Yep, Leo is somewhat cautious when he encounters you for the first time. I recognized this right after we met. Spending his first six months in the mountains of Blacksburg, VA was great for exercise, but not so great for human socialization. Meeting me, one on one, on his “turf” made our introduction easy. Getting to know my family members wasn’t too difficult because Harley was already there. It’s those other people we call “strangers” that he requires a little time to get comfortable around. I remember speaking to his vet about it, because his initial reaction is so very different from Harley’s it always makes an impression in my mind. People have asked me questions like: “why is he so scary?” or “why is he hiding behind you?” What I’ve found out is this… LEO IS JUST SHY! What does this mean in terms of dogs? Well according to the ASPCA:
“Dogs can exhibit a wide variety of shy behaviors, depending on their personalities and the extent of their fear.”
I dug a bit deeper to find out how this could have happened, his breeders came highly recommended and they were wonderful people, and all the dogs were clean, happy, and healthy. So I read more…
“As with many other types of behavior, there is an ongoing debate about nature vs. nurture concerning shyness in dogs. There is a growing body of evidence that shyness has a genetic basis and can be inherited (Willis, Genetics of the Dog, Howell, 1989; Willis, Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders, Howell, 1992).”
I then found other reasons for shyness include:
“Puppies learn many of their behaviors from their mother; a shy mother can teach her puppies shy behaviors. Shyness can spring from lack of socialization in the important early months of puppyhood, or adverse experiences during the fear periods (8-10 weeks and 4 months).”
And then this really helped me understand what Leo experiences at times:
FEAR OF PEOPLE!
“Like we do, dogs sometimes react fearfully to certain people. A dog is particularly likely to fear a specific person if that person looks different in some way than the people the dog already knows. For example, dogs are often frightened when they see a person wearing a hat or walking with a limp. But some dogs display fearful behavior when in the presence of many people. Many of these dogs only react fearfully to people of a specific gender, size, race or age. Others fear all unfamiliar people, regardless of type or appearance.”
Thanks to Kim, (my pet behaviorist extraordinaire) who is a trainer from the OTPR, and her unlimited patience with folks like me, Leo is making great strides with the consistency of a very simple exercise. A huge hug and thank you to Maria as well. Maria is relatively new to the front desk at day camp, and she LOVES the boys. She has wanted to spend some quality time with Leo since she first laid eyes on him, but he wasn’t having it! Following Kim’s instructions, and Maria’a unlimited patience and love of animals – she and Leo are becoming BFF’s! I would encourage all dog owners and those with a love of dogs to read more from this link:
If your dog is not exhibiting any aggressive signs (cause that’s a whole separate chapter), and you’d like to know what I did, here are the steps I’ve learned when introducing Leo to strangers:
I wait a few minutes (more so for Harley to finish saying hello) and then I show Leo a treat as I move forward towards the person. As he comes closer I use a simple command – “go visit”. After doing that a few times, I “up the ante” and give the treat to the person, give the command and watch Leo take the treat from them himself. Now I am working on just giving the command and having him “go visit” and get loved up on and then he comes to me for his treat. Eventually there will no longer be an exchange of treats, just praise (not there yet).
Here is Maria with Leo, who no longer has to rely on treats for some TLC!
Thanks for reading!