Rejection is one of the hardest things in the world to accept. As humans being we want to be liked and we tend to take it personally when we are not. So it’s no surprise that when man’s best friend decides that the man of the house is best avoided, we feel a slight sting.
As an amateur trainer and owner of a fearful dog, I can attest to the fact that many dogs are much more afraid of and wary around men than they are around women. I can also attest to the fact that as a human being this hurts my pride and my feelings just a bit; but it’s something you have to learn to accept if you’re a man living with a fearful dog.
No matter how much of a dog lover I am on the inside, what dogs notice about me first are the physical and behavioral traits which make me appear more threatening than my wife. It’s not as if I can just say to the dog “You have nothing to worry about!” and hand it a list of character references from other dogs; is it?
While not taking it personally will improve your attitude towards the dog and ease the tension between you, we still have a long way to go. To improve our fearful one’s attitude towards us we need to don the tools of ignorance, and I don’t men dressing up like Johnny Bench.
Ignorance is Bliss
In this case I mean ignorance as in ignore, do not be aware of. Showing a fearful dog that you are not interested in them can sometimes ease their fear and it allows them the opportunity to choose to approach you on their own terms. This is very important when dealing with fearful dogs.
The old scouting motto is very helpful when dealing with fearful dogs. By it I mean that you should always have some type of treat on you or nearby so anytime your fearful one allows you the opportunity to reward any attempts to approach or engage with you in a positive way. Even if that means they stay in the same room with you 3 seconds instead of 2.
Along with allowing a fearful dog choice is giving them room to exercise it. Fear triggers flight or fight among other things. Allowing them room to make the flight choice is instructional. It shows them that you are not looking to corner them and you get to learn what their comfort thresholds are and how they are progressing.
Some dogs are more motivated by play than they are by food; my Annie is one such dog. When we first got her we discovered she loved to fetch a kicked soccer ball, but would not trust me with it. So my wife would start playing with her and I would join in at a distance after Annie got into it. When Annie brought the ball back to my wife, she would kick it over to me and I would kick it to Annie. Eventually Annie learned that I was a reliable kicker and could be trusted in that context.
A good resource on working with fearful dogs is Debbie Jacobs’ site fearfuldogs.com. She has even created a Facebook group called Support for Men Who Live with Dogs Who Are Afraid of Them. You will find me among the members.