We have now soon lived here 2 weeks and since a lot still remains to be done on the house we have had a lot of handymen come and go. We also have more friends close by and some that Bella haven’t met before. Bella is not comfortable around new people and never has been. When we got her as a 13 week old puppy she was afraid of hands. The first thing she did when she met my mom was to scream when she reached to pet her. From early on she has given very subtle signs that she isn’t comfortable and if people didn’t see that, she quickly air snapped as a warning for them to back away. She was afraid of our hands also in the beginning and it took a long time for her to be comfortable with us reaching for her. She has never been abused and I know she was well taken care of as a puppy before she came to us. It is simply that she is a shy dog.
Living in Oslo we often couldn’t control people when we were out and about and I underestimated how “rude” many people are. I have had incidents where strangers have just reached for her without even asking and while I had my back turned. Once a guy came up behind her while she was walking and he bent down reaching for her, completely in her blind spot. I stopped him and told him to get lost. I could have handled it better but I had had it with people invading her. She was curious to meet people and approach them, some of it might be fear, but she also had interactions that she really enjoyed. The trouble was to get people to listen to us when we told them to not pet her. It was surprisingly difficult. When you told them that she didn’t like petting they often respected it for about 30seconds and then the hands always came and she backed away. They saw her curious and calm and made up their own minds that she was ready to be pet.
I refined my beginning speach when Bella wanted to meet people and it goes like this “Keep your hands away from her! She wants to sniff you but she does not want anything to do with your hands.”. I found that I had to be extreme in order for people to keep their hands away, but it worked. After this sentence I could later explain while she sniffed them. We can still have problems with dog people. If someone says ” I am really good with dogs” my alarm bells go off. Trouble with dog people is that they want to prove that she will llike them. They give her so much attention that she becomes uncomfortable, they start carefully reaching for her and make her even more uncomfortable and they are really bad at seeing her signals. She turns her head away, licks her lips, you see her stance shift away from them and they keep at it instead of giving her space. And they don’t trust me when I say she is uncomfortable. Then they want to give her treats… I know everyone thinks that’s the solution but what happens is that she wants the treats and gets distracted. She goes closer then she is comfortable with and she is more easily startled. If I would use treats it would be me giving them to her when she is calm and relaxed or we would do “treat, retreat”. The person tosses her a treat when she looks at them or apporaches them and then they toss a treat further away so she is rewarded with space. Then the same again. A brilliant and non claustrophobic way to get a good association out of the treats and the person.
So back to the handymen and others coming to the house. I always begin with my refined sentence though I have a even more refined version “Keep your hands away from her! Let her sniff you but ignore her completely” This has worked wonders and I love how brilliant people have been. They do just that! She sniffs them while they just talk to me, then she follows them around a bit to see what they are up to and then I call her away for a tasty chew. She enjoys her chew and sometimes I block her access to them and she just falls asleep or she just goes to the sofa on her own. We had one incident here with the plummer. He came shortly after we moved in and he has met her before and been told to ignore her. I made the mistake of thinking he remembered and the first thing he did was reach for her and I know he smells of a Rottie that was probably sitting out in his car. She was startled and jumped away, after that she was very nervous and when she heard him she barked. Then she growled at him and I felt so sorry for her and him. This is the first time she has ever growled at someone. So the next unfamiliar that came to the house I told what happened last time and he was brilliant. Ignored her and shortly after he could wander around and she was calm and didn’t care. After that we have had many people come and go and she has been very good with all of them. When we lived in Oslo she got really worked up if people came or if someone knocked on the door. Now she is curious but very calm.
The electrician came yesterday and he worked all over the house for several hours. He did as told, she sniffed and checked his cool stuff, got her chew and while he sounded like he was tearing down the house she slept like a baby in the sofa. When he came into the livingroom to work she went to sniff him, then she layed down on the carpet and I tossed treats to her. She layed there completely flattened and relaxed, washing herself and just enjoying a treat when I tossed one. He could do anything around her and she just stayed flat. Any wierd thing he did, she got a treat. I am very proud of her! But also the people that do as we say, I know it’s hard to control that petting impulse and I do sympathize. To teach her that people are no threat, most of the work is teaching people how to behave. If she was more fearful I wouldn’t let her approach, but for her it gives her confidence to check them out in a safe way (being ignored). I also see that when we have guests over she often ends up in someones lap after a short while, but only if they have given her the space she needs in the beginning. I do want to work on her becoming comfortable with hands reaching for her, but that has to be set up right. And I have to trust that the unfamiliar person listens to me and her.
Bella’s playful little jumps. Chasing invisible game 🙂She had a Basenji 500 in the field and suddenly it was as if she was trying to plow the field with her face. She had no clue what hit her. After dinner she is allowed up in our laps. She is very dissapointed every time that we didn’t leave any food for her.