Canine Behavior/my dog


I have a rescue dog and he was previously abused. He is around 9 months old. Whenever I go towards him and reach out to him, he immediately backs out. He is not afraid of me but I think it is because of PTSD, he naturally moves back. If I extend out my hand,he would come towards it and starts playing with it. However, once I start moving towards him, he retreats. How do I solve this issue? thanks

Walking directly toward a dog (any dog, unless one that has been very well socialized and recognizes Human body language as non-threatening), especially with eye contact, is a direct threat.  Reaching out - this dog has experienced hand contact in an extremely negative way, so that is also non-productive in building trust.  Many people think their "rescue" dogs were "abused" when, in fact, the dog(s) might actually have never been properly socialized or habituated to living with people; however, as we both sadly acknowledge, real abuse does exist.  Unless you know for a fact the personal history of this dog, trying to determine why he is doing what he is doing is a waste of time.  Instead, let's address it.

Do not approach in a straight line, directly, making eye contact.  Let's try this for two weeks (report back using followup feature so I can see original question/answer):

Approach dog on a curve, stop at least once: in other words, deliberately approach on a wide curve, giving him full advantage of perceiving the approach and its method.  Do not make eye contact.  Observe the dog VERY, VERY CLOSELY.  During the first few attempts, you may get too close (even on a curve) and he will begin to retreat: STOP.  No eye contact.  Sing a little song, do a little dance, walk away, but make note of how many feet away from him this occurred and the next time stop before that distance is obtained.  As you approach him, turn your head to the side and lick your lips (these are "calming signals" the dog will recognize as they are part of the dog's "language").  When you've reached the point BEFORE the dog reacts, stop, squat down, sit on the floor, have a handful of low calorie treats, talk to him in "baby talk", no direct eye contact.  When he gets to you, give him rewards and tell him "good boy, what a good boy" in a calm voice (not too much excitement, that might scare him).

What SHOULD happen: the distance between you (as you approach) and the dog (before he demonstrates a reaction) should slowly (at least, perhaps more rapidly) decrease until you can actually get TO him, sit on the floor, give him treat and reward, and then get up and walk away.

This is counter conditioning.  At the same time, it is slow desensitization.  Don't rush it.  Do this, report back.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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