Trainer explains how to use food with a dog who’s scared of humans

Dog hiding under bed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We often think of dogs as being affectionate and sociable when it comes to other humans, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, dogs can be scared of humans, and this might be down to a variety of reasons. 

There are many ways to help a dog who’s scared of humans, and one thing you might be tempted to try is the use of food – getting someone to offer your pup one of the best dog treats. However, there are ways to use food correctly when trying to encourage a dog who’s scared of humans, and ways not to. And Jamie Huggett, or Jamie the Dog Trainer, head dog trainer at Southern Cross K9, has explained what to do in a recent Instagram post. 

“I see this mistake all the time,” explains Huggett in the post’s caption. “The owner wants the dog to befriend a stranger and they get the stranger to hand-feed the dog. This is a really bad idea because it puts the dog in a huge state of conflict!”

In other words, the dog wants the reward of the treat, but they’re nervous to approach the person at the same time. In the video, you can see that he’s leaning over the dog, something which puts pressure on the canine. 

Huggett continues, “Instead, it’s a better idea to throw the food behind the dog. It means the dog is less likely to push beyond their spacial threshold and allows them to relieve the spacial pressure to obtain the treat.”

In the second part of the video, Huggett does this, and you can see how it relieves pressure on the dog. But at the same time, the dog is forming positive associations with humans. 

An extra tip Huggett suggests is to find a food your dog hasn’t had before, but that you think they’d love. “Only use that food for human-related counter-conditioning to further boost positive associations!” he finishes. 

Remember, too, that a scared dog may not even be interested in eating at all. They might be in fight, flight, or freeze mode, with eating just not something that’s on their mind. 

Reading up on dog body language and the signals they’re giving out can really help you understand your pooch better. This will allow you to detect just how comfortable – or not – they might be with the situation.

As a general rule, it’s best not to force your dog to interact with someone, even if they’d be getting treats out of it. Respect their boundaries, and take things slow. You might find this article useful: What is desensitization for dogs? 

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.