Alas, I am here, seven months after adopting Athena and admitting that she has a MAJOR quirk. She's afraid of people.
This is no quirk that I would ever wish for my dog to possess, because really, what's worse than admitting that your pit bull is afraid of people, a quality that is in no way inherent to the breed. Pit bulls are suppose to be people lovers. However, my pit bull is in no way a people lover. As much as I would love for her to be the type of dog who flocks to humans to dole out slobbery kisses, she is not and I don't think that she will ever be that kind of outgoing dog.
Like many newly adopted dogs, Athena went through a honeymoon period. Many of her quirks were in hiding and didn't come out for at least a month of living with us. In the beginning, Athena met many new people at our home and while out and about. She never barked at people who came to the house and welcomed everyone to pet her and give her attention.
Don't Touch Me, I'm Nervous:
After the honeymoon period, we started to see signs of Athena's fear of people. When we would take her to places like the pet store or out on a walk, many people would ask to pet her and we always said yes because she seemed to enjoy the attention she got from them. However, there were some people that she would back away from. To this day, Athena is only accepting of attention from some people that she meets. If she feels nervous, she will sometimes woof, back away, or cower behind us. She definitely doesn't like it when people come at her head on with their hand moving towards her face. This makes her turn her head and body as if she is afraid that they are going to hit her. Although it is true that many dogs who come from the shelter system were never physically abused, Athena's body language actually suggests that she may very well have been abused at some point in her life.
If I Bark, Will You Go Away?:
If I haven't mentioned it before, Athena is not a barker. It is a rare occasion that we hear her pitiful woof. However, she will often bark at new people who enter the home. If they try to approach her, she will dance around and bark at them. At this point, she has never growled or snapped at anyone, just barked (not in a "Hi, I'm so excited to meet you!" kind of way, but in the "You are really scary and I don't want you in my house" kind).
Men, Smokers, and Eggplant Shaped Figures:
Since noticing Athena's fear of people, we have tried and tried to determine the type of person that she is fearful of. At first we thought it was just men because she was extremely shy around them in the beginning. Then we decided it must also be people who smoke, because she will not approach someone who is smoking a cigarette and is often fearful of people who smell of smoke. Then we noticed that Athena was extra nervous around people with different body shapes, like a woman who very much resembled an eggplant. As we continued to try to narrow down the type of person that makes Athena fearful, we realized that as far as we can tell, there's not a single quality that she is fearful of. To us, her fear of people seems totally random (though to her there may very well be some sort of connection between them all). The one type of person that she has never been afraid of though is children, thank the heavens.
|Don't worry dad, I'm not afraid of you!|
You Must Treat the Fearful:
After some deliberation with our trainer, we came up with a plan to tackle Athena's fear of people. Each and every time a new person comes to our house, we prep them with "The Talk." They learn that Athena is often fearful of new people and that she needs space. We then load them up with treats and instruct them to
Although Athena is often fearful of new people, she has a very quick recovery period, just as she does with all new experiences. New people who enter the house only need a few minutes of "ignore Athena and throw treats at her time" before Athena's ready to snuggle up. Just ask Emily from Our Waldo Bungie. She got the nervous bark from Athena when she visited, but after a handful of treats, Athena was ready to snuggle up. Like most other new experiences that Athena has been exposed to, she is usually fearful only the first or second time, then she has the confidence each time after. Luckily, Athena is quick to warm up to people.
Living with a Fearful Dog:
Fear aggression is nothing to take lightly and can be different for every single dog. Our plan of action for helping Athena accept new people works for her, but may not work for another dog who is fearful of people. Some dogs who are fearful of humans need to be completely ignored for a period of time, not be looked in the eye, or kept behind a baby gate in the house. We have found that for now, Athena's plan seems to be working for her. Just last week I was shocked when Athena met two new people at our house with no barking or nervousness, instead she snuggled up with them for an hour and doled out kisses like nobody's business! Even though Athena may be becoming less fearful of strangers doesn't mean that we aren't always managing the situation and assessing her for signs of discomfort or nervousness.
|Athena LOVES everyone (especially her grandma) after meeting them a few times|
Have you ever dealt with a fearful dog? What about a dog who is fearful of people? What strategies do you use to help your dog overcome these fears?