Many dogs, more often than not puppies that have not been handled by breeders, or animals that have been abused, or rescued from shelters, shy away from hands. This especially applies to a hand that goes towards the face or goes over the head. Unfortunately, they cannot tell you what negative experience they had with human hands. Many perceive this action as a threat. Usually, some form of abuse, lack of socialization, or neglect is the cause of this heartbreaking behavior. Never adopt a dog with this problem. It can cause them to become more anxious, and/or possibly aggressive! Rescued dogs can be dangerous dogs. Please be patient. You can help them overcome this fear and make a positive association with your hand.
What you can do to help your dog overcome hand shyness:
1. When approaching your dog, approach slowly and at a slight angle. By approaching at an angle, you will not appear as large and threatening than if you approached straight on. You can also squat or kneel, so as not to project a threat.
2. Slowly reach out and stroke your dog under the chin while keeping your hand in sight. Avoid “jerky” movements with your arms. Speak softly and calmly. Praise him/her for letting you touch them. If they will accept it, reward them with a treat.
3. Enroll your dog in obedience classes as soon as possible. Find a local trainer who practices positive reinforcement, punishment-free methods. Work with verbal corrections, a calm tone of voice and non-threatening body language, rather than physical corrections.
4. Work on recall, so you don’t have to grab him/her. Call your dog by name and say “COME!” Praise and reward him/her when they come to you. Rub him/her under the chin. For some dogs, it helps if you crouch or kneel when you call them.
5. Practice positive reinforcement. Reward your dog with lots of praise and calmly stroke him/her under the chin. Reinforce your happiness by speaking in a soft, calm voice to show him/her that you are pleased with his/her behavior.
6. Give your dog a massage as often as you can. Work the whole body, but concentrate on the head and neck area. Speak softly to them during the massage. The more you do it, the more trusting and relaxed they will become. Through this positive experience, they will learn to associate your hand as something loving and good.
7. Inform your family and friends about what you are trying to do. Instruct them on the proper way to approach and pet your dog. Don’t hesitate to correct them immediately if they do it wrong.
Bottom Line: Your dog needs to make the association human hands non-threatening. The more loving hands that are associated with a positive experience your dog feels, the sooner they will welcome them. As your dog feels more relaxed with you, your family and friends, start taking him/her to places where there are new people to meet. Explain to them the problem you are working on and ask them to approach your dog. They can start by simply giving the dog a treat or toy. As your dog becomes more comfortable accepting treats or toys from strangers; have them pat your dog under the chin, then reward the dog with a treat or toy. This way, your dog will associate human hands with a loving, gentle touch and other good things. Be patient, calm and consistent. In time, you will see a more confident dog that accepts human touch.