s intensity to avoid over correcting the dog. Timing has to be on cue so the dog can relate it directly to the behavior you are disagreeing with.

How can you avoid creating a hand shy dog?

Use Your Leash

We use the leash as the main line of communication in our training programs. It not only gives the clients control of their dog, but it also gives them a way to disagree with behaviors without risk of anyone getting bit. Basic leash training is the foundation of any training program and important if the dog lives in crowded cities. People see the leash as a constraint on the dog and instead of seeing it as a life line. The leash should be viewed as a training necessity to reinforce your commands and ensure your dog’s safety.
Basic leash training can take months depending on the handler’s skill level and time for training. A common mistake is to try training without the leash too soon or without a proper off leash transition. The dog should respond to all commands the first time they are given and ignore ALL distractions before attempting to give commands off leash. A dog without a solid recall should never be let off leash in areas that are full of people and dogs. If your dog runs up to a person or dog as you are calling their name… you are teaching them to ignore you!
Long lines are great for dogs in between basic and off leash training. Not to mention, other people and dogs may be scared of your dog or not want to meet them. The leash will also help stop your dog from invading people’s personal space when uninvited, or from running up to reactive or aggressive dogs.

Respect Your Dog’s Personal Boundaries

A common reason why dogs are so reactive on leash is because they do not feel their owners will protect them. Imagine yourself being tied to a person and even if you don’t want to meet new people, they force you to say hello and allow these people to rub, pull and scratch all around your head. On top of that! When you don’t like something and try to end the interaction, they get you in trouble!
Contrary to popular belief, not every dog wants to be every strangers friend or be pet by them. It is important to start learning your dog’s body language and learning when they are uncomfortable. Hand shyness with strangers often stems from the dog giving warnings that were ignored by their handler and the stranger. Through consistent uncomfortable and anxious interactions with strangers, the dog will eventually finally hit their breaking point and decide to defend itself instead of keep putting up with it. People can become offended when they are told that they cannot pet a cute furry puppy. Don’t worry, the fail safe excuse is that the dog is currently in training and not allowed to interact with everyone. You don’t have to offend anyone’s feelings, but you have to put your dog’s feelings first.
A great rule to live by is that no stranger should ever approach your dog… even with permission. A stranger can invite the dog over to interact from a foot away, but if the dog isn’t diggin’ it and doesn’t want to say hello… too bad for the stranger. Feeling safe requires the ability to control your environment. By giving the dog the choice to make friends or not, it will reduce the aggression dramatically because the dog now feels in control of it’s fate. The dog can now rely on their handler to not allow strangers to force themselves on the dog, and it makes them feel a lot less anxious! A stranger will forget you as soon as they pet the next dog, but your dog will remember a forced and uncomfortable interaction for a lifetime.

Patience Is A Virtue

Remember that dogs are animals! Even though they are brilliant problem solvers and master manipulators… they cannot read your mind! The #1 reason training programs fail is because the handler is not communicating clearly with the dog. Every dog is different and some take longer to learn exercises than others. Become creative with exercises if your dog isn’t understanding the way you saw them do it on YouTube. Getting frustrated because your dog isn’t learning fast enough isn’t fair. The dog may just have a bad teacher…

Practice, Practice, Practice

Just like with anything we do in our lives, our skills will not improve if we don’t practice. Just because your dog will sit for a treat in the house does not mean it is trained. A trained dog will sit outside or inside, in front of dogs, people, animals or food, and the first time you asked them without a treat. This type of reliability comes with practice. In order for the dog to learn self control, they first have to learn how to resist temptation and develop the coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
Practicing exercises every day will not only mentally exhaust your dog. It also builds muscle memory, improves reaction time and intuition. All these things are needed for independent thinking and creating a learned automatic behavior. For example, begging can be deterred by practicing the place command during dinner until the dog goes to his place naturally because of consistent routine.

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” 

― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Get Help!

Dog training cannot be learned by reading a book. It also takes practice, practice, practice!
Hire a professional or find a friend that has experience using the tools and training methods you want to use. Learning how to use the tools before trying them out on your dog is important. If you learn as you go, the dog will become confused because you are not giving clear communication. There is no shame in asking for help and a good trainer is well worth the investment!

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