My dog is afraid of dogs larger than her or if they look a certain way. Could her fear be attributed to a possible negative experience in her past? Is there anything we can do to help this?
We adopted our 20lb cocker spaniel mix this past February. She is now about 1.5 years old.
We noticed early on that she is selective about the dogs she'll interact with. She loves dogs that are about her size or smaller, but she is afraid of dogs that are bigger than her. Strangely, she also hates all dogs that look a certain way -- she barks and lunges at wrinkly flat-faced dog breeds (all bulldog-type breeds), regardless of size. If provoked by these types of dogs, she does try to nip, although it appears as though she's just trying to fend them off rather than start a fight. No damage has ever been done as I calmly remove her from the situation should it arise.
She's a very mild-mannered dog that isn't aggressive in any other situation. I would describe her as more afraid of these types of dogs, if anything. She'll tuck her tail under if one tries to approach her to sniff, and she'll bark with her heckles up until they leave her alone. She reacts this way even if the dog is friendly and showing all the signs of friendliness.
I don't know her complete history with other dogs because she was about 6 months old when we adopted her. Like I mentioned before, she interacts well with dogs her size or smaller without any problems. Could her fear be attributed to a possible negative experience in her past? Is there anything I can do to help desensitize her to larger dogs and wrinkly dogs? Is this sort of selective behavior normal?
Thank you for your help,
I think if she was my dog, I’d do my best to protect her from situations that made her fearful and show her through your leadership that you are not going to let anything scary happen to her. DO NOT allow other dogs to approach her. If you’ve ever been truly afraid of something imagine how you would feel if your “caretaker/protector” just stood there and allowed what you were scared of to come over and get in your space and sniff or touch you. She’s telling you and the other dogs in the only way she knows how that she does not want contact.
Her past doesn’t matter, because dogs live in the present. If you know she’s worried about certain dogs or certain types then make sure you are in control of her interactions with other dogs. If you take her to dog parks, I’d stop that immediately. Ed has written an article about them.
I’d recommend building her confidence through showing her leadership all the time, I’d suggest our video Pack Structure for the Family Pet.
I would also recommend this 3 part video series on fear periods in dogs, it explains how to condition the dog to things that make it nervous.
We also have a great question & answer section.
There is a lot of info on dogs who are fearful of other dogs.
I hope this helps.