The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy! As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.
If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it. A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.
Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected. As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road. It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze. That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.
When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene. In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.
So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant? You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you. I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.
A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:
- Say hi to it yourself! If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
- Do not coddle your pup. Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls. Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
- Practice! When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet. Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!
If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety. Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!