Australian Shepherd Extremely Afraid of Humans

by Clem
(Annapolis, MD)

So I rescued this amazing Australian Shepherd. Love him. My buddy when we are alone at home. However, he was not well socialized, a skeleton and had mange when I adopted him. He (and his siblings... with other friends) are extremely fearful of other humans. He pretty much goes into a major panic whenever any stranger looks at him.

I now have him wearing a jacket which tells people not to look at him or touch him. But I dream of the day when he might not be so fearful.

He gets a lot of exercise beyond running with my other dogs in the yard (3-5 miles of jogging and walking per day). I know it is in their genes if they are not properly socialized. He is also fearful of drinking from the water bowl and even eating from his bowl... much prefers puddles which of course, I don't let him do. Any success stories?

Comments for Australian Shepherd Extremely Afraid of Humans

Click here to add your own comments

there is hope
by: Anonymous

We own an Aussie too but it is our lab mix that has anxiety and fear of people, noises and anything electronic. She is rescued also. We resorted to giving her prozac to "take the edge off" and enrolled her in Nosework, (canine scent work) which is done individually, one dog and one owner. She gradually gained confidence when she was "working" in class and was able to ignore her fears. It has taken a few years of gentle patience but she is much much better. There are Aussies who do Nosework and do it well. Perhaps it could help you too.

by: jcrply

Find something he LOVES to eat... maybe chicken or beef or cheese or yolk from a boiled egg, sardines...something REALLY special. Have a cooperative, quiet friend sit on the floor and just happen to have a smelly, yummy treat in his hand... which is lying on the floor behind his back. The dog should be in the same room but don't try to make him approach the other person. This requires patience. The odor of the special treat might help him overcome his fear of new person. If it eventually works and he takes the treat, this would be a starting point. Moving the hand closer and eventually around to his side and then in front would be the next steps. You want the pup to make the connection of scary looking strange person equals really yummy food. Then move on to other people, to people outdoors, to people on the sidewalk... all with special treats.
For the food and water dishes, it could be the material or it could be the size. If you're using stainless steel, try ceramic and vice versa. If you don't mind, you could try various human food containers that you already have. He might find a VERY wide, VERY shallow dish less scary. Put a towel under it to keep it from moving and to keep it from making any noise.

A wet dog is a happy dog
by: Anonymous

Let him play in puddles! Dogs have a short life and he needs done freedom from his trauma. Bring him to places like Home Depot to help socialize him and invite friends over to have him around other people.

by: Anonymous

Pick a friend or neighbor and have them "drop" his favorite treat randomly while speaking with you, using no touch, no talk, no eye contact. Gradually expand it to others as he becomes comfortable with the first person. It can take a very long time but he should eventually come to understand that strangers have good things.

our solution
by: Anonymous

Our black Aussie was fearful of everything when we first rescued her. Took a while to figure out but good obedience training, patience and playing to her instincts helped to bring her out of her shell.
We noticed that early on that she was shy around people and other dogs but not aggressive. After watching how she played with the 2 dogs she did like, 2 other Aussies, we decided to take her herding. She was on them from the moment she left the car. Now she goes 2x a month herding and with the obedience training she sees us as the pack leaders and is now only fearful of Chihuahuas.

My two cents
by: Fran

I have a reactive mini Aussie who is also afraid of strangers. She loves those people that she has come to know, but fears anyone strange who gives her attention or who approaches her head-on. She is three and slowly, with work, overcoming her distrust to some extent.

I would comment that I have learned to refrain from forcing her to face her fears. This simply allows her fear to escalate into panic attacks and then reinforces her belief that there is indeed something to be afraid of. Instead, I now watch her carefully and when I see a bit of discomfort or anxiety arise, I call her to me with a special command and move away from the perceived danger. (I simply use "Heel Fran" (my name) or "Come Fran" or "Come this way.") My moving her from the "danger" puts me in a leader/protector role (which increases her confidence in me); and, because she is farther from the "danger", it is not so frightening to her. Amazingly, allowing her to not face her fear and to move away from the danger has helped to overcome the fear. We still move off to the side or cross the street when a single, silent individual walks toward us on a quiet road. And, I still advise people to not try to address her and to pretend she is invisible. But, we are progressing. So, there is hope. Good luck to you.

by: Anonymous

Thank you for the tips. I am avoiding stereos too, thinking of Prozac for him... He is not at all food motivated! A first for me... All my dogs would do anything for treats... Not this guy. Doesn't even take treats. I so want him to enjoy life.

Take It Slow!
by: Dan V.

If your dog is that fearful, you have a long road to travel. The first thing to do is set your expectations. Aussies are naturally reserved, so even well-socialized Aussies may not turn out to be everybody's best friend. There are also genetic tendencies toward shyness in some lines, and of course an undersocialized AND shy dog is a tough nut to crack. Helping your dog to be more comfortable is a great thing, as long as you understand that your particular situation may have limitations that you just can't overcome without any amount of training.

I would advise taking things very slow, starting only in controlled situations. Expecting the general public to be helpful would be a mistake. Most folks will give you the, "Oh, dogs love me," response, then proceed to bend over and reach towards your dog using normal human gestures that actually come across as rude and/or threatening in dog language.

Recruit trusted friends, starting (as others had mentioned) with them simply dropping treats and ignoring the dog, letting the dog make the decision when to advance. It may take time. Start in a safe environment, and give the dog an escape route to help her feel safe. Work with a variety of people until she is comfortable accepting people in her safe environment an shows no signs of anxiety. If you see her getting anxious, back up a step. If you see progress, then slowly move to the yard, the sidewalk, and so one, always watching her reaction.

Don't force her or punish her. Let her feel safe with you and slowly venture out on her own. Stay away from situations that will make her more fearful (like busy stores or parks), Exercise is great, but make sure it is a positive experience and not a panic attack. A tired Aussie tends to be a happy Aussie, but if she feels like she is running for her life the entire time, it may make the problem worse. Try to stay secluded if possible until she gets more confident.

Rescued Aussie
by: Anonymous

This is our fourth Aussie, but the first one we rescued. He is great with all other dogs loves to play, has learned to stay out of the street and on our property, requires no crate and has never had an accident in the house. He loves my wife and I and our adult children. Past that he is not real fond of their husbands and tends to bark at new people he meets. After 1 1/2 years, he is getting much better, but it is a struggle each and every day. Reminding him that it's OK. I too long for the day when he would be like our other three we had, but then I think of the life that he had before he came to live with us. Just need to keep at it.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Australian Shepherd Q & A. icon

Guide To Australian Shepherd Training & Care

Have Dog Training Questions?

Check out these introductory dog training videos...

I want my dog to stop being aggressive.

I want some help training my new puppy.

I want my dog to stop barking at everything.

I want my dog to walk nicely and calmly on the leash.

I want my dog to listen and come every time I call!