Tips for dogs afraid of petting

One of the more frequent issues with shy dogs is to be afraid of getting petted by strangers. When dogs are getting petted the person is close to them, they are looking at them, they are looming over them and then they touch them. These are all potential triggers for anxiety or aggression. If your dog is shy, you should help her get comfortable with people to avoid escalation of anxiety, which could potentially lead to aggression.

handshynessHere are two exercises that you can use to help your dog love getting petted. There is no way to know how long it will take for your dog to gain confidence and overcome her fear. There is also a chance that she will never love petting. It depends on her background, socialization history and how often you do good training sessions. A good training session consists of keeping her comfortable and pairing the events with treats that she loves. If she is anxious or stops taking treats GO SLOWER.

Hand Shyness Exercise #1 - Move Closer Slowly
This should be practiced with you first and then with friends, both male and female.

  1. Put your dog in a location where you can work with her such as gently putting the leash over a doorknob. The key is that she is not running around, or distracted by toys.
  2. Start with your hand 5 feet away from her
  3. Hold your hand with your palm towards your dog
  4. As soon as she looks at your hand, Click and Treat
  5. Reset each time to the beginning distance, in this case 5 feet
  6. Now put your hand 4.5 feet away and Click and Treat
  7. Move slowly closer and Click and Treat each time
  8. If she flinches, or shows ANY hand shyness, move your hand away and go more slowly
  9. Move closer and eventually gently touch her and Click and Treat
  10. Then you can add different variations such as touching her for a longer period of time, touching and then gently holding her collar, etc.
  11. Bring treats or food with you on EVERY walk and do these exercises near people
  12. Eventually you can have other people do the exercise with you giving the treat
  13. If you can touch your dog, the new person might only be able to be 5 feet away from your dog. Pay attention to her anxiety and do allow the person to move their hand too close too quickly.
  14. Make sure for all the above steps you say, "Good girl" as you are moving your hand closer and then Click and Treat (or say "yes") at the new close point. As you do more practice the Click and Treat will come later in the process until you are able to pet your dog.


Important note:
 Don't expect to end up petting your dog the first session. It could take weeks or months for a dog to get comfortable with petting. You also will probably have to start over each time you introduce her to a new person until her overall comfort level increases. Go slow and be patient.

Hand Shyness Exercise #2 - Touch Your Hand With Her Nose
This is a way to teach her that a hand coming over her head is a good thing.

  1. Hold your hand vertically with your palm directly towards your dog’s face.
  2. As soon as she sniffs or licks your hand, Click and Treat
  3. Move it to a different location and continue, Clicking and Treating each time she licks or sniffs
  4. Start with your hand farther away and slowly move it closer saying “Good girl” as you do it and then continue as above. The key is to now get her accustomed to movement before the hand gets closer.
  5. Move it all over including over her head (slowly), coming up from below, from above, etc.
  6. Make sure you say, “Good girl as you move your hand closer. This will teach her that when she sees a hand coming towards her, she should anticipate something good.

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