Dog Charmer: Charlotte’s conundrum

She’s sweet with her owner, but afraid of meeting new dogs.

Charlotte has become friends with Nyoki, but she is trying to overcome fear of other dogs. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Dog Charmer, 

My dog Charlotte is afraid of most other dogs. We rescued her when she was about 1 year old and now she’s over 10 years old. She is mixed breeds — an eighth German shepherd, an eighth Weimaraner, and three quarters “mega mutt,” according to her Wisdom Panel swab years ago. She used to love meeting other dogs and playing “chase me” at the dog park. She stopped liking dogs after getting pinned by a pit bull several years ago.
Now she only has one dog friend named Nyoki and occasionally likes to meet small dogs on walks, but typically is suspicious of most dogs and will snarl if they attempt to greet her. She hates puppies and excited dogs that come up to her quickly. So how can I help her relax and learn to be more friendly? I’ve had to pull her out of dog fights/spats so many times that I’m afraid that she or the other dog might draw blood if they don’t have constant supervision.


Dear Shauna,

In my experience, the best teacher is experience. But, experience can also serve as the worst teacher. The New Yorker who’s an avid lover of the theater and sees every musical on Broadway multiple times, until a partial collapse of a theater balcony disfigures her daughter, never enters a theater again. There’s a traumatizing experience, a teaching experience if you will, that ends up depriving a person of something that she once loved.

Metaphorically, Charlotte has to keep entering the theater even though the balcony has collapsed multiple times. That’s because encountering other dogs is unavoidable in the real world. So, when meeting other dogs on the street you don’t want to do what most dog owners do with a dog similar to Charlotte. That is, adding tension to the situation by tightening the leash and addressing your dog with anxiety in your voice. Rather, call out to the approaching leash holder asking if their dog is friendly, and judge by the response of the person and the other dog’s body language if this is a viable greet-and-sniff situation. At the same time, the moment Charlotte sees the approaching dog you should be happily telling Charlotte that she may be meeting a possible new best friend, as you’re giving her some special treats. The endeavor is to give Charlotte a positive association with the dog she sees and will possibly meet.

In regards to dog parks, I’ve told plenty of people over the years that their dog is not a candidate to be let loose to interact with multiple dogs off leash. As for helping Charlotte relax more, you might want to talk to your vet about an appropriate CBD dosage. I might also suggest that you take Charlotte to a dog show where there are hundreds of dogs, almost all of them well socialized. “Flooding” her with the exposure to so many dogs who have no interest in her can sometimes go a long way into helping her relax in the presence of other dogs. As for helping her learn to be more friendly, your happy, positive attitude may help, but ultimately it will depend on the new dog’s response to Charlotte’s attitude.

Be thankful for Nyoki, but realize that she can be just fine without other dog friends, and her real best friend is you Shauna.
Good luck.

Dog Charmer Tom