4 month pup very shy with strangers - help please

(6 Posts)
diplodocus Sun 29-Sep-13 19:55:51

We picked up a rescue pup a week ago, and she has settled in well with the family. She's getting more confident around DH and myself and will happily come to us for a fuss and a cuddle, and adores the DCs and is very confident and happy with them - she enjoys quite rough and tumble games and actively seeks them out. While all this is going well she is still very shy with strangers - some she seems actively scared of, and some she seems to want to greet (tail wagging while crouching low etc), but can't quite make herself. I've read somewhere that if dogs aren't socialised by this time you've missed the window, and this is obviously worrying me. She was only fully immunised a week ago so she wasn't out and about at all with her previous foster family, and prior to that she was abandoned so we don't know what went on. We're trying to get her out and about as much as possible (although we're very rural so don't meet many people out and about) and will be starting dog socialisation classes tomorrow. Any words of wisdom or reassurance would be great. Should I pick her up when introducing her as this seems to make her feel better? She's fine with other dogs - quite confident, and has never shown the slightest hint of aggression.

moosemama Sun 29-Sep-13 20:36:13

It is true that the most receptive socialisation window closes around the 12-14 week period, but socialisation actually continues right through the juvenile period and as long as you are consistent and gentle in supporting her interactions with other people she should come round eventually.

I also have a 16 week old rescue pup who had his vaccinations delayed. We carried him absolutely everywhere we could for weeks - which was no mean feat as he's a lurcher and not exactly compact - and he's fine with buses, lorries, children, pushchairs, wheelchairs, walking sticks, umbrellas, loud-speaker system, skateboards, horses, cows, ducks - just about everything in fact, except other dogs. There was nothing we could do about it, we simply don't know anybody locally who has, fully vaccinated, nice well-balanced adult dogs we could socialise him with while we waited for the all clear and his jabs to be completed.

It's obviously easier to lay down good foundations and it's true that remedial training is often slower and a bit less linear than intial/primary training, but that doesn't mean it won't work - just that it takes a little longer. To be honest it's part and parcel of taking on a rescue dog and your efforts will be rewarded many, many times over.

My boy has only been allowed out since last Wednesday and I was really worried. The first dog he met was a teeny Cockerpoo puppy about a third of his size and he was petrified of it, but I have taken him to the park several times a day, every day, just for short periods and he's gradually been able to meet individual dogs gently on his terms as the days have gone on. Up until yesterday he was still backing up and refusing treats when a dog approached him, but today we have been to a country park and he's actually approached several dogs himself for a gentle sniff and hello and sat calmly with me outside the adventure playground watching the world go by and stuffing his face with chicken treats. grin

The important thing is to work at her pace and never push her or try to persuade her to interact with anyone or anything unless she's happy to do so. If she seems worried and backs off, let her, then when she reaches a distance she's comfortable with, let her just observe the scene and treat/reward her for being calm and interested. You should find, if you do this often enough, she will gradually reduce the distance she's comfortable with.

Last week in the park my boy was trying to bolt at the first sign of a dog approaching, so I let him lead me to where he was comfortable, then crouched down with him between my knees so he felt safe and we watched the other dogs together with me rewarding and treating him for staying calm. It's amazing how quickly he's come round.

You are in a slightly better position if anything, as you can ask people to be calm and gentle around your pup and they can offer her some of her favourite treats if she's happy to take them. If she doesn't feel comfortable with close up interaction, you could get them to just toss a treat or two in her direction while completely ignoring her.

If I were you I would orchestrate as many situations as you can where she can be around, but not necessarily have to interact with people in the first instance and build up from there. I know you said you are rural, but if you could perhaps go to a local village and sit on a bench with her, feeding her treats and watching the world go by to begin with, that would be a good start. You need to be doing lots and lots of trips like that in as many different places as you can manage. People will most probably stop and speak to you, as they always do with pups and if you just explain that she's a rescue and needs space while she gets used to people, but they can help by tossing her a treat or two, most people are only too willing to help out.

Socialisation classes will help a lot too. Don't be surprised if she spends the first couple of lessons hiding and if she does - and it's a decent class - she should be allowed to do so. Even if it means you have to attend two courses consecutively as it takes the whole of the first course for her to find her confidence then it's still better to take it at her pace. My old girls spent the first few puppy classes hiding under a stack of chairs refusing to come out, then one week she just decided she was finally brave enough and made a friend or two. She was never highly sociable - as in seeking out affection from people outside of the family - and definitely preferred her own family to outsiders, but she was friendly enough and would say a nice hello and allow herself to be petted before going off and doing her own thing.

Stick with it, you'll get there. You have done an amazing thing by taking on rescue and she's a very lucky girl to have you.

diplodocus Sun 29-Sep-13 20:54:47

Thanks so much for your for your help - it's really nice to have some encouragement as lot of "mainstream" sites seem to overlook the reasons why you may not be able to do optimum socialisation for your dog and I was feeling a bit despondent. I'll start taking her to the village shop and sit outside. She doesn't walk well on the lead yet so we're not really encouraging her to use it too far (don't want her to get into the habit of pulling) but we can drive her there. It's not exactly a major metropolis but you get the odd one or two people coming in and out. It's such a shame because she has a lovely nature and I'm already very fond of her. I really want her to have a happy life and be able to join in family outings etc., but until she cracks this it's all pretty miserable for her.
You sound like you're doing brilliantly with your lurcher - lovely dogs!

Frettchen Mon 30-Sep-13 10:39:27

I'm just going to repeat a lot of what moosemama said, so apologies if there's nothing new here.

My rescue pup came to me, about 2 months ago, he was 4 months old and a nervous wreck having been driven over from Eastern Europe. He bonded with me fairly quickly (because he didn't really have another option - it's a small house and he needed someone to reassure him) but would hide behind my legs/climb on my lap whenever he saw any other people.

I'm fairly lucky in that both of my parents live near by, and have their own dogs, and also that I spend a lot of the summer weekends volunteering; so there are many people around a lot of the time. So I started with the parents' houses - taking pup over and first letting him get used to the people there. He spent a lot of time behind my legs at first, whilst I chatted and acted normally to try to show him that this was a normal environment, and to not reinforce his fear. My parents would offer him a hand, and then a fuss, and the dogs around him sort of showed him that these other people were ok. So we built his confidence that way, then I started taking him out to my volunteering events and he met all the people there, he was a little overwhelmed at first but I stayed calm and didn't give too much fuss when he was being nervy, instead praising when he showed more confidence, and he realised that there wasn't actually that much scary going on. Most of the people we met would come down to his level so they weren't quite so big and scary, and as he figured out they they came with fusses, he got used to them.

He's almost confident now. Any sudden movements or people looming loudly/gesturing wildly near him can cause a slight ears-back cower, and he's not a fan of being lifted up. He can still spook if something unexpected happens, but in general he's doing really well and will happily go off for a walk with someone he's met before.

I think my main tips would be not to react too much if your pup's showing signs of being scared as it can teach her that if she's nervous she'll get a reward. If she looks uncomfortable - ears back, sinking closer to the ground, tail between legs - then take a step back away from whatever it is which is causing the issue. Reward her with food or fuss or praise; whichever works for her, when she approaches someone, or even when she steps out from behind you. This should reinforce her trust in you as you're taking her away from the thing she doesn't like, but also give her a chance to be braver. At the same time you'll be happily interacting with the person, which will help her realise it's nothing to be afraid of. This way you're moving forwards at a rate she's comfortable with.

diplodocus Mon 30-Sep-13 10:44:58

Thanks Frettchen. Great to hear a positive story from a dog with a similar background. Will try and just build up to taking her to everything going (within reason) and as you say, not reward her for being scared. Did you do puppy socialisation classes, and did they help at all?

Frettchen Mon 30-Sep-13 11:06:45

I didn't do socialisation classes - the nearest one was a 6 week course which started the week before my pup arrived. I thought that with the family dogs I'd be able to socialise him enough on my own. I'm now in two minds about that. We started basic training classes two weeks ago and he spent a lot of the first week rather distracted; looking at the other dogs, and a bit wary of all the people when we were walking around doing a quick introduction on the first week. My pup isn't hugely food motivated, so it's been a struggle to get his attention back on me. I do wonder whether it might have been worth finding a puppy class a little further away so we could have worked on his distraction earlier, but it's not the worst thing in the world - by the end of our second class he was paying a lot more attention to me, so seems to be getting used to it.

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