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Training a Dog to Be Less Afraid of People

Previous treatment and life experiences can leave a dog with a fear of humans. This is a page about training a dog to be less afraid of people.


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September 5, 2010

I've had my Chihuahua for about 5 months. I bought him at 6 months. Anytime someone tries to give him attention he runs with his tail between his legs like they are going to beat him. He even does it when I try, but he'll sleep with me, and try to get my attention when he wants it. How do I break him of being afraid?

By Jessica from Reno, NV


September 7, 20100 found this helpful
Best Answer

I have a Chihuahua (Chica) with the same exact problem. She was about 6mos when I adopted. She is now 2 1/2. The key is calm. The first 6 months, we went to the dog park to get her social with other small dogs. I asked (and still do) that the humans, especially children, only try to touch if she touches you. I tell them to pet the other dog. It still takes about 30 min before she gets into the mix with other doggies. Chica also seemed to be drawn to very calm people/dogs. She can sense frenetic energy of others.

We have walked the same neighborhood path for months, until she was used to lawn statues, garbage cans, joggers. Chica is 9lbs so we can have a nice brisk walk for her to remain focused on me and the walk. She still tries to turn around to go home.


I think she senses the 1/2 mark since she picks up speed.
It helps tremendously having the other dog. We have a very social 6 year Yorkie. Now inside the house, Chica rules the cats, but the cats seem to love it. I ask visitors who come to the house to not engage either dog, it keeps things calmer.

I try to avoid picking her up, only on the most extreme circumstances (we are in a very public place and she just cannot handle it).

Chica loves to run, so I do have her do some obstacles in the yard.

She rarely hides or tries to jump in my arms. She just stands next to me (tail not tucked). When I see she is fine, I will pick her up and have my neighbor or whomever I am chatting with gently pet her. She doesn't cringe or pull away. I keep the interaction calm.

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July 9, 2019

An 8 month old white Lab is scared of everything. It is my mom's dog. He loves to get in my car, but he has to be dragged and put into my mother's car. She is almost 70 years old and is unable to physically pick him up and put him in her car. Anyone that he doesn't know, he barks constantly at them and paces the house. He has a crate that he loves, but it seems like no help in these situations. He has been to multiple obedience classes to no avail. My mother is at her wits end. What can I do to help? We just bought him a thunder shirt, but haven't tried it yet; we are waiting on the delivery. What else can I do to help her train this puppy?



July 9, 20190 found this helpful

Dogs have distinct personalities. Dogs also have anxiety. Talk to the vet. There are medications that will help.

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September 5, 2010

My daughter was coming out of Target store and saw a pitiful mutt on a leash attached to a construction worker's truck. It said, "Adopt me".

She took it to the vet, got shots, got a large doggie indoor carrier/house and a cushy pad, a brush, a longer leash and a new collar, performed a flea doggie shampoo (seems to be very clean, but we wanted to make sure), bought appropriate puppy pet food and water bowl and lots of love.

It's an approximately 1 year old male terrier mix. Unbelievably skinny, malnourished, abused, afraid of people, but very nice with a sweet personality. So how do we make this adorable pooch less afraid? I know precious little about dogs. Help!


It doesn't want to go into it's doggie house and needs a couple of pushes, (pet store said house was suitable in size for this dog). He doesn't come when called (more likely to just sit there). We told our daughter the dog has to stay in the pet house when no one is home or at night (for the safety of the house and the pet). Of course we are going to give it an outside walk before it gets shut in and it's certainly not for all day, either. We have a nice fenced in back yard, but the dog goes directly to the trailer and hides between it and the fence and doesn't come when called.

I'd like to be able to indicate to him that he needs to get in the doggie house. I can't be doing all this pooch shoving and pushing and I'd like to open the back door, tell the dog to go and expect it to come back to the door when I call it in 10 minutes.

If we try to put on a leash and take him for a walk, he has to be dragged through the house out to the front door. Obviously, he doesn't know how to respond to a walk on a leash.


In the meantime, he sits by my daughter and follows her around the house, like her shadow.

So, now what? We like the dog, we just need to "civilize" it and get it to forget the abuse history.


Holly from Richardson, TX


How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

The worse thing you can do is feel sorry for the dog. The more you use soft tones with that "it's OK sweetheart, you poor dog" attitude the worse he will get. Try to have a matter of fact attitude with him, ignore the silly behaviour, because that's what it is. Try putting some old clothing that belongs to your daughter in the dog house, make sure she has worn it so it smells like her. Try to avoid pushing and pulling the dog, it just frustrates you and worries the dog.

To get him to come try some tasty treats, cooked liver works really well for me, just tiny pieces at first, if he will come out for the treat just tell him "good boy" and let him go. DO NOT hold him or touch him when he comes for the treat. His initial reward can be simply for sticking his nose out from under the trailer, just twice a day about 3 or 4 times in a row is plenty. Go slowly once he's sticking his head out back up a few inches so he has to come a little further, keep going until you find him coming out completely. Use the same command e.g., " come here" (in a pleasant voice, not too soft or harsh). This may take weeks, but the dog will associate it with a positive experience. Remember don't hurry the process or you will take 1 step forward and 5 steps back. I hope I have explained this process well enough.


Good luck.


By A. Crilly

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

I agree with most of that, but in my experience some sympathy and baby talk is necessary for bonding. Don't force the dog to do anything. He's been shoved around enough it sounds like it. He needs to do everything on his own time table with you encouraging with praise and food. Poor baby. I've adopted 2 dogs with huge issues over the years, but you would never have known it as time went on. They were so well adjusted I could have stepped on their heads while they were lying down and they wouldn't even notice. It just takes a huge amount of patience and time, but the reward is worth it for all involved. Please hang in there and good for you guys for saving a life. (11/13/2007)

By Me

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

This is not silly behavior! The dog was abused. Patience in what you want to to teach him. Do not push, pull, or drag the dog. Treats work wonderfully. He has to learn to trust. That will take time. He will not turn into a obedient loyal dog in a few days or even a month. See if you can find training or call a shelter for ideas on how to help him gain his trust with you. (11/13/2007)

By Allison

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

I suggest you read Cesar's Way, by Cesar Millan. He is a genius when it comes to responding to problems with dogs. The book will help you and your dog. (11/13/2007)

By Tamothy

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

Crate training is pretty easy. I've crate trained every dog I've ever owned. Putting worn clothes in there is a good idea, it will make the dog feel more secure for sure. Use one command to indicate the dog should go into the kennel. I've always used the word "crate" because it is easy to say and understand, rather than a sentence like "Go to your Kennel, Rover." Say "crate" and then get the dog inside, either by throwing a treat in the crate and shutting the door after the dog goes in, or by placing the dog inside. As soon as the door is shut after the dog is inside, tell him how good he is. "Good boy Rover!" followed by a treat through the bars. It'll take a few weeks before the dog will do it on its own. Be patient.

Also, realize that the dog probably has no idea that whatever you're calling him is supposed to be his name.

Dogs all balk at leashes when they are first introduced, puppies usually get over it quickly though. Don't drag, instead "pop" the leash. you're just going to exhaust yourself otherwise and make the dog pull back harder. When you start to move, jerk the leash quickly once. Don't jerk so hard the dog flies a few feet from where it was, but hard enough it is surprised into a few forward steps. The dog won't have to time to pull against you and quick pops are less tiring than dragging for sure. This is how you train dogs in dog obedience, which I was in for 8 years. We always use choker chains, as is required by obedience rules. I understand some people believe this hurts the dog and refuse to use them. It will work with secure collars, but not as quickly.

Most of all, be excited every time the dog does something right and scold only once when he does something bad, and only when you catch him doing it. (11/13/2007)

By Amy

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

I know very little about dogs, but there are many good books on dog training. I read one once about positive reinforcement called "Don't Shoot the Dog". I think that was the name. Positive reinforcement is what you need to do with this dog. He is obviously associating coming when called with something bad. I think you should get some professional advice on this dog from a dog trainer, and maybe after he is more settled, take him to obedience class so you know how to train him.

One thing I do know about dogs from listening to a radio show, is that if you get him to associate that pet house with safety, that is an important training thing, and very useful as he will like his little house and bed and not be cowering in odd places. Reward him for going into it, and I think putting something of your daughter's in the house will help, as the other poster suggested, as you say that he feels safe with her. Good luck. (11/13/2007)

By Louise B.

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

Good luck! We brought home a pound puppy (a terrier mix /?Pit Bull mix) approximately 6-8 months old that we found out was stranger shy and men shy after we brought her home (obviously abused by a man in boots, judging from her behavior). For two years we took her weekly to dog obedience and socialized her in a wide variety of strange environments. She learned that we were safe, and she was safe with us, but the "world" was still a scary place.

The best improvement we made was she stopped submissively peeing around strangers and strange environments. She still hid. Once she reached 3 years old she started becoming aggressive from growling and barking at neighbors outside in their yard, to attacking our old Golden Retriever if he came near the kids. We ultimately had to give her back to the pound for the kids safety, a hard decision, but we tried our best to make her part of our family and to socialize her. The problems were bigger then us.
Good luck, seek dog obedience help for not only obedience skills, but socialization skills, and advice. (11/13/2007)

By been there

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

I had a "scaredy-dog" who wouldn't go into her house for a year and a half! I put her food bowls in there so she had to stick her head in, but she would take food into her mouth and eat it outside from the ground. One day for no discernible reason she popped into her house, lay down and stayed there. She's been using it ever since. If I want to "tell" her to go in, I toss a dog treat in and she follows it. Now I can just make the hand motion of throwing a treat in and she will jump in quite happily, but I reinforce that every once in a while with a treat.

Prayers for quick adjustment.

By Denise

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

Sounds like the dog could have a hearing problem since he does not respond to you when called. I would have his hearing checked. (11/14/2007)

By Judy

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

I agree with all of the advice given so far. Abused dogs need a lot of love and patience, and they in turn reward you with love and more love, but it takes time and good training.

You also might try getting down on the floor with the dog, eye to eye, and talking and playing with him at his own level every day. Abused dogs are often frightened by a person looming over them, because that's where the abuse came from.

I've had terriers and they are healthy, hardy doggies, so the abuse must have been pretty scary. One of my "second-hand" dogs came to me very, very hungry and had been tormented by a cat in the same household. It was 3 months before she walked away from food and almost a year before she stopped chewing on my (handmade) afghans and chewed only on her chewie toy. She was very smart and very sweet and we had 15 years of walks and good times together. (11/18/2007)

By Janice C.

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

Cesar Milan! You should be very careful with your dog. Usually a malnourished dog has much less energy than usual and when he is fattened up he might act differently, so until you really know him, I would suggest that you are careful. Some dogs do not like houses because they feel cornered, I would try feeding him in it, put the bowl in the back and every time he goes in (and not a moment sooner) you give him some command, like "crate" after a while he will figure out that the word means where he is fed, and he will go in there.

You can than give him the word and wait til he goes inside and than give him his meal for doing well. My advice anyway, good luck, sounds like you have done a great thing by helping the pup out.

By Kate

How to Make Dog Less Afraid of People

Oh yes here, look on they have free ebooks and this guy is very helpful. I train dogs for Search and Rescue and Service Animals, I've learned a lot from him. But check that site out and read all the ebooks you think pertain to your pooch. (03/10/2008)

By Kate

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