Dog is scared to death of one of my friends

Posted by Rocket-Mom
Jan 3, 2008
I come here in complete desperation for help.

Our little 11 month old Dachsund/Terrier "Rocket", is a super addition to our family.
He has been with us since last April.
His adjustment went well... I was told he didnt like men, but we found him to warm up to strangers that enter our house with just a little time.
He is not a big barker. Usually settles down after company has settled in on the couch.
However, there is ONE person (My babysitter/best friend "Dave") in particular that "Rocket" just wont get used to. At first we thought it was cause he is a man. Then we thought it was because Dave is a diabetic and also on crutches. Dave does not see too well, and has an injury/bandage on his foot that has not healed in over two years. So, Dave always smells a bit "medical", and he has those clanky crutches that no one else ever has when coming into our home.
Well, Rocket just wont warm up to Dave at all.
He will take the widest route around him when traveling thru the house. And will growl and bark.
Dave has been coming here since before we got Rocket, and is here quite often. I would have thought after all this time, he would have realized that Dave is a good guy.

You can disregard any theory that Dave is abusing the dog when I am not looking.. trust me, this is NOT the case.
We are just mistified how to get the little dog to feel atleast more comfortable with Dave being in the house.

I am getting really desperate for advice since lately, Dave has been staying over at our house more often.... and now, when he arrives, little Rocket just trembles and barks, then goes and hides. He does not return to his playful little puppy self until after Dave is gone and a couple of hours has passed.

Can anyone give us some advice how we can get Rocket to warm up to Dave at all? Or atleast get him to feel comfortable that "Oh, its only him again"... and atleast ignore Dave or something.
But as time goes along, Rockets behavior seems to become more neurotic the more Dave comes over. I am not seeing improvement.

I have tried scolding... I have tried praise for the initial barking but encourage him "enough" after Dave settles down. I have tried a time out after he just refuses to stop barking at Dave. And we have tried placing Rocket on Dave's lap to allow him to pet Rocket. But nothing works. I talk softly, "It's ok" but he just ignores me.

Any ideas?
Thanks so much!
Posted by Todd
Jan 3, 2008
Hi there
Thank you for your email.
Before i start there are a few no no's i picked up from your email.
Putting rocket on Dave's lap isn't a great idea, although a lot of dog behaviour specialists would recommend it. This is called the flooding method. Imagine you are scared of spiders, well in this method to solve your fear of spiders we would put you in a room full of them. It isn't going to help and probably make things worse.

The second thing is never comfort Rocket when he is scared, this only encourages him to be scared. When he is acting scared ignore him (don't reprimand as this usually makes things worse) that means turning away, no eye contact, not talking to him or petting him.

It is great to hear how much you have tried with these two and it helps convince me you are committed It also helps me focus what i would recommend.
So here is what i would suggest. Firstly i think you need to find some clean bandages and other such things that smell "medical". If the fear is based on smell having these items around the house when Dave isn't there may help. Putting the items in a non-fearful situation eg in an area he sleeps, or plays or eats will help him dissociate the smell from the fear.
Play with the bandages with him to show him they are fine. If he becomes scared ignore him as above. Give him no attention at all. But the second he starts to come out of his crouch, put his ears up or show confidence you must reward him quietly. This will encourage confidence not fear.

I would also recommend trying to get hold of some crutches. Again put these in a non-threatening situation as above and get rocket used to them. This may also be part of the fear.

Now try and do these things before Dave comes around next. If you are half way through desensitisation when he comes around you may be back to square one.
Now to Dave.
*Get Dave to come and visit (make sure that you tell them what is happening!). He must be quiet and make slow movements around the house. Sudden movements and loud noises can make things worse

*As your friend knocks on the door or rings the doorbell, make Rocket sit and give him a treat. Then put your dogs collar on and take him to either a crate or a secure room. If your dog is too much of a handful at even this stage then you will have to put Rocket away before Dave gets to the door.

*Sit Dave down in a room that is not often use by your dog. Give you friend some treats so that they can give them to your dog.

*Go to Rocket and make him sit. Put a halti or muzzle as well as the choke collar on. Get Rocket to heel then take him into the room that your friend is in. Make sure that Dave does not give any eye contact. Act as happy as you can while petting your dog.

*If Rocket growls or disobeys your commands at ANY TIME then squirt him with water or shake a pebble filled can to startle him. Have the water pistol or can in your dogs view at all times.

*Make Rocket sit quite a long way from your guest, perhaps in the doorway of the room. When your dog is calm get it to heel and move it closer, then get your dog to sit again. Praise him when he sits and heels properly.

*When your dog is calm and you have moved him to sit within 5 feet of the guest then get Dave to give your dog a treat. Make sure that Dave does not look your dog in the eyes.

Preferably you will repeat this twice a day for several weeks. That may not be entirely practical for you but will give you the best chance of success. Hopefully this advice will help you, remember to be patient this may take some time. Good luck and please let me know how things go

Kind Regards
Todd Field
Posted by Rocket-Mom
Jan 6, 2008
Thank you so much for the advice.
Reading through your advice I can see the positives and look forward to applying them today.
I had'nt thought of getting extra crutches and "me" using them in the house.. I like that idea alot, as I have a tendency to think it might be the crutches.. but still unsure.
There isnt anything in your suggestions that I will not be able to carry out, so I look forward to giving it time and effort.
Once again, thank you! It pleases me to know that there is hope.

I hope to keep you updated with progress or otherwise.
Best Regards,
Rocket Mom