My foster puppy was a small, brown scrawny little thing. I got to name her, and I named her Poee, after a Goan bread. She said hi to my older dog, and then proceeded to hide most of the day. The shelter, WVS, had warned me that she was on the fearful side, and that was why they really felt that she would benefit from a foster home.
She was terrified of people, places, car rides etc. I focused on two things i) reducing fear of people’s presence and ii) enjoying the “hand” coming towards her
Here are the 5 training exercises I did every meal time (yes, 3-4 times a day!)
- Feeding around me: I would scatter her food, one morsel at a time, around me for every meal She was extremely jumpy initially, but she soon got better.
- Hand feeding (while sitting on the floor): I also started feeding her by hand, increasing and decreasing my arm length as needed. Again, she was very jumpy. You could see her leaning over, all the weight on her hind legs.
- Making Poee climb all over me: In time, she got comfortable climbing over my legs and eating out of the bowl which was placed in my lap.
- “Boop” i.e targeting!: My absolute favourite, and you’ll see why below. She picked this up in minutes – nose touches my right fist, and a food treat drops out of my left hand. It was also a fantastic way to introduce new people to her.
- Bending over and feeding her: In time, I started walking up her, standing next to her, bending over and dropping some food. This was to reduce fear of people approaching as well as of people coming up to her for pets (which is what a lot of people tend to do with puppies – just approach, bend over and pet them!)
Note – I don’t necessarily recommend an order or progression of these training exercises. It completely depends on the dog.
The only thing I strongly recommend is to NOT prolong the handfeeding stage – merely hand feeding doesn’t reduce fear nor does it necessarily build a strong relationship with you. I want fearful dogs like Poee to think – which is why I love the “boop” activity – the dog comes to you, engages with you, touches you, fully knowing there is no food in that hand (but knows that a food reward will come!).
In parallel, there was a lot of “life” going on too (i.e socialization). I had some friends visit home almost everyday, a housekeeper would visit every afternoon – they would hand feed, or toss around toys, or sit on the floor, or tease her a bit, or merely ignore. A LOT of PLAY with toys happened – no structure, but oh so beneficial to build engagement and confidence with and around people.
There were also sounds from the television were on a few hours a day, there was a lot of roadwork happening right outside my apartment 24/7 (including tractors, people and a lot of harsh sounds), and some play and boundary setting with my older dog.
Within two weeks, Poee:
- reduced hiding when around me completely
- would contently remain in the same room as the visitors
- accepted all my handling as long as I was sitting on the floor
- accepted food by strangers within minutes of them entering
- routinely played with 2-3 select friends
- accepted handling by 2-3 select friends when approached while sitting
Jan 2023 Update: Adopted!