I’ve chosen this topic not just because it might help some people. I’m actually struggling with it myself. My little man is seven and a half months old when I’m writing it, and I admit he is not a big fan of crowded places.
At the moment, spots where people continuously walk by are overwhelming for him. This article aims to showcase how I try to solve this problem, what I’m thinking, why I do it the way I do, and so on. Hopefully, This will bring some light to your personal problems and help you to guide your dog in our world better.
Puppy is scared of people – Identify the problem
The first step to solving the problem is to identify that there is a problem. By saying, “My puppy is scared of people,” we admit that we have something to work on. But this phrase alone is not enough to start working on it. Why? Because it’s way too broad. Being scared of people can take so many different shapes and forms. The only thing we can be sure about is that if a human is in the environment, a dog might get scared. We need more information.
A dog isn’t scared in every environment where he/she sees a human. You can think, “he gets scared every time.” However, it might be because he/she is every time in a similar environment. In that case, we know that this environment is very likely to prompt “scared” behavior.
For example, in my case, I would say that in the environment where approximately 1-3 people are passing us every 20 seconds with a distance between us of 2,5 meters or less, my dog is “scared”. Scared for him means low tail position, high ears, fast breathing, wide-open eyes. This is a description of our walk on the street where most shops are located. This gives us much more useful information. We just obtained variables that we can manipulate to teach a dog how to cope with this environment in the future.
On the next day, we went for a walk near a busy street. The noise of the cars wasn’t a problem, and it was deafening that day. So this gives me valuable information that most likely cars from previous examples weren’t a significant factor in “scared” behavior. In the second half of this walk, four people passed us on the other side of the road (around 10-15 meters). No “scared” response. That’s the following valuable information. Two critical factors are the distance between people and him and the frequency at which people pass by. From this example alone, we can’t conclude which variable is more important for him. From experience, I can tell that distance is easier to use in training because we can’t control when people are walking by. Nevertheless, we certainly can position ourselves in the appropriate distance.
Threshold in training
Let’s begin with defining what a threshold is. For me, it’s a “barrier” at which a learner can perform the desired behavior. After crossing that barrier, a learner can no longer emit the same behavior. What it means for our problem is that my dog is calm when “feel in the spot.” For instance, my dog is calm when he sees people that are 25m away. If we get any closer, we will see a change in behavior. At first, it might be small ear movement, but as we go deeper and deeper behind the threshold, we will see more significant changes in behavior.
We want to find an environment where people are present, but your dog can remain calm. If you identified a problem well, you would have enough information to judge your dog’s current threshold.
What does puppy training look like?
For my puppy, I can say that around 10m could be enough. However, because he only saw people passing by at this distance once I need more data to prove that this threshold is correct. So I went for another walk. It was noon on Sunday, and many people headed to the local church. We positioned ourselves on the other side of the road (around 10-15m). Now on average, 1-5 people are passing us every 10 seconds. The frequency is much higher, and I observed some behaviors like looking at them, but it was rare, and he could play food games like searching food in the grass, following me while I feed him, and tossing treats to the face. His performance in the last match was worse than usual, and I could tell that he was calm, but he paid attention to those people that hindered his performance. So the conclusion is for this frequency we would need another 5-10m.
The conclusion is that at this time for my puppy, it’s safe to say that 15-20m with an average number of people (1-3 every 20s) would be an excellent place to start.
Stay under the threshold at all costs!
It’s the most important rule of our training strategy. We know what environment our dog can handle, and we want to stay in a situation where a dog can be successful. Whenever you see some “scared” behaviors pop up back of immediately. Meaning, depending on the threshold for your particular problem, try to get back behind it. For me, it means to increase the distance.
Training your dog – Progress
“But I don’t want to stand 20m from people for the rest of my life”. Yes, me neither, but luckily, the threshold isn’t a fixed thing. The threshold will change with the training. If we keep on being behind it and add some fun games to the mix, we will be able to advance.
Let’s use some common sense to prove that it makes sense. A dog sees people, but they aren’t scary anymore, and on top of that, we play fun games. What can a dog think? “Maybe, after all, people aren’t that big of a deal?’. One day, scary humans popped up from behind the corner, and a dog got scared, but we followed “Stay under the threshold at all cost!” and backed off to give a dog some space. What can a dog think? “Even if something scary happens, my human has my back. It’s not that big of a deal”. Day after day, we stay behind the threshold. We tried to go 16m this time, and apparently, that wasn’t a problem (threshold moved!).
With enough patients, we can make any scary thing, not a problem. Just respect your dog and be supportive instead of pushing him into a place where he/she is doomed to fail.
Scary, not scary step by step:
Define a threshold
Stay under the threshold
Try to make the environment a little harder if your dog can manage that great if not get back behind the threshold.
Dealing with scary things can be difficult and depressing, but try to treat it as a fun experience where you grow as a team. Scary things will teach you how to respect your dog and support him like nothing else.
Sometimes you won’t be successful, and it will be hard to accept, but remember to be patient. It’s a long-lasting process, and what matters is that you progress on a weekly or even monthly bases, not day by day.Tags: animal training, dog, dog training, szkolenie psów, tromplo
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