Training a scaredy pup...

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Postby amalie79 » April 5th, 2010, 11:59 am

Hi everyone-- Another long post; I'm the master at those. I'd love some input-- advice and recommended reading, and an idea if I'm even in the ballpark!

I know I mentioned in my introduction that our pit Robin is a bit leash reactive... I'm going to amend that to generally anxious and fearful of the world at large. :( However, I have hope!

This is not new for me. Our much older dog is a fear biter who shows only very subtle signs of discomfort until he snaps at the hand reaching for him. I now know the signs, and once we learned all his triggers, we were able to both manage and work on minimal counter-conditioning. He can now successfully be around visitors to our home. However, I began working on him after it had already become a serious management issue-- and at 15 with pretty severe arthritis and possibly spondylosis, some of his reaction is possibly due to being in pain. So we focus, at this stage in his life, on management and lots of understanding.

With Robin, I don't want it to be a management only situation; I recognize that she may always need special handling and consideration, but she is young enough (~1 year) that it's definitely worth working with her fears and not only managing her. She was a stray when we found her, had never had a collar on, and crate trained pretty much immediately-- combine that with her fear of EVERYTHING-- she barks or backs away from posters on the wall at the drive-thru coffee shop, at trash cans, at something I couldn't even find on the ground last night at the park :| in addition to people, especially people that stare at her, which is primarily kids-- it all makes me think she spent the first 10-12 months of her life in a crate/cage or otherwise confined. :(

Now if people come to our house, she's sweet as pie and outgoing, though she gets overstimulated pretty easily if she wants to play and mouths/nips. She's met children and adults with canes and been great in any place she feels comfortable. The only exception is when a friend of ours walked into our house without knocking while we were in our back bedroom; she was barking and backing up, but he gave her a treat and she warmed up immediately.

So it seems pretty clearly reactions to fear and not aggression. We will be consulting a behaviorist who works in the area; she clicker trains (which Robin has been very responsive to) and is versed in TTouch, is a CGC certifier, and does therapy dog work, and claims to particularly specialize in shy/fearful/aggressive dogs. And she's recommended by the holistic vets in the area. I've read most of Cautious Canine, but it wasn't much new info; I'm ordering Nicole Wilde's book today, and in the meantime, we go to the park where she can see people and I click and treat when she looks at the people without barking; if they stare though, it can be hard. Would Control Unleashed be something worth having in her situation?

Any other reading that would do me good? We'll get with the behaviorist soon, but Robin is currently recovering from spay surgery, and has a huge seroma that may require her to be opened up again. I don't want to start something that has to be put off in the middle, so some meantime reading and recommended games would be fantastic! :mrgreen:
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Postby amalie79 » April 6th, 2010, 11:15 am

I'm also thinking of picking up Click to Calm... The blurb says it talks about fear toward people, as well as dogs, but I've seen it mentioned mostly in the context of dog aggression. I'm assuming that many of the same activities/principles can be applied to fear of other things, though... or am I off base???

The vet had to check out Robin's seroma yesterday-- he even came out to the waiting room so she didn't have to go in the back, and all he was doing was touching it (no aspirations, no shots, no getting on the big scary table), and before he could even really pet her, she just cowered in the chair and got stock still. Stock still is a very scary pose as far as I'm concerned, one that lots of people (including some vets!) ignore, and anything I can do to loosen her up and help her relax will be a huge help. I know there's not much that will relax her overnight, but if it gets us on the road to calm and confident, then I'm all for it...
"In these bodies, we will live; in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

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Postby Jenn » April 6th, 2010, 12:08 pm

I'm not much help with training knowledge, or even pretending to have it from searching on google ~ but I did search through some prior threads on here for you.
At least some good reading material. :)

This website was suggested by Erin (Red Queen) in another thread.
http://fearfuldog.com/index.html

viewtopic.php?f=19&t=31531&hilit=fearful
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Postby amalie79 » April 6th, 2010, 12:54 pm

Thanks! I've been kind of working my way through this and other forums. Hopefully we'll be able to begin work with a behaviorist soon!
"In these bodies, we will live; in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

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Postby amazincc » April 6th, 2010, 3:27 pm

I was owned by an extremely fear-aggressive dog who had learned to give no warnings before lunging at/attacking people. He pretty much perceived everything and everyone around him as a threat/danger. :neutral:
Once I joined here we started seriously working on his behavior... it was done with tiny baby steps, and going backwards a LOT, but over time I definitely saw some improvement.
Some things I learned -
- Know your dogs limits, and respect them.
- Always give your dog an "out" (safe place to go to) in stressful or unfamiliar/scary situations.
- Once your dog is already anxious/showing fear - remove them from the environment, if you can. An already anxious dog can't learn how to cope because fear will override "common sense" and the ability to focus on learning a new behavior.
- Break down any training (regarding fear "behavior") into the tiniest steps, and reward/praise even the smallest accomplishments. It might look insignificant to us, but for the dog it's a HUGE deal.
- Have an endless supply of patience on hand, and hang in there.


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Postby amalie79 » April 6th, 2010, 3:47 pm

Thanks for the advice and understanding...

Christine, that sounds very much like my older dog, although I did finally discover that he has a split second of stillness where his body sort of imperceptibly shrinks. We also learned that his triggers are relatively defined; he's reliably unreliable with strangers when on lead (though he has a perfect heel :neutral: ) and new people in the house cannot reach for him under any circumstances-- not even to offer a hand to sniff, and no petting on the head by anyone but me :| . He has to be muzzled at the vet, much as I hate doing it. He needs his space and respect.

A dog like my Simon really dictates your life, especially when I am truly the only one he allows to handle him. But I've had him since he was 6 weeks old, and I love him so, so much. He was subject to a lot of training missteps, not to mention a backyard bred beginning. I didn't know about positive training methods then, and I try to make it up to him every day he has left.

I don't want to be in that situation again with Robin. I know she may always require some management, but I'd like for us all to be relaxed and happy most of the time, even if it takes us a long time and many, many, many baby steps to get there.
"In these bodies, we will live; in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

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Postby amazincc » April 6th, 2010, 4:25 pm

amalie79 wrote:
Christine, that sounds very much like my older dog, although I did finally discover that he has a split second of stillness where his body sort of imperceptibly shrinks. We also learned that his triggers are relatively defined; he's reliably unreliable with strangers when on lead (though he has a perfect heel :neutral: ) and new people in the house cannot reach for him under any circumstances-- not even to offer a hand to sniff, and no petting on the head by anyone but me :| . He has to be muzzled at the vet, much as I hate doing it. He needs his space and respect.

A dog like my Simon really dictates your life, especially when I am truly the only one he allows to handle him. But I've had him since he was 6 weeks old, and I love him so, so much. He was subject to a lot of training missteps, not to mention a backyard bred beginning. I didn't know about positive training methods then, and I try to make it up to him every day he has left.


Sounds almost identical to my heart dog, Mick. :)
He most definitely "dictated" my life, but I wouldn't have traded him in for all the money in the world.
He was absolutely terrified at the vet and had to be sedated and muzzled for every visit while also having to be physically restraint by me.
Then he got diagnosed w/lymphoma, and needed chemo therapy. We found a very brave oncologist who agreed to treat him IF I could get him under control long enough for his injections... he couldn't be sedated for those, in case he had a bad reaction to the chemicals.
Anyway... to make a long story short - Mick and I managed to complete five loooong months of chemo therapy, giving us another ten precious months together.
He was still muzzled and physically restraint by me for all his visits to the oncologist, but he handled it all without sedation... and if you had known him, you'd know what an absolutely HUGE deal that was for him. :heartbeat: :)

So... there is ALWAYS hope, and it sounds like Robin is in good and knowledgable hands. :wink:
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Postby Hundilein » April 6th, 2010, 11:53 pm

Sounds like you have a really good start. I, too, have experience with a scaredy dog. My parents' dog started off as my foster dog and was very afraid of strangers and particularly of children. She's doing much better now after a lot of work, so there is definitely hope. I posted a while ago about some of the things I did with her here: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=25478.

I liked Nicole Wilde's book. It has a lot of good info about alternative type things to try in conjunction with desensitization work and counter-conditioning.
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Postby amalie79 » April 7th, 2010, 12:34 am

Christine, it's amazing how they win our hearts!<3

I posted a while ago about some of the things I did with her here: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=25478.


This makes me feel soooo much better, since it's basically what I'm doing with her now; I just wish she wasn't requiring so many vet visits that stress her out.

I liked Nicole Wilde's book. It has a lot of good info about alternative type things to try in conjunction with desensitization work and counter-conditioning.


This is one of the things that interested me about the book; I've been having good success with flower essences. I was skeptical, but I read a study done on Rescue Remedy where they took 2 groups of dogs and subjected each group to stressors. The dogs that received Rescue Remedy coped substantially, significantly better. :| I will say it worked for us with one of the cats who was particularly stressed out when Robin joined the family; also, Robin was refusing to get in and out of the car (I had to pick her up and put her in it) until the first time I gave her the Rescue Remedy. The vomiting in the car also got better. Maybe it's coincidence, but I'm willing to give it all a shot! We've added mimulus and beech to the RR and are going to try HomeoPet Anxiety this week leading up to the vet visit on Thursday for her shrinking (yay! :woowoo: ) seroma... Fingers crossed!
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Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

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Postby TheRedQueen » April 7th, 2010, 9:25 am

She was a stray when we found her, had never had a collar on, and crate trained pretty much immediately-- combine that with her fear of EVERYTHING-- she barks or backs away from posters on the wall at the drive-thru coffee shop, at trash cans, at something I couldn't even find on the ground last night at the park in addition to people, especially people that stare at her, which is primarily kids-- it all makes me think she spent the first 10-12 months of her life in a crate/cage or otherwise confined.


don't bog yourself down thinking that she's had a horrible upbringing. It certainly *might* be true...but then again, some dogs, just like people are genetically pre-disposed to being more worried/scared/frightened of things. My girl is HA...and she bounced around from home to home...from day one. She's an Aussie...and was bought originally at a pet store...weird, genetically wired-wrong herding breed, bought by people who don't know better, passed around to other families that didn't know better. No real neglect or bad people...just a lack of understanding of socialization and training a crazy little reactive dog. My oldest was 4 months old when I adopted him...also a pet store pup...he was also a weird little reactive herding dog...he had a bad four months prior to me getting him, but he was still a handful and very reactive. They're just pre-programmed to be more reactive and weird. My other two Aussie boys were also in rescue...Xander is the most even-tempered, loving boy ever...and Sawyer (a stray originally) is a Service Dog.

So get past the "what might have happened"...and work on what you have now. ;)

I have had a LOT of success with Inara (a thread with what I did with her is around somewhere...I'll try and find it)...using the techinques/games from Control Unleashed. She's never going to be "normal"...and she'll always be HA, but I can help her control her overreaction to things that scare her. I'm scared of many things...I know it can't just go away...but we can have self-control and not freak out when we see/hear/touch things that scare us. ;) I feel the same for my dogs...and I help them in any way that I can. The Look At That game from CU is in valuable for my little girl, Inara...and I'd recommend that big time! :D
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Postby amalie79 » April 7th, 2010, 10:13 am

don't bog yourself down thinking that she's had a horrible upbringing. It certainly *might* be true...but then again, some dogs, just like people are genetically pre-disposed to being more worried/scared/frightened of things.


Thanks-- that's something I have to remind myself of. It's not so much that I think she had a horrible start to life, as it is that I don't think she was exposed to much so it maybe made the prewiring a little more prominent, if that makes any sense. Even with us, we've noticed a lot of opening up as she's settled into the house and become accustomed to her new people and new space; she was pretty skittish when she first came through the door and had to be diapered up all the time (did I mention she went IMMEDIATELY into heat? :neutral: ). She's very very friendly with us and others after she gets to know them, just seemingly baffled and worried about anything new...

I think my older dog is, as you described, pre-disposed to fear or anxiety-- in addition to being a fear biter, he is terrified of sudden noises and thunderstorms and tries to dig through our pine floors (once, in a panic, he dug into a bag of mortar mix; :doh: I don't even know how he got to it, but I was a little afraid the proverbial bricks would literally be coming out the other end!). I feel like he is wired to be a little anxious over loud noises, new people, etc., and we didn't help things by not socializing him properly and by using traditional aversives. I'd like to think I know better now, 15 years later!

I'm scared of many things...I know it can't just go away...but we can have self-control and not freak out when we see/hear/touch things that scare us.


I was actually thinking a lot about this yesterday. I have my own overwhelming issues with anxiety and worry, and with different parents, I would be a mess today! And it took me well into adulthood to learn how to cope with those anxieties and, well, desensitize myself. I just need to have the same patience and understanding with my pup!

And thanks for the CU suggestion; I looked into it a while back for our lab; she's not super reactive or aggressive, but she gets overwhelmingly excited (to the point of tongue flicking and whining anxiety) when we leave the house. I was afraid we'd never get her trained outside of our 4 walls. But we took her to classes and that structure forced us to go back to baby steps. Teeny tiny eensy weensy baby steps. A heel in the house; a heel on the porch; a heel in the driveway; heel on the front walkway, etc. Lots of exposure... We're still working on it! But I've revisited the book now that we have Robin and I think I'll take the plunge and get it.

And thanks, everyone, for the support and suggestions!
"In these bodies, we will live; in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

--Amalie
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Postby fenella » April 8th, 2010, 12:45 pm

Ah, I unfortunately know your pain. Murphy is scared of EVERYTHING. The first thing people ask me when they see him is "Was he a rescue?" or "Is he a shelter dog?" with a sympathetic look on their faces. If I don't feel like/have time to explain, I usually just say YES and move on (which is, technically true). But, I got Murphy from his foster home where he lived with his littermates when he was 7 weeks old. Yes, he had a bad trainer experience when he was younger, but, like Erin said, some dogs are just wired wrong...unfortunately, Murphy is one of those dogs. :crazy2:
He has been extremely well socialized. He has done TONS of training. It has worked, to a point. I agree that the Look at That game from CU has helped. I also recommend Click to Calm. Murphy is able to relax more now, but will still be set off by anything he deems scary (like someone moving a carpet square mat in class).
I leaf blowing across the yard, a shadow on the wall, a man...you name it, he is scared of it. I feel terrible for him that his world is so scary. We have tried anxiety wraps (which actually freak him out...go figure), I've had some luck with Rescue Remedy. We're now trying some anti-anxiety meds. I really didn't want it to get to this point, but we're here.
I know Murphy's limits. I am amazed that we've gotten to the point where he can run flyball. That said, he will never be a great flyball dog (even though he physically could be) because of his issues. Erin took video of him last night at the fire station, which she will be posting at some point.
Don't get discouraged, and keep up the work you are doing---it is totally worth it. I wouldn't trade my Murphy-man for the world! Get the books. Good luck and keep us posted. It sounds like she is in the best, most understanding hands.
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Postby amalie79 » April 8th, 2010, 1:35 pm

Don't get discouraged, and keep up the work you are doing---it is totally worth it. I wouldn't trade my Murphy-man for the world! Get the books. Good luck and keep us posted. It sounds like she is in the best, most understanding hands.


Thanks for the vote of confidence! :)

Even if your Murphy is still scared of so much, it sounds like he made progress, and that is encouraging to me! We had good luck with a homemade anxiety wrap for our older thunder-phobic dog, Simon. However, it may have been, if nothing else, that this weird thing he had tied to his body was more distracting than the thunder was scary. :wink: We finally started giving him very low dose valium during storms and put socks on his feet. At least it meant we could get some sleep. Now we just put on the socks and skip the valium unless it's a rager. He's been with me since 6 weeks old, so I do understand the "wired wrong"!

With Robin, we've started the HomeoPet Anxiety (Chamomile and Valerian, mainly) plus the RR with Beech and Mimulus. Haven't had a chance to see how well it works. We were going to the vet today, but her seroma is almost gone :helloClap: so I'm hoping I can keep her home today.

I'm making my list of books and getting ready to suck it up and place an order!
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Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

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