Helping an Insecure Dog Confidently Adjust to His Environment
So you have just purchased a new puppy and are completely ecstatic over your new buy. The joy, however, is a little dampened after a while. Your dog begins to cower under chairs and beds when you approach or snarls for no apparent reason. His relationships with people and other dogs is also shaky.
What the owner in the scenario above has on his or her hands is a rather insecure dog or puppy. The dog is unsure of his environment, lacks confidence in himself and manifests his fears by behaving in a seemingly aggressive manner towards people, animals and his owner. He also begins his search for ways to feel protected.
How do we break in a dog which suffers from emotional insecurity or, on an even more disturbing level, trauma? This article will delve into the causes of canine insecurity, its signs and make some suggestions on what owners can do if they find that their new furry companion needs a little help to get over the things that overwhelm him.
What are the causes of canine insecurity?
We humans have a wide range of phobias and insecurities and quite simply, so do dogs. There are many causes of a dog’s lack of self-esteem and confidence.
A dog may already be predisposed to being shy when he is born. He could have parents who are timid and thus inherited the tendency to be a bit more withdrawn.
Some breeds of dogs have a generally less friendly disposition. These are:
- Shiba Inus
- Neapolitan Mastiffs
- Dogue de bordeaux
- Black Russian Terriers
- Catahoula Shepherd dogs
- Australian Shepherd Dogs
- Chow Chows
- Cardigan Welsh Corgis
It is good to remember that generalizing a particular breed of dog as friendly or otherwise is not advisable, for with proper socialization, any dog can get used to being around others
and be a welcome companion.
Lack of early socialization
Dogs, like children, need to interact with others. Socialization needs to take place when they are young so that they can get accustomed to the people and other dogs around them.
A friend made a mistake with her 19-year-old (yes, she has lived a long life) Bichon Frise, Mei. Mei had an early tendency to be withdrawn from people as a puppy and being afraid of flea infestations, my friend did not want to walk her. The result was a little dog who became quite resistant to visitors to the home and, of course, other dogs.
It was only in her later years that Mei got to walk around her housing estate, by which time it was a little too late. Neighbors who walked past became a little afraid to see her because she would snap at them and their dogs.
Traumatic past experiences
Unfortunately, some people have a rather unsettled relationship with dogs. Their dogs become victims of rather aggressive and even abusive behavior. The unsympathetic treatment could have left them rather fearful of being approached by or approaching people.
Alternatively, it may have gotten into fights with other dogs, the experience leaving it with a bitter taste in its mouth. The offshoot of that is frustration when coming across other dogs, especially if it is bigger than itself.
I have encountered a Yorkshire Terrier which was adopted by the owner of a pet shop after being abandoned by its previous master. When I tried to pet it, I almost got my finger voraciously bitten off. It remained in the corner of the pet shop, cowering as if something dreadful was about to happen in the next minute.
Lack of proper leadership
Very much like children, dogs need guidance. If an owner distances himself from his dog and does not assure it that it can turn to him when it needs food, play or a walk, the dog begins to withdraw. A dog also needs an owner to let it know that it is safe being around other people or those of its furry kind.
Mei, mentioned above, is a dog who lacked leadership. Not having the guidance she required, she saw everything around her as a threat. Till this day, she regards everything around her with suspicion.
What are the signs of insecurity in a dog?
The signs of insecurity in a dog may be obvious or may only be observed over time. Whatever the case may be, an insecure dog will display some rather telling traits.
It sits in the corner by itself.
An insecure dog will feel the need to be protected from whatever it perceives will harm it.
It will withdraw into a corner, crouch under a bed or hide under a sofa when it feels threatened.
It snarls when it is approached.
An insecure dog will growl at whatever it thinks will do it harm. A point to note is that this is often mistaken as aggressive behavior on the dog’s part. Rather, the dog could be worried that it is about to be attacked and go on the defense.
A dog that yawns frequently could be insecure.
When we get used to our dogs, our tendency is to treat them as little human beings, much like our own children. We therefore see yawning in a dog as a sign of it being sleepy.
A dog’s yawn, however, can have a few meanings attached to it. It could be getting more oxygen into the lungs. Quite often, a yawn acts as a calming signal to other dogs or shows that it is being stressed by something in the environment.
If a dog does so very frequently, it could be worth the owner’s while to look around the environment to see what could be making the dog a little frazzled.
A panting dog could be an insecure dog.
A dog might pant in anxiety or excitement when something around him makes him a little disturbed. If you notice a dog panting, take a look at its entire body language. If its ears are folded back, it is likely being nettled by things around him.
An insecure dog takes a submissive posture.
If a dog crouches or has its ears folded back, it is not confident of itself or unsure of its environment. This signals to the owner that it is time to break him in!
If a dog frequently urinates, something is bothering him!
Frequent urination can have a number of causes, and it might be good to take the dog to the vet when it happens. A probable cause if it is stress or pressure from the environment.
I observed this in my dog, Misty, recently when I brought her to the vet for a follow up check on the neurological problems she has unfortunately developed due to old age. Unfamiliar with the environment, she began urinating, defecating all over the area around her and whining. It takes time to cajole her into stepping into the vet’s office.
How do I help an insecure dog?
Helping a dog to overcome his insecurities requires a little time and observation, but is nevertheless not impossible. There are a few things that owners can do to help.
Establish yourself as a pack leader.
As said before, the dog needs to know who to turn to and trust. It is only then that he can be more secure with his environment. Start teaching simple obedience skills like sitting, staying and to come. This helps him to trust and associate himself with you.
Do not coddle your dog when it is afraid.
For many, the first instinct would be to give our dogs a hug or pat. That is in fact reinforcing to the dog that being afraid is the right behavior.
Instead, reward your dog whenever it acts with confidence. This will reinforce his boldness.
Allow your dog to face its fears.
If your dog is afraid of people, gradually expose him to more of them. Limit his interaction with the person he feels secure with. Do not impose the interaction on the dog but let the dog make the decision to come to that person.
If your dog is afraid of a certain person around the house, for instance,a child, let your child prepare the dog’s meal for the day. It helps them to bond and teaches the child a little responsibility.
If your dog is afraid of other dogs, let him get to know a dog which is smaller and calm. As it gets comfortable, introduce it to bigger dogs with more active behavior.
Introduce your dog to a little agility training!
The purpose of agility training is confidence building. A dog, like all of us, feels good about itself after crossing or going through obstacles. Take it to dog runs or agility training classes!
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