Think of socialization as a game with two rules:
- Never pet your dog when she’s scared.
- Always praise your puppy for being brave.
When you’re dealing with a scared dog, you’ll want to comfort her, but that’s a major mistake. Why? Because she interprets your pats and soothing words as praise. Anything a puppy is praised for she’ll repeat again and again, so cringing behind your legs can become her learned reaction to anything new.
On the other hand, never jerk her toward an object she fears. Treatment like that can turn a little trepidation into total terror. Your Chihuahua may be afraid of things in many different places. The following list gives you some tips for curbing your Chi’s fear in different areas:
Objects in your home: What do you do if your dog is scared to investigate a new object in your house? Leave her where she is and go yourself. Handle the object like it’s a winning lottery ticket and invite her to join you. Sitting down beside the feared object works especially well.
Your puppy may start creeping toward you, but hold your praise until she touches the thing with her nose. If the object isn’t breakable or too large, roll it away from your puppy (never toward her). That may awaken her chasing instinct and entice her to play with the object.
A friendly person: When your dog is scared of a friendly person, follow these steps to make an intro:
- Give the person a dog treat and ask him or her to toss it near your dog and then ignore her and chat with you.
- If your pup approaches, tell the person to kneel down but not to reach for her.
- When the dog gets close, the person holds his or her hand low, reaching under the puppy’s chin to tickle her chest. Reaching over your Chi’s head may make her back away in fright.
- If she doesn’t approach the person, don’t force her, but give her much more socialization. Get many friends in on the act, and set up situations that entice your Chi to approach people on her own.
Loud noises: If loud noises send your Chi behind the sofa, start announcing her favorite things with sound. For example, if she’s an eager eater, mix her meal in a metal pan with a metal spoon. Just keep the noise within the realm of everyday life. The purpose is to help your pup handle her sound sensitivity, not startle or terrify her.
Sudden Fear Syndrome
Between the age of 8 and 11 weeks, suddenly becoming afraid of anything new isn’t unusual for happy-go-lucky puppies. In fact, that behavior has a name-Sudden Fear Syndrome. If your Chi suddenly starts spooking, remember the rules of socialization: Don’t try to cuddle her out of it and praise her profusely when (and if) she does something brave.
Don’t be surprised if your pup shies away from something as silly as a fire hydrant. During her fear phase, she may see the bogeyman everywhere. Although this isn’t the time to take her to a Fourth of July celebration, it’s best to keep taking her on regular outings. If you don’t force her toward something she fears or soothe her silliness, the fear phase passes.