Like people, dogs have insecurities and deeply rooted fears, caused by emotional or physical trauma, lack of exposure, or environmental changes. They are sensitive to their surroundings and can be greatly affected by uncomfortable situations.
Only recently, have we discovered that dogs possess similar feelings and emotions to humans, which is a big step in the right direction for abuse victims, or dogs who have experienced forms of trauma.
But, once we've identified a dog's fears, how do we move forward in helping them heal?
Loving a dog who doesn't trust humans is a challenge and you will be overwhelmed with frustration. The most important thing to remember is that your dog is feeling everything you feel. Every time you feel upset, nervous, fearful, or angry, your dog will reflect or react to those emotions.
Dogs aren't able to verbally communicate their thoughts and feelings, so you must understand their body language. If you notice that something you do makes them uncomfortable, stop and find another solution.
This is the most important step, and one that is quickly forgotten. Dogs are exciting, and it's hard to resist the urge to grab them and snuggle. Acting too quickly on those urges may set you back weeks or months of progress.
Every dog will move at their own pace, and this must be respected. Let them come to you for affection.
Each dog is motivated in a unique way. Some love snacks, others play, and some are content with a simple head scratch.
Once you discover what motivates your dog, you have overcome a massive hurdle. Some dogs may take longer to motivate than others. Meaning you will have to practice steps one and two until then.
Be patient. You'll find out what makes them tick eventually.
Dogs may be incredibly intelligent, but they are also easily confused. Progress can be derailed within just a few days. Consistent practice and work with your dog will help them stay on track.
Try setting a progress schedule, with specific targets to reach daily. These targets may be as small as physical contact, or even just taking a treat from your hand.
Don't lose sight of the big picture. You are making a huge difference in your dog's life, and your own.
When handling a dog that doesn't trust humans, you must be mindful of the amount of contact you are having. If you notice that the dog becomes uncomfortable after more than 10 minutes of interaction, take a break and try again later.
You don't want to overwhelm them with constant human contact.
Compassion and understanding are two vastly different steps. You must first understand the dog before you can truly care for him. Once you've established empathy, you can begin to demonstrate your love for the dog, in whichever way makes him most comfortable.
This love will only grow stronger over time, and will eventually be returned. One day, your dog will appreciate all the effort you've put into making him a better companion.
Your dog may never be the kind to jump head first into a crowd of people. In fact, your dog might be perfectly content never meeting another person in his life. He has you, after all.
You must lower your expectations to an acceptable level. Somewhere between "My dog loves me, and that's all that matters" and "My dog might like someone else some day, but I'm OK if he doesn't."
If you're lucky enough to love a dog who doesn't trust humans, you'll understand that his affection toward you is the most precious thing in the entire world.
Your connection is special.