Dog owners are often faced with behavioral problems that require correction. A hand-shy dog may show fear or even nipping when people attempt to reach for him.
Though this can be a stubborn problem to correct, training that includes positive reinforcement for the right behavior will help to give the dog more confidence and teach him to connect hand encounters with good things.
Causes of hand shyness in dogs
Though many people think that hand shyness is the result of abusive behavior that the animal has experienced, this is not always the case.
Dogs, like people, vary greatly in their responses. Some dogs may naturally be very sensitive to physical sensations such as the sudden approach of a human hand and subsequent touching.
If you see hand shyness in your puppy or newly-adopted animal, you must do a bit of extra training to help him begin to associate human hands with good experiences that follow.
Which dogs become hand shy?
Generally, small dogs have a greater tendency to be hand shy, because their size makes them more fearful of dangers.
Small dogs are often picked up quickly, which gives them no time to prepare for the change in position. They respond with fear.
Some larger dogs may also have hand shyness, due to hereditary or individual sensitivities. Like humans, some dogs have highly developed responses to stimuli and may become startled or fearful on sudden approaches.
Others may not have been well socialized as tiny puppies, and see sudden touching as a possible threat.
Can hand shyness be corrected?
Though dog owners can try a number of techniques for getting their puppy or adult dog to become more relaxed with hand-approach and touching experiences, some animals may never get over their fear completely.
However, veterinarians and animal behaviorists have developed a number of training methods using positive reinforcement to attempt to replace the fear with anticipation of a positive result, such as a special treat.
Never use punishments for a hand-shy dog, which can only reinforce the problem.
Finding the right reward
To overcome what is a deeply-ingrained fear of the approach of human hands and touches, you must find an edible treat that your dog particularly savors.
Dogs’ tastes can vary widely and can include unlikely choices such as pickles, orange pieces, beef jerky or bananas. Experiment to discover what your dog’s irresistible treat is.
The special treat should be something that he does not normally get so that the animal will be more willing to behave as requested to get the treat.
Techniques to overcome hand shyness
Cut the treat up into very small pieces and put into a bag or bowl. Then, sit on the floor with your dog and extend the treat to the dog with your left hand.
Wait till the animal comes in to get the treat and then touch it with your right hand. It’s best not to look directly into the dog’s eyes, which can be considered a threat in the canine world.
After the dog becomes comfortable coming to you and taking the treat from your hand, begin to work on touching him before you give the treat.
Repeat this many times, until the dog has no problem coming to you to take the treat and be petted. Give much praise when he allows touching without being fearful.
With consistent repetition, this technique will help to lessen hand shyness in most dogs. If your dog still reacts shyly to approaches and touching with the hand, you may wish to consult an animal behaviorist for additional exercises to overcome the problem.