How to win a dog’s trust

The following is from my ongoing coursework for the ISCP’s Diploma in Canine Psychology.

What could you do to enable a dog to trust you?

When approaching a fearful dog for the first time, if it’s in a room or kennel and you’re on the outside, keep your body language low and slow. Keep your voice low, soft and soothing too. Avoid direct eye contact with the dog, as most dogs find eye contact with total strangers confrontational.

Once the dog accepts your presence and isn’t lunging at the fence trying to bite you, or barking its head off telling you to go away and leave it alone, then you may proceed further by throwing in some treats. Obviously, if the dog is lunging at the fence or barking at you, it’s not ready to engage in social niceties with you, much less trust you, so it’s best to remove yourself and try again at a later time. But, if the dog has not indicated that your presence is unbearable, and if it’s taking the treats you’ve thrown down for it, then you could entice it to come closer by throwing the treats closer and closer, until the dog is right opposite you, separated only by the fence. Let it sniff your fingers, so it gets used to your scent, and continue giving it treats – it may shy or startle when first it sees you moving your hands to your treat pouch and back to its face, but when it sees the treat coming it will soon learn that only good things come from you.

Once you’re satisfied that the dog isn’t going to lose its confidence and run away from you, enter the kennel slowly and cautiously. Keep your body low, as most dogs find tall people intimidating. Crouch down near the dog, still avoiding direct eye contact, and toss more treats, repeating the previous process above, until the dog is eating out of your hand. If the dog is starting to trust you, it will wag its tail, and it’s body will be relaxed. It might even take the initiative to nudge your hand for more treats. If it accepts being patted, it might even seek more by leaning into you. That’s a sure sign that you’ve gained its trust.


4 thoughts on “How to win a dog’s trust

  1. Thank you! I wish more people paid attention to a dog’s body language. We don’t invade people’s personal space (it’s rude, it’s not socially acceptable) yet so many people think it’s fine to impose themselves on a dog. Logically, they should be more cautious as a dog’s teeth are sharper than a human’s…

  2. As an owner of small size dogs I’m also amazed when people think that a tiny dog’s growl is ‘cute’. Nope, it’s not: listen to what the dog wants to say or be ready to bear the consequences of your reckless behaviour 😦

    1. People seem to think that small dogs are cute and harmless, when actually they are more prone to nip, bark and growl due to fear, as everything is way larger and more intimidating to them.

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