Skip to main content

Q&A: How Can I Help My Dog Be Less Afraid of People and Noise?

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

It may take years before a rescued dog relaxes all the way in her new home, but there are ways to help facilitate the process.

It may take years before a rescued dog relaxes all the way in her new home, but there are ways to help facilitate the process.

Are There Special Tips to Socialize an Adult Dog Rescued From a Puppy Mill?

"We rescued an adorable dog from St. Hubert's in Madison, NJ. She was in a breeding place for several years. Poppy is 4 years old and has absolutely no human interaction. She walks well on her leash, but she only eats when no one is around and she stays in her bed all day. She does not greet visitors coming into the house and is nervous with any kind of loud sound.

I have read many articles and even hired an in-house trainer for a session. Any suggestions?" —Marie

How to Socialize an Adult Dog

The problem with dogs like Poppy is that no matter what we do, they always suffer from neophobia (fear of the new). She is probably never going to get used to loud sounds, and since she missed out on her sensitive socialization period, she is going to have to be introduced to new things several times before she can adapt.

There are several tips to socialize a rescue dog, but it sounds like you have already tried many of them:

  • Obedience Training: You mainly want to work on obedience so that she will learn to pay more attention to you. When you are working on this at home, keep her sessions very brief. If she becomes upset around other dogs, you will need to have the training sessions only at home.
  • Daily Walks: The more she is out of the house, the better. Walks should be long enough for her to see new things, not just short potty breaks.
  • Counterconditioning and Desensitization: These are just methods of exposing her to what makes her very nervous, but they are done in such a way that the stimulus is not threatening. Desensitization works well for phobias to strangers.
  • Take Her Everywhere: The more you take Poppy places, the more she is going to be exposed. It will take more than once, but this trainer has a great list of places to socialize your dog.
  • Medication: Some dogs do respond well to medication when feeling very anxious, but I do not know that this is the case with her. Her symptoms sound relatively mild (staying in bed all day, not greeting visitors), but if she gets worse instead of better, then you will want to consult a veterinary behaviorist.

Avoid Potential Triggers

You do not mention any aggression issues, but when you go out for walks, it is a good idea to avoid potential problems anyway. I have seen vests that dogs can wear with "DO NOT PET" printed on them to warn people to leave the dog alone. When meeting someone new, let Poppy decide if she wants to approach the person.

Be Patient and Stay Positive

You have taken on a big task and it may take years before she relaxes all the way in her new home. Take things slowly and let her go at her own pace.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Mark dos Anjos DVM