When you bring a dog home, whether it is from a shelter, breeder or foster home, the process can be challenging for your new family member. Many dogs are fearful of people, sometimes due to past abuse, natural anxiety, or lack of socialization. With patience, desensitization techniques, and positive reinforcement, you can help your dog overcome fear of people.
Expose your dog to as many people as possible, making sure you instruct them not to force themselves on the dog. You want him to feel that people are not a threat, so protect him from unwanted attention.
The earlier you start in the dog’s life, the more successful you will be; however, the process also may work with a shy adult dog. Some dogs never get over their shyness, however, in which case you must manage the behavior by not putting him in situations where he is afraid.
Instruct people that come to your home to speak in a soft tone of voice, move slowly with their hands kept at their sides, and not to make eye contact with the dog. Additionally, ask them to sit or squat once they enter your home; dogs feel less anxious when people are on their level. Show people how to touch a dog appropriately: never pat on top of the head (which is a canine show of dominance); but scratch behind the ears or under the throat.
Implement people-oriented training. Take along treats when you walk your dog, giving the treats to cooperative people you meet along the way. Hand them treats to give to the dog; praise him for accepting. In this manner, you are building a positive association between your dog and people.
Continue your desensitization training on a daily basis until your dog’s fears disappear, or at least are reduced.