Incorrectly handling a fearful puppy is one of the most common mistakes people make with puppies. Puppies and children should not be handled in the same way when they are scared. They are wired differently. When a child is scared, we hold them and console them. We talk to them in a comforting voice. If we respond this way to a scared puppy, you won’t console him. Puppies don’t understand the idea of consolation. What you will end up doing instead is to confirm that indeed this is a scary situation. A scared dog will look to you to see if something is scary or not. If you ignore something or act like something is fun, you are communicating that all is well.
So for instance, let’s say that you accidentally close the door on your puppy. Don’t ooo and goo over your dog and make a big deal out of it. By doing this, you could be making your puppy afraid of doors for life. Instead, just ignore it. Act like nothing happened or better yet, make a game out of it. Act like all is well. Life is good. Go through the door again. Of course, if the puppy is really hurt, you need to attend to his/her needs but do it in a matter of fact way.
Another example of a fearful situation to many puppies is large outdoor garbage cans. If you go on a walk and your puppy thinks a garbage can is a soldier, don’t coddle him begging him to walk by it. You walk confidently by and if your puppy slams on the brakes instead of walking by the can, just keep walking. Do not react at all. Try walking by the trash can again but this time do it further away and with treats and lots of praise when they continue walking. Try walking by on the other side of the street. Gradually walk by at closer and closer distances offering lots of treats. If your puppy is so scared that he won’t take a treat, you are pushing him too far. You’re too close to the can. Don’t walk so close to the can for now but gradually decrease your distance over the course of several days or even several weeks if that’s what it takes.
Take your puppy out at young ages where he will encounter various things and where you can continue showing him that all is well and life is fun. Going new places means getting lots of treats and praise from you. Teach him these things before he reaches 6 months of age when he will enter a fear stage. It’s much easier to expose a puppy to new things before they hit that stage.