by Jan R
From Jan... My boxer was typically friendly and exuberant around both people and other dogs until she was about a year old. She is now 21 months old and whenever a stranger enters our house, she scampers about, ducking behind furniture.
Also, whenever she is near a large dog she immediately drops to the ground. She has still never shown aggression toward any human or animal, but I'm afraid she might if she is so uncomfortable around them.
Is there any way to help 're-socialize her at this age? She loves to play with other dogs and people once she knows them. Our home environment is pretty quiet, only the dog and myself most of the day. She is exercised 1-3 times per day.
Hi Jan! It's hard to say what may have caused your dog to become timid around a year old. Don't worry, though - you can help her overcome this fear.
It will take a lot of effort on your part to get her socialized, however. As you said, she spends most of her days seeing no one other that yourself.
This is called a "stagnant social circle". And it's true, being under-socialized is one of the biggest factors behind aggression.
I usually recommend that to properly socialize a dog/puppy, they need to meet at least 15 new people and/or dogs each week. So this means that if you don't typically have new people over often, you will have to plan outings for this very purpose!
If she doesn't already, train her to heel
at your side on walks. This reinforces you as the leader, and she will feel safer and more comfortable knowing that you are in control of the situation.
Some ideas of where to take her for socialization:
1) the bank - in Canada, anyways, you are allowed to bring leashed and under-control dogs into the bank. I like to take them in with me to the teller, have the dog sit nicely beside me while we wait in line, etc.
2) many hardware stores allow dogs in on leash
3) the beach - you can usually meet other dogs here as well as new people.
4) fairs - there are tons of people and animals here (just be careful you don't overdo it here)
5) if you live in a quiet neighborhood, drive to a busy part of the city to walk her.
6) coffee shops - if there's an outdoor patio, dogs are often allowed here on leash.
7) try putting an add online to start a doggie play date group - just be sure that the dogs she meets are calm and under control.
As for dog parks, it can go either way... you may luck out and have a great experience at the dog park, or there might be an aggressive or rambunctious dog there who sets your dog back in her training, or worse. I usually don't recommend dog parks for this reason.
Remember, don't soothe her when she's afraid of something - you'll only reinforce in her mind that she is responding appropriately by being afraid. Instead, try to redirect her attention and energy to something positive.
For example, tell her to sit or down. Perhaps teach her a "place" command for when someone comes into the house at home.
Whatever you do, don't melt into a pile of mush the second she shows fear! She will read your signals and respond to them, so be calm.
Meeting New People
Now, when you do come across someone new on your walks, have her sit nicely at your side the entire time. Ask them if they don't mind to say hi, but have them first allow her to sniff the back of their hand and then calmly scratch under her chin.
Don't let new people immediately pet her on the head, because this could be seen as a threat (a hand coming at her head from above) and she may react defensively.
You can also carry a few treats in your pocket, and always have the new person give her a treat when they say hello. This will reinforce that strangers are not necessarily bad!
I hope this is helpful, and let me know if you need any other advice!