Anybody who has owned a dog will know they’re inherently trusting creatures. Unless neglected or abused, it’s unusual for a canine to distrust a specific individual. Some dogs exhibit anxious personalities and maybe extra cautious when outside the home or around strangers. It’s quite rare for a pet to decide they simply don’t like somebody.
What we’re trying to say is there’s always a reason for avoidant behaviors. If a dog consistently avoids you, there’s probably an issue that needs solving. It may be something small such as ambiguous or contradictory punishments or something more serious like a momentary loss of temper directed at your furball. Now, you most likely need to regain your dog’s trust.
Sometimes, carelessness is to blame. If you’re a klutz who’s always tripping over the dog, don’t be surprised if your pooch gets wary of you. Yes, it was just a brief stomp on the tail. Yes, it was an accident. Do it enough times, however, and a pet will start to wonder if it’s intentional. And once the trust is gone, time and patience are needed to restore it.
In this article, we discuss what happens when a dog’s trust is lost and how to get it back.
Does My Dog Still Trust Me?
Firstly, this isn’t a question most dog owners ask unless they suspect their behavior is problematic. Whether intentional or otherwise, we usually only ask ourselves this if we’re concerned that we’ve done something harmful. And it’s a good sign because you wouldn’t worry if you didn’t care.
Before we discuss different ways to build trust with your dog, let’s look at some signs of distrust.
- Consistently leaving the room when you arrive
- Refusal to make physical contact (avoids petting)
- Adopts a stiff stance when making contact (tense body, tucked tail)
- Refusal to make eye contact
- Cowering/hiding when you enter the room
- Refusal to accept treats from you
Why Does My Dog Distrust Me?
Only a very small percentage of dog owners behave abusively towards their pets. More commonly, physical harm is unintentional (stepping on a dog’s tail) or the individual is unwittingly doing something to make their canine uncomfortable. For this reason, losing a dog’s trust is an emotional blow particularly if the problem isn’t obvious.
Any form of persistent abuse, neglect or harm will damage a dog’s trust in its owner. They don’t know you’re innocently dropping objects on their paws. They just know you’re causing them pain and they would rather avoid it (and you if necessary). Besides the importance of being careful around pets, it’s a reminder their love is earned.
You could pay handsomely for a pedigree dog and spoil him with the best toys and treats. If you don’t earn his love, it won’t count for much. The good news is your dog’s trust can be regained. First, identify the problem. Then, focus on solving it. Try not to dwell on past mistakes; move forward with a positive attitude.
The Best Ways To Regain Your Dog’s Trust
1. Give Him Plenty Of Space:
The most important lesson to learn is patience. Once trust has been lost, you’ve lost your privileged position somewhat. You cannot force attention or affection on a distrustful dog. It will only damage your relationship further. If your actions have led to the breakdown, it’s imperative you let them control their contact with you.
When one sibling hits another, we accept the injured sibling might not want to go back to playing together right away. The same applies to your dog. Give him space. Give him an opportunity to initiate contact. If he leaves the room, don’t chase him. If he won’t take your treats, don’t force him. Even if it hurts your feelings, allow him to be away from you.
2. Tempt Him With Treats:
Very distrustful dogs won’t even accept treats from individuals they deem a threat. Most can be tempted though. One of the easiest ways to rebuild trust with your dog is to appeal to his appetite and offer him a bribe or three. Start off slowly. Place a treat beside you. Don’t draw too much attention to it. Don’t actively offer it to him.
Instead, allow him to decide if the treat is worth approaching you. It might take a few tries before anything happens. Or he might come right over to you. If nothing happens, place the treat further away. Repeat the process until he takes it. Then, start to move it closer. Don’t touch him at this stage. Simply allow him to take the treat if he wants.
3. Let Him Touch You
The objective of this restrained approach is to prove you’re not a threat. You are still the powerful one in the situation, but you’re making a choice not to dominate. This is a sign of respect and humility. Having broken the trust, you’ve lost the right to demand it. You’re essentially asking your dog for their friendship.
Wait for your pooch to make the first contact. Keep using treats as a bribe. Your dog should start to come closer and spend longer beside you. Work up to placing a treat on your knee. Over time, they should be less wary in their approach and more likely to touch you. Wait until they do something to initiate contact like nuzzling your knee or hand. Then, break the stalemate with a good, long stroke.
4. Avoid Loud Noises:
Once your dog is comfortable in your presence, reintroduce his favorite games. If, during play, he exhibits anxious or fearful behaviors – such as nipping or growling – get up and leave the room right away. Do this without yelling or making forceful movements. It should serve as a ‘time out.’
Once repeated enough times, the dog will realize your sudden departure is a consequence of their actions. They were having fun. Now, they’re not. This is the punishment; you don’t need to yell. We suggest a ban on playing for at least ten minutes. If they initiate play after the time out, go back to playing with them. If negative behaviors are repeated, leave again.
5. Try Hand Feeding:
Feeding time is when a canine feels most vulnerable. If your pup accepts treats from your hand, you’re halfway to regaining his trust. Next, try spending time with him during feeds. Sit next to him on the floor while he eats. Don’t touch him. Just talk to him. Be around him.
Once you think he’s comfortable, try hand feeding him some kibble. Crouch to be on his level. Don’t make too much eye contact because he may see it as a threat. In fact, don’t focus on him too intently. Treat hand feeding as if it’s something you do every day. Check your phone, talk about the weather, don’t make a fuss. Just let it happen. And go about your day.
Why Anger Is The Enemy Of Trust
It’s not unusual or unkind to be angry at your dog. Our pets can really drive us crazy sometimes. Nobody doubts that, however, there are ways to not be angry at your dog. The point is they don’t understand things in the same way we do. If you’re yelling, they probably don’t know why. If you hit your dog, they see the individual they most trust losing control. That’s it.
Regardless of whether they deserve to be yelled at, it’s not effective. It damages trust while doing nothing to reform behavior. It is much more effective to put a naughty pooch in ‘time out.’ Move away and go into another room. Ignore attempts to snuggle or play until he’s had time to calm down. This approach is significantly more impactful than yelling at or hitting a misbehaving dog.
These tricks can be used with all fearful pets including dogs from shelters that need rehabilitating. It can take a long time to fully rehabilitate an abused rescue dog. The steps are largely the same though. Give him space, respect and opportunity to initiate contact rather than having it forced on him.
If you feel overwhelmed and unsure of whether rehabilitation is possible, consult with a pet behavioral expert. Striking the dog in any way should be a last resort, even behind relinquishing ownership.