Is your dog afraid of other dogs? When he sees another dog, does he put his ears backward? Does his tail end up between his legs? Does he become very small? Does he try to run away? Does he growl at the other dog to try to intimidate it?
Fear is a necessary and vital emotion: it allows animals to react to danger. But if fear becomes a phobia, or occurs at inappropriate times, it can become a big problem and turn walks into stressful times for your dog.
Fear due to lack of socialization
Your dog may be afraid of other dogs because of a lack of socialization, i.e. he didn’t have enough contact with other dogs when he was a puppy.
This can happen in dogs that have been separated from their siblings too early and do not know other dogs in their foster family. Please note that we explain how to socialize an adult dog.
Fear due to a traumatic experience
If your dog is fearful enough, the accumulation of bad experiences can foster this fear or even turn it into a phobia. This can happen when a small dog with a little fear meets large dogs with a lot of energy who want to play too hard.
If the small dog is traumatized, it will tend to growl, bark, or show other forms of aggression towards the large dogs it encounters. Note that this can also happen with large dogs.
Fear reinforced by guardians
Often when you see that your dog is afraid, you want to help him and start stroking him and talking softly to reassure him. In reality, this only makes the problem worse.
Doing so only gives the dog confirmation that he is right to be afraid. Forcing him to stay with other dogs is not a good solution either, and may even worsen the quality of your relationship with your dog.
Helping your dog feel safe
The first thing you can do to help a dog who is afraid of other dogs is to accept him as he is. Then, you have to give him back his confidence and security.
If your dog shows signs of fear when approaching another dog, the best attitude is to remain calm and behave neutrally. If you try to reassure him by talking softly to him, he may interpret this as a justification for his fear. He may also continue to behave in this way to get your attention.
You should also not force him to be in a stressful situation: he may become even more traumatized and lose confidence in you. Moreover, this will not help him to overcome his fear. Find out if your dog is under stress because of this situation.
At first, the easiest thing for your four-legged friend is to avoid encounters with other dogs. You can help him with three different techniques:
-Desensitization involves introducing the stressful situation gradually until it no longer causes stress. Simply keep your dog a few meters away from other dogs and gradually reduce this distance during walks as your dog’s attitude develops and improves. You can also start by arranging meetings with very gentle and calm dogs and then gradually introduce him to more energetic and impressive dogs.
-The habituation consists of teaching the dog not to react to the stressful situation: multiplying the outings during which you will meet other dogs allows your dog to get used to them and to understand that they are not a threat. If you use this method, be careful not to put your dog in a situation that is too stressful for him: it will only make the situation worse.
-counterconditioning allows you to associate a stressful situation with a positive experience. For example, you can play with your dog when other dogs are nearby to make him associate this moment with play and relax in the presence of other dogs.
-All three of these methods can be used at the same time. The most important thing is to respect your dog’s learning pace. It is a process that can take time, depending on each dog. If you feel that you can’t handle the situation on your own, don’t hesitate to consult a canine behavior professional who can advise you on your dog’s specific case.
Dogs are social animals that need to interact with their peers. Helping your dog overcome his fear so that he can interact with other dogs is a great show of love.