Dogs don't fear praising people.
Obvious, right? But why is it true? Because dogs aren't hurt or overwhelmed when people are praising. Praise is a consistent, clear signal of "no harm coming your way" from the praising person.
Understand this and you can help dogs who are frightened or defensive get passed their past. By linking happy praise with situations where their history has taught them to be doubtful, you can change their tension into willingness to trust/try.
Here's a snippet of a recent question on our forums that demonstrates this idea:
Buddy is generally an affable, friendly guy. My folks suspect though that he has been mistreated by an adult male recently (not hard to believe given the circumstances of his placement with my family). Buddy allows my Mom to easily reach for his collar and lead him where he needs to go. My Dad, not so much. He turned and snapped at his hand with what he felt was very little warning - when my Dad tried to reach for his collar. Since he allows my Mom to do this easily - I don't think it is pain as much as fear. He also cowers and hides if my Dad raises his voice for any reason (not at the dog, just calling for someone in the house will drop Buddy to his belly).
Chunks of the BEST FOOD EVER (Roast pork, for example).
Dad calmly and with much happy praise reaches toward collar. Start well back, where the dog doesn't have a concern in the world. Reach closer when Buddy is totally relaxed and at ease. This is not a race. If that takes three sessions of three weeks, who cares? Take the time it takes.
Dad inserts treat into waiting dog's mouth as hand approaches.
Dad retracts hand.
Dad counts to ten (the pause is CRITICAL) then repeats.
Goal: For Buddy to start thinking, Gee, I HOPE Dad reaches for my collar soon!
by Sarah Wilson