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Discussion Starter #1
I am fostering a dog (Lexi, there are photos of her in the photo forum) for a local rescue. This dog is part of a litter of puppies that were found in an abandoned house in the woods , where momma, a stray, presumably gave birth to them. The rescue found them when they were about 8 weeks old and had to trap them to catch them as they would not approach people. All of them have been terrified of people. They are now a year old, and my foster and her sister are the only two left who have not been adopted. They are the worst when it comes to fearfulness.

My foster came to us from another foster home where she was absolutely terrified of the husband. She never warmed up to him after months of being with them. She has accepted my husband and I, it took about a week after she was dropped off with us back in December. However, with any strangers she meets she is immediately fearful. She will bark in what probably sounds like an aggressive way to non-dog people, but it is definitely fear. She will jump back if the strangers try to approach her, and will not take her eyes off them. We live in a townhouse neighborhood. When I have her outside on leash, she will not go very far from our house before she gets scared and tries to drag me back home. Being that the houses are smaller and all connected we have a dense amount of people around. If she sees anyone when we are outside, she immediately starts dragging me towards the house, even if we are in our own little yard. I am pretty sure that if a stranger were to corner her and try to touch her she'd bite them. All of this makes it very difficult for us to work with her and try to get her adopted. She is very cute so people have applied for her and wanted to meet her but, as I'm sure you can imagine, the meet and greets do not go well. She barks at them and won't let them approach her.

She is a higher energy dog, but her fear of people makes it difficult to get her enough exercise. Since we have a small, unfenced yard we need to take her out for exercise. We can't walk her in our neighborhood because she is too afraid. She does do well at dog parks, believe it or not. She ignores the people there and focuses on playing with the other dogs (which she does well, she loves other dogs). We also take her to the local dog bar, which she enjoys like she does the dog park. These are really our only options for her because of her fearfulness. Our neighborhood and regular parks and whatnot have too many people for her to relax. However, with it being winter and it raining a lot lately she has not gotten sufficient exercise and has started being destructive at home. She chewed a hole in our wall and shredded some blinds and pulled down a curtain off the wall because she was flinging herself at the window barking at any and everyone she saw pass by. I had to cover the windows with cardboard so she can't see out to get her to leave them alone. We also have not been able to potty train her, probably due to a combination of her being born feral and her being fearful outside. I am really struggling with her because I work from home and her behavior is being really disruptive while I am trying to focus on working. She hates being kenneled and has broken out before or I'd use that more to manage her behavior.

Due to all of this the rescue board has recommended her for training with a local trainer that has offered his services for free to the rescue's dogs. I have made an appointment with him, but I am very nervous about going because he asked me to bring a pinch collar and he hasn't even met her. I don't really see why he is jumping right to a pinch collar. It worries me, because I can see us trying to go out in public with her wearing it and her getting spooked by something and injuring her neck on the collar trying to run away. My instincts say don't go to this trainer, but the rescue is really pushing for it because I have been struggling with her behavior.

Any advice please?
 

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First, sorry you are going through this. That's hard!

I would not go to that trainer if they recommend a pinch collar for a dog that is already incredibly fearful. No way. Follow your gut.

The other stuff....it takes time. You're doing what you can for her, but she's going to move at her own pace. Does she walk okay if she has a one of your dogs with her, maybe? Perhaps having a buddy as she explores her world would be helpful to her. Does she interact with people if she sees other dogs interacting with people, or just completely ignores them no matter what? Is she motivated by food at all? Have you tried LAT or counter conditioning to try to instill people walking around = yummy treats?
 

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Based on her level of fear, I'd be considering medication. It may not be needed for life, but it could very well help you get over that hump.

I definitely wouldn't use a pinch collar or any other aversives on her. That just seems like a recipe for disaster. Is there another behaviorist you could see? I'd definitely visit a behaviorist over a trainer because this is much deeper than a dog that is just acting out due to being untrained.

It's tricky to do behavior mod when you're immersed in the scary thing. I'd start by doing what you've already done - covering the windows so she can't see out and react. After that, look into some counter-conditioning exercises or Behavioral Adjustment Training. CARE for Reactive dogs (the website) is a good resource too.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I would not go to that trainer if they recommend a pinch collar for a dog that is already incredibly fearful. No way. Follow your gut.
What should I tell the rescue? I tried to tell them I am not comfortable using prong collars, especially on her because of her fearfulness, but they just told me that they felt the same way until they spoke with the trainer and I just need to listen to him because he is the professional. I don't doubt that prong collars can get results, it's the unintended consequences they can have and how easy it would be to misuse it to cause harm that makes me wary. Plus, I see them more as a last resort tool that you try after other, positive methods have proven to be ineffective, NOT something you try first. I could tell they were getting frustrated with me. I am by nature non-confrontational, so I am struggling with this. =/

The other stuff....it takes time. You're doing what you can for her, but she's going to move at her own pace. Does she walk okay if she has a one of your dogs with her, maybe? Perhaps having a buddy as she explores her world would be helpful to her. Does she interact with people if she sees other dogs interacting with people, or just completely ignores them no matter what? Is she motivated by food at all? Have you tried LAT or counter conditioning to try to instill people walking around = yummy treats?
When I walk her with one of my other dogs she still gets scared and tries to pull me back to the house. At the dog park or dog bar she completely ignores people unless they try to pet her, then she just makes sure to stay out of arms reach and keeps a wary eye on them. She did lick one of the workers at the dog bar on the fingers once, but immediately jumped back when she went to pet her. That's the best she's done with a stranger. She is food motivated, and we took her to an adoption event earlier this month that was in a pet store. She would take food that people tossed to her but wouldn't take it from their hands.
 

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I highly recommend reading "The Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell. It has been an excellent resource for me when dealing with Kane's fear issues. The author talks about how the fear is a mental state, which you might not be able to change, but you CAN change how the dog REACTS when faced with fear.

Find a treat she ABSOLUTELY LOVES and use that only when training. When you take her out, treat her BEFORE she reacts to anything scary. Keep doing this for as long as it takes, then slowly get closer and closer to the scary thing (I'm talking over days/weeks/months). If she's reacting, you've gone too fast. Go back and try again from a greater distance.
 

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What should I tell the rescue? I tried to tell them I am not comfortable using prong collars, especially on her because of her fearfulness, but they just told me that they felt the same way until they spoke with the trainer and I just need to listen to him because he is the professional. I don't doubt that prong collars can get results, it's the unintended consequences they can have and how easy it would be to misuse it to cause harm that makes me wary. Plus, I see them more as a last resort tool that you try after other, positive methods have proven to be ineffective, NOT something you try first. I could tell they were getting frustrated with me. I am by nature non-confrontational, so I am struggling with this. =/



When I walk her with one of my other dogs she still gets scared and tries to pull me back to the house. At the dog park or dog bar she completely ignores people unless they try to pet her, then she just makes sure to stay out of arms reach and keeps a wary eye on them. She did lick one of the workers at the dog bar on the fingers once, but immediately jumped back when she went to pet her. That's the best she's done with a stranger. She is food motivated, and we took her to an adoption event earlier this month that was in a pet store. She would take food that people tossed to her but wouldn't take it from their hands.
That's better than nothing, though! She seems to be curious, at least, and its okay if she never really wants anything to do with people beyond her family. I know that makes it hard for her to be adopted, though.

I like Makenna's suggestion about considering a behaviorist and/or medication. If you don't feel that you're getting anywhere with what you're doing, it may be time for some sort of medication to help decrease her anxiety so she can learn. Perhaps you can try suggesting that to your rescue.

Have you tried presenting your rescue with any evidence that using aversive tools such as prong collars are probably not the best option for this dog? Could you imagine how terrified she would be if she was trying to get away from something scary and found that it hurt to do so? Also, if your rescue is adamant that you need to use a trainer that you are not comfortable with, tell them that they can find a different foster for her, then. That should at least back them up a bit. I'm sure they will have difficulty finding another foster for a dog that has eaten a hole in your wall and can't be walked outside.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
That's better than nothing, though! She seems to be curious, at least, and its okay if she never really wants anything to do with people beyond her family. I know that makes it hard for her to be adopted, though.
Yeah, what the rescue is trying to do for Lexi and her sister is market them as fearful and try to find the person who has worked with fearful dogs before and wants to do it again, and offering a trial adoption period of 2 weeks. I absolutely know that if someone was willing to give Lexi at least 2 weeks, she'd warm up to them (assuming they treat her gently and respect her boundaries). With us, she is super sweet, she loves belly rubs and snuggles, she sleeps on our bed and everything. And it only took a week for her to get that comfortable. She's just as comfortable with us now as our other two dogs. She just needs to be given time to adjust and learn that you're a safe person to be around. That's why I am so against using the prong collar with her. Trust is really important.

Have you tried presenting your rescue with any evidence that using aversive tools such as prong collars are probably not the best option for this dog? Could you imagine how terrified she would be if she was trying to get away from something scary and found that it hurt to do so? Also, if your rescue is adamant that you need to use a trainer that you are not comfortable with, tell them that they can find a different foster for her, then. That should at least back them up a bit. I'm sure they will have difficulty finding another foster for a dog that has eaten a hole in your wall and can't be walked outside.
Verbatim: "You can send all sorts of links and info and research but when I see progress I can’t really argue with that. It is all talk until you can see the proof in front of you and how happy the dogs and owners are after. There is tons of research on both sides."

Looks like I'll have to tell them to get a different foster, then, if they're so adamant on this trainer.
 

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Verbatim: "You can send all sorts of links and info and research but when I see progress I can’t really argue with that. It is all talk until you can see the proof in front of you and how happy the dogs and owners are after. There is tons of research on both sides."

Looks like I'll have to tell them to get a different foster, then, if they're so adamant on this trainer.
That sucks. It's sad they want to be that way.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
That sucks. It's sad they want to be that way.
I also messaged the trainer and asked if he was planning on evaluating her without the pinch collar first, because I believe she can be trained without one. He said "Why do you think that?" so I explained why. He just said "Ok". I will still go to this first appointment as a sort of compromise with the rescue, but I am getting the impression he is the type who plans on using a pinch collar on every dog no matter what.
 

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I also messaged the trainer and asked if he was planning on evaluating her without the pinch collar first, because I believe she can be trained without one. He said "Why do you think that?" so I explained why. He just said "Ok". I will still go to this first appointment as a sort of compromise with the rescue, but I am getting the impression he is the type who plans on using a pinch collar on every dog no matter what.
Did the trainer ever say specifically why he thinks a pinch collar would be beneficial to her? I mean, typically they're used for safety situations when the dog might pull you down, but if you're not having that problem, it's entirely unnecessary.
 

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My current rescue, Mikee, was similar to Lexi, and he was 1.5yo when I adopted him ... with one difference. I tested him out on me before I would adopt him, and Mikee would not bite under most circumstances: I handed food and he didn't nip my hand; I touched him when he wasn't watching; and I really did pull his tail [gently, but I didn't let go]. I needed a pet that wouldn't eat grandchildren, so if he was going to bite, I needed to know up front. If you think Lexi might bite, then my work with Mikee may not help...

1. I walked Mikee in the neighborhood, twice a day, everyday.
2. I took Mikee to PetsMart every morning - the first week he was terrified of the automatic door and of the slick floor. I did force the issue, incrementally, b/c I do have to take Mikee to the Vet at least once a year, so he had to learn about the world a bit.
3. I gave treats to the PetsMart staff. He'd eventually take treats, but might still bark at some people, after he ate the treat ;-) But, he made friends.
4. I used bond-based training - Sitting on the floor at home with cheese or cold cuts, taking a bite, and giving Mikee the rest, as a sharing exercise. I was careful never to give him table scraps or food while I was cooking or eating. ... with one exception. He loves broccoli and I'll toss some to him, while cooking.
5. After nearly 2 years, Mikee is 'pet quality.' He's not bullet-proof and still wary of strangers. But, with people he trusts, he is better than pet quality, what I would consider a limited therapy quality ... near bullet-proof. But, it took a great deal of work and patience.
6. One thing that I do with strangers is ask them to come into the house, and ignore Mikee at first, not even looking at him or trying to pet him. He will bark, then come up and smell. If they react, he will bark. But, if they ignore him, if he is interested, after a minute or so he might lean against them as a request for petting. I'm hoping that I can expose him to more dog-friendly kids and people to eliminate the barking...
 

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Verbatim: "You can send all sorts of links and info and research but when I see progress I can’t really argue with that. It is all talk until you can see the proof in front of you and how happy the dogs and owners are after. There is tons of research on both sides."

Looks like I'll have to tell them to get a different foster, then, if they're so adamant on this trainer.
Except that there isn't a single shred of scientific evidence that I'm aware of that suggests punishment-based training is the most successful way to mitigate a dog's fear. Quite the opposite, actually. Can punishment be used to eliminate unwanted behaviour? Sure. But doing it that way doesn't eliminate the unwanted emotions that caused the unwanted behaviour in the first place.
 

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Hey let us know how it goes with the trainer they're having you see. Curious as to if he does anything with the pinch collar. There are some people out there who can use them in ways and for things most people wouldnt even believe possible. And in a non abusive way.
 

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Can punishment be used to eliminate unwanted behaviour? Sure. But doing it that way doesn't eliminate the unwanted emotions that caused the unwanted behaviour in the first place.
Agreed! And, just like when you 'teach' a dog not to growl, when you get rid of the obvious behaviors , sometimes there's no warning for the dangerous behaviors. I'd be concerned that a fearful dog when punished, becomes fear aggressive...
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
Did the trainer ever say specifically why he thinks a pinch collar would be beneficial to her? I mean, typically they're used for safety situations when the dog might pull you down, but if you're not having that problem, it's entirely unnecessary.
He did not, but he may tomorrow. That's what I intend to ask. I want him to explain to me why he thinks she needs one. Also Lexi is only about 35lbs so not big enough to pull me down.

My current rescue, Mikee, was similar to Lexi, and he was 1.5yo when I adopted him ... with one difference. I tested him out on me before I would adopt him, and Mikee would not bite under most circumstances: I handed food and he didn't nip my hand; I touched him when he wasn't watching; and I really did pull his tail [gently, but I didn't let go]. I needed a pet that wouldn't eat grandchildren, so if he was going to bite, I needed to know up front. If you think Lexi might bite, then my work with Mikee may not help...

1. I walked Mikee in the neighborhood, twice a day, everyday.
2. I took Mikee to PetsMart every morning - the first week he was terrified of the automatic door and of the slick floor. I did force the issue, incrementally, b/c I do have to take Mikee to the Vet at least once a year, so he had to learn about the world a bit.
3. I gave treats to the PetsMart staff. He'd eventually take treats, but might still bark at some people, after he ate the treat ;-) But, he made friends.
4. I used bond-based training - Sitting on the floor at home with cheese or cold cuts, taking a bite, and giving Mikee the rest, as a sharing exercise. I was careful never to give him table scraps or food while I was cooking or eating. ... with one exception. He loves broccoli and I'll toss some to him, while cooking.
5. After nearly 2 years, Mikee is 'pet quality.' He's not bullet-proof and still wary of strangers. But, with people he trusts, he is better than pet quality, what I would consider a limited therapy quality ... near bullet-proof. But, it took a great deal of work and patience.
6. One thing that I do with strangers is ask them to come into the house, and ignore Mikee at first, not even looking at him or trying to pet him. He will bark, then come up and smell. If they react, he will bark. But, if they ignore him, if he is interested, after a minute or so he might lean against them as a request for petting. I'm hoping that I can expose him to more dog-friendly kids and people to eliminate the barking...
Lexi reacts exactly as you describe in #6 when we have people come over, and I also tell my guests to ignore her. Not all of my guests listen to me when I tell them to ignore her. My MIL and her boyfriend don't really seem to get that concept. That is what my husband and I did after she was dropped off, though. We pretended she wasn't there and would just drop treats when she came near us, and within a couple hours she was laying on the couch with us chewing a bone.

I would like to force her to walk with me around the neighborhood and all, I am just worried that she will slip her harness and take off if someone or something spooks her. She has done this several times with her previous foster, and she did get loose once with me (though she slipped out the door, not out of her harness) and I had to chase her for an hour before I finally caught her because she decided to go swimming in our neighborhood pond. I really don't want her to get loose out in a place like Petsmart, ours is in a very urban area with tons of cars and people so there's a high likelihood she'd end up killed if she did.
 

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Sounds good! I have 'two problems' with Mikee - inadequate exposure to kids and inadequate exposure to ppl who won't listen to direction. Sound familiar?

When I got Mikee, I think trainers, et al. would label him as reactive, b/c of his over the top barking and reaction to strangers. However, I don't think he was 'reactive' in the conventional use of the term. I think he had a very loud bark and a hair trigger. But, all he did was bark and try to back away. If ppl moved slowly and gave him time, he would get to know them in his own time ... not immediately, as we expect most Labs to do.

Three different large men in the neighborhood had no problem making friends with Mikee, once I explained that he was skittish but wouldn't bite. A 3yo child of one of the men, ran right up to Mikee and set him off completely ... then looked at Mikee with no fear. The father was worried that his son was going to damage Mikee ;-) ... but also realized that he needed to teach his son how to walk up to strange dogs.

After a year, Mikee does not get 'hysterical' when approached too quickly, but he does escalate slowly, starting out, "pardon me, but we haven't yet been properly introduced." then using his outside voice if people don't get the hint. And, I no longer warn ppl that he barks, but say that he may talk to them... :)

What I believe that I need is a modification of the Ian Dunbar puppy parties: I need to find 5 or 10 kids that aren't scared of dogs, and bribe them with pizza after they approach Mikee gently ... and I need to repeat as needed.

I also need to do this with a variety of different people, at first requiring that they understand how to follow instructions, and then also inviting ppl who simply don't have a clue. I need to keep doing this until Mikee understands that no one is trying to eat him.

You might propose these types of scenarios to the trainer, if you can't arrange them yourself.

I did have similar escape issues as you, but Mikee's collar was tight, I had taught him Sit very early [not my first rodeo ;-) ], and I am still strong enough to pick him up if needed [This may not be true for me in five years ...].

I like the idea of walking a dog around the neighborhood, b/c if the dog escapes, then he usually follows the path that he's familiar with.

One other thing that I've noticed is that Mikee likes to play with some dogs, gaining increasing tolerance with friendly dog ... but owners seem to acquire a faster halo effect for getting friendly with Mikee... If that makes sense, and might help ???
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Yeah we don't have any kids ourselves and the only kids we know are around 1 year old so too young. I know Lexi's previous foster had two daughters, 8 and 12, that Lexi really loves so I don't think kids would be an issue if they're old enough to know how to treat dogs properly. There are a lot of kids in our neighborhood that run around and play and she loves watching them but if they were to start getting close she wants to run away.

I think I am going to see about getting a martingale collar so I can start taking her out in public more without worrying about her slipping out. Then I'll do regular walks in the neighborhood during the day when most people are gone and work up to doing some in the evening when there are more people around. I will also try with pet stores during their off hours.
 

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I would like to force her to walk with me around the neighborhood and all, I am just worried that she will slip her harness and take off if someone or something spooks her. She has done this several times with her previous foster, and she did get loose once with me (though she slipped out the door, not out of her harness) and I had to chase her for an hour before I finally caught her because she decided to go swimming in our neighborhood pond. I really don't want her to get loose out in a place like Petsmart, ours is in a very urban area with tons of cars and people so there's a high likelihood she'd end up killed if she did.
Can you walk her on a double leash, one on her body harness and one on a martingale collar as a back-up?
 
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