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Thread: Working with a newly adopted dog that is scared of me

  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Working with a newly adopted dog that is scared of me

    Hi Everyone,

    First of all, I realise there are other topics like this one but I would just feel a whole lot better if my question were answered with my own circumstances involved, maybe I am a nervous owner too hehe, so thanks for reading.

    Now, I have adopted a year old whippet about a week ago. He used to live with a single woman and a few other dogs. I would really appreciate if anyone can tell me if I'm doing the right thing in helping him through the transition and bringing him out of his shell.

    At the moment he is quite nervous/fearful of everyone in the house, including me (4 people, 2 females and one other male + myself). He seems very curious and interested in what people are doing, but if he is approached within 5 feet or so he will back up, turn around and watch again from afar. His normal stance is not nervous or fearful (while he is watching us from a distance), he stands quite erect with ears pricked up in an expression of interest, but if he is approached he will turn his head down/back up like discussed above.

    He will occasionally approach and very occasionally allow himself to be petted on the chest (i don't try to go for the head or neck as I have been told this is domineering)

    He does not appear to be comfortable with people moving around near him. If we are sitting in the living room for example, he might come over and sit on his own little couch (we have an old couch for him) but if anybody stands up or walks into the room he will get nervous and run off the couch, then walk away and watch everyone again.

    He seems to have found his "safe spot" in a bean-bag just outside the door to the front verandah, and I have told everyone to leave him alone and let him approach them, especially if he is in his "safe spot".

    So far I have only been able to take him on a few short walks. He will not willingly allow me to put the lead on, as when approached he will back up and get his 5 foot safety buffer between me and him. What I have been able to do is quietly sit on the stairs and let him come to me slowly (i think he really wants to go for a walk, but is still too nervous). Eventually he will come right over and allow me to put the lead on. I then have to carry him down the stairs, as I don't think his old home had stairs so he is a bit scared, but he seems alot more outgoing and less nervous when he is being walked. he will still occasionally freeze up, but I just sit down and let him calm down then when he is ready, we walk on.

    My real questions are, does it look like I am doing the right thing in dealing with this fearful dog?

    I know it has only been a week and I am not being impatient, but I just want to know if I am helping the situation or hurting it, and how long I can expect until he is settled in and comfortable around his new owners (or rather, how long until I should be worried).

    He is a very gentle and sweet dog and I am willing to do whatever it takes to help him through the transition. He has improved a fair bit (on the first few days he would literally pace back and forth all day and night, and his "buffer zone" was about 10ft instead of 5) and I am optimistic that he will be comfortable within a month.

    Thanks for reading everyone btw his name is Larry

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  3. #2
    Senior Member Dakota Spirit's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007

    Re: Working with a newly adopted dog that is scared of me

    Yes, it sounds as if you are on the right track. Often times, when dogs enter a new home they do go through a period of unsureness or fearfulness as they are not familiar with the surroundings or the people that inhabit it. However, the fact that he seems curious of you suggest to me that he is not so much scared as cautious. He is still getting his bearings at this point, figuring out what's what and if you guys are safe.

    You are approaching it the right way, though. Allowing him to come to YOU gives the dog a chance to work through the problem at his own speed. It also allows him to gain confidence without fearing that you or another family member might suddenly reach out to grab him. Another thing you could try (besides the pets and such) is to offer a small highly desirable treat. Sit on the ground as you were and encourage him to approach you for both pets and the treat. This just helps to further solidify the 'good' connotations that should be associated with interaction between dog and owner. Sort of helps your 'reputation' if that makes sense. You can use the same technique when standing in order to get him better use to people up or moving around in the area.

    Having a 'safe zone' is another good idea. Any animal needs a place he or she can go without being bothered. This can also help with anxiety - it it's definitely a good idea to keep that little area for him.

    There's no real set time as every dog tends to have it's own habits and ticks to work through - but I wouldn't worry about it taking an overly long period of time. It sounds as if your new dog is simply still working through his shock of the move and will eventually open up to both you and the family.

    Best of luck, I hope you continue to stick around here
    Last edited by Dakota Spirit; 10-31-2008 at 01:52 AM.

    Dakota - 12 year old female Rat Terrier l Tristan - 2 year old male Border Collie/McNab

  4. #3
    Senior Member zimandtakandgrrandmimi's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2008
    on the Roller Derby Race Track.

    Re: Working with a newly adopted dog that is scared of me

    Dakota's post is spot on IMO...the only thing I would really want to add is this

    click click click...clicker training...the training forum is full of stickys to get you started. Basically its about helping the dog to make positive associations and thus building a sort of code that says to the dog "This is good and fun and safe."

    I have my own nervous nellie. She came from a horribly abusive situation and started out flat out terrified by everything under the sun. When you read about priming or charging the click you can vary that into an exercise.

    works like this

    1. get far away from him when he is in the beanbag.

    toss a treat to where it lands directly in front of him

    then continue but progressivly toss so the treat lands a little farther from him and closer to you every few times until you have lead him right up to you. stay calm and make as little movement as quietly as possible save for the click and soft gentle words of praise..


    2. when he is close keep going but switch it up. one time offer a treat after the click then the next offer pats and praise.
    treat etc

    the first part tells him the meaning of the click which is "this sound means something good(tasty thing) is about to happen. second part teaches him to associate the pets and praise and close attention with being given a treat. you are building bridges between concepts with this training method.

    Good luck...and peektures please?

    you can get a little clicker at any pet store. I also recently read that it has apparently been proven that the click sound exerts a calming influence on the amigdala of a dogs brain..

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