There is nothing more scary than not knowing where your dog is, believe me, I’ve been there. My Mick Dog is a rascally dude and there were a few times in his youth that he became a lost dog, and thankfully all times he was returned safely to me.
From a dog trainer’s perspective, I take a different look at the problem that can arise when a dog is lost, mostly from a behavioral and training view. Here’s a sign that I saw recently: “Lost Dog – 16 years old, very afraid and aggressive towards people, was in a car accident, DO NOT TOUCH the dog.” When I read this, I am sad, because the hope of finding a very afraid of people & traumatized dog is low. I don’t know the details in this situation, but what I do know is that if the dog’s parents had worked with a positive reinforcement trainer then maybe, just maybe the dog wouldn’t have been so afraid of people and then could have been helped by a stranger.
We all need help sometimes, including us humans. Sometimes our dogs need the help of other humans. This is a really important attribute for our dogs, to like and trust humans. So if you have a dog who is leery of new people, do something to make this situation better, here’s how.
Socialization every day!
Whether your dog is young or old, these steps are the key to a dog who is comfortable with the world. And a dog who is comfortable with people will get help when he needs it. This was the case with my Jack Russell Terrier, Mick. When he was young, I was discovering his wild prey drive, he got away from me. Mick is a very social dog with all beings, so when he was done with his little fun run, he would find a human and say “please call my Mom, I’m ready to go home now”, and they did. But if he was a dog who was fearful of people, it’s hard to say what might have happened.
- If your dog is very afraid of people now, my #1 suggestion is to find a trainer Association of Professional Dog Trainers will help you find a truly positive trainer, search for Certified Professional Trainers.
- Before we leave the house/RV you must load your pockets or treat bag with a variety of yummy treats! Do not have just one kind of treat; make sure to mix at least 3 different ones into a trail mix. I usually use about 5. These treats are NOT milk bones, they are the size of your pinky fingernail and they are stinky and good. Best purchased at your local independent pet supply store. Sojos is a great one to have in the mix, they have Simply Meat Treats which are freeze dried meat, and dogs go wild for them.
- In all of the situations below, watch your dog constantly, is he having a good time? Is he asking for more attention?….. great! Does he look overwhelmed? If so remove him from the situation. You do not want to flood your dog; this will only counteract what you are trying to do. Short interactions are best, for example when my dogs meet kids; I keep it short and sweet, 1 minute or less with the interaction.
- Have people over to your house/RV at least once a week. Have each person deliver treats to your dog.
- Take your dog in to Home Depot, Office Depot, Ace Hardware, there are many stores that you can bring your dog into, just ask. If you can lift your dog, you can put them into a shopping cart. Have people give treats and attention to your dog.
- Sit on a bench in a busy area and let your dog interact appropriately with new people – this exercise is best done after some exercise. Or if your dog is too afraid to meet people, just let your dog sit there and each time someone walks by, deliver a treat. Repeat over and over, day after day.
- Walk your dog in a new place each week. Pick a new neighborhood, new park, new trail to walk on so you have new experiences.
- Some banks welcome dogs, a great place to meet new people and have a good association with them.
- In an RV park you can sit outside with your dog in the evening when people are walking the park, deliver treats to your dog each time a person/dog walks by. If appropriate, have the people say a quick hi to your dog and deliver a treat.
The most important part of all these ideas is to know your dog! Know how much she can handle, if your dog is cowering, not taking treats, barking wildly, then the dog is “over threshold” and should be calmly removed from the situation. As I said before in the article, if your dog is shutting down or getting aggressive with new people, find a trainer to help.
You can change behavior! Counter conditioning is the act of changing the dog’s association to something that is bad to something that is good. Sometimes you can make a behavior totally take a 180° change, other times you can only improve it. Each dog is an individual and therefore will react differently.
Once your dog is feeling safe and happy with new people, continue the outings at least once a week keeping them tuned up to the world.
How long will it take? It depends! That’s the answer to all dog training questions. Our dogs are emotional, intelligent beings and it all depends on a multitude of factors. Best recommendation is daily interactions that are short, sweet and positive will counter condition the issue.
Even if it does take months, it’s so worth it for the enjoyment of life for you and your dog and so importantly if your dog gets away from you and needs the help of another human.
- Have 1-3 phone numbers on a tag on your dog at all times of being outside and in a moving vehicle.
- Get 4 of these made at a time, so you have extras in your RV, car and home. They fall off!
- Microchip your dog, but do not have this be the only contact info, people who find a lost dog with no tags might not get the dog scanned for days or weeks.
- Teach your dog a great recall and have other people practice this.
As always, take your dog along when appropriate and keep them safe at home or in the RV when not.