Chronically Frightened Papillon

Proper socialization is key to dog development.

Q. Our approximately 2-year-old male Papillon is very fearful of people except for my wife and myself. We have had him for about six months after a previous owner returned him to the breeder. He is small — approximately six pounds. He has been very difficult to housetrain and is still extremely fearful of our 18-year-old grandson who lives with us. We took this dog when our previously beloved Papillion, who accepted anyone we spoke to as a friend, died at age 13.

From day one this new dog has been extremely shy and wanted to run away. We have conquered that problem and he is most loving and attached to my wife and me, but runs and hides as long as our grandson is in the house or even if the dog believes that he is. He reacts the same when any male enters our home and with some women. He howls and runs to hide.
 
Do you have any suggestions as to how to retrain this little guy to overcome his fears? We do suspect that he may have been abused and or was very poorly socialized as a puppy, if at all. The breeder had many Papillons and many who were show dogs. We are not ready to give up on him, but it is a daily struggle.

 
A. You clearly realize the importance of early socialization in building a dog’s confidence and positive expectations, and unfortunately it does sound like your new Papillon may have missed out on that.

Remedial socialization is possible in many cases, but proceed with respect for your dog’s emotions. Let him decide when he’s ready for people to move closer. Don’t force people on him and don’t allow people to force themselves on him either — he’ll accept them when and if he’s ready.

Some dogs can get over their fear of people, some can’t, and it’s difficult to discern whether their generalized fear response is due to abuse, genetics or a lack of socialization. Some physical ailments, such as certain endocrine imbalances, can cause a dog to exhibit fear and/or aggression, so get your veterinarian involved.

If a hidden health problem is causing your Papillon’s reactive behavior, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication and/or diet changes that could help.

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Behavior and Training · Dogs