TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We have a 2-year-old terrier mix named Felix who we adopted about a year ago when our son left for college. Our son is home for the summer and Felix is terrified of him. He is a large boy with a deep voice and he loves dogs so it really hurts his feelings. It took Felix a little while to trust my husband, but now he loves him. How can we help Felix learn to like and trust our son?
The Anderson Family
Dear Anderson Family,
Since you adopted Felix when he was about a year old, it’s likely his first year of life was less than optimal. Puppies form their impressions of the world during the first few months of life; they learn what is safe and what is dangerous because it’s how they survive. If he was not properly introduced to men or had a bad encounter with one or many, he may have formed a negative association. However, dogs have personalities just like people. Some are shy or naturally fearful while others are outgoing and resilient. Even well socialized puppies can be timid or fearful. Our job is to teach them how to cope with the world.
There are several things your son can do to help Felix learn to trust him:
1. Dogs are very sensitive to our tone of voice. Men’s voices are naturally deeper and often louder than women’s. Have your son soften his voice and speak in a happy tone when he interacts with Felix.
2. Be aware of body position. Leaning over a dog puts pressure on them and can make them nervous. Have your son stand up straight, give a cue in a softer tone and reward him when he does something right.
3. Be sure to teach Felix what specific cues mean and then be consistent in the language you use. We talk to dogs in full sentences and assume they will understand what we say but they don’t! Consistent training will help him build confidence.
4. Have your son hand feed part or all of Felix’s daily meals. When I am hand-feeding a scared dog, I sit in a chair and hold my hand down to the side. Remember not to bend over him!!
Be patient and consistent and I am certain your son will see results.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.