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I'll try to make the story short, but we'll see how that goes:

My sister-in-laws were at a national park about a month ago, and overheard two rangers talking about trying to catch a stray dog to take to the pound. A little while later, they saw this stray, and being the animal lovers that they are, they coaxed him into the car and took him home. He's beautiful. He looks like a purebred Australian Shepard, the black and white variety. His coloring is practically show quality. Anyways, my in-laws have two female Aussies already, so this dog, Buddy, fits right in. But, my mother-in-law really didn't want another dog, so they've been trying to find him a good home. They thought that they had, but after sending him to his 'new home' buddy ran away twice, and ended up on their front door step. So they've been keeping him. Fast-forward a bit. My husband and I are planning on moving to Arizona in about a month, and were planning on getting a dog when we got there. We've been looking at either an Aussie, Border Collie, or Brittany. When we met Buddy, we both fell in love with him, and he seems to love us. So we talked to my in-laws, and they've agreed to let us take Buddy to Arizona with us. But there are a few concerns.

Buddy was obviously abused in his past home. He has a flinch reaction to raised hands. He's fine with women, but any strange men or children he's very fearful of. He'll bark incessantly and nip their heals trying to heard them out of the house. He's never actually bit anyone, and he doesn't seem to have any aggression issues, but he's very skittish. Also, there's one big thing that he does that really confuses me. Sometimes when you walk up to him to pet him, he will just drop and roll over to expose his belly. But the whole time his ears are perked up, his stub of a tail is wagging, and he's got a puppy grin on his face. Is this just extreme submission? Or does he really want his belly rubbed? I've never met a dog that acted this fearful without any signs of aggression. I want to work with him on building his confidence around new people, and even around us, but I'm not sure where to begin with this. The one thing that I did do was to tell my in-laws to never yell at Buddy for growling, and explained that this was his way of saying that he wasn't comfortable. I told them that it was better if he growled, because if he didn't, he might just bite someone with no warning. I really want this dog to live a full and happy life, and realize that he doesn't have to be afraid of everything. And he has his moments that you can see the dog he could be shining through, like when he plays with a toy. But as soon as you reach for the toy, he automatically drops it and lays down, like you caught him doing something bad... It just breaks my heart. Please help me help Buddy. Thanks in advance. Sorry this was so long...
 

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I think it would be great for Buddy if you take him. You sound like you really understand dogs and what they need. It may be a challenge at first but he will come to trust you and stop being so submissive. This is common in strays because they have usually been chased away with sticks, rocks, hoses, etc. Also, children have probably teased him and adults may have hit him. He just needs to learn that he is safe with you and that you love him for who he is.

The rolling over is definitely submission. Dogs do this in the wild. He would probably also love to have his belly rubbed! Pet him, play with him, give him lots of praise and love. He will become a friendly, loving dog in return.
 

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Hi there,

It sounds like Buddy is very lucky to have you!

As the owner of a fearful dog, I just wanted to give you a few recommendations on good reads:

Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde
The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell

Also check out www.fearfuldogs.com .

In addition, there's a fearful dog thread on the General Dog Board. Lots of people on there with fearful dogs who are great about supporting each other and offering ideas and suggestions.

It will take time and patience, but it sounds like you have the makings of a really great dog. Good luck!
 

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I think Buddy would have a great home with you! You seem so assertive, and very perceptive and open-minded about Buddy's "condition" (so-to-speak).

I too have a fearful dog that I won't say is aggressive. I'll just tell you it's been a long road with him... We've had many ups and downs, and have had our fair share of set-backs, but I wasn't as knowledgeable then that I am now, had I been we may not have had many, if any, set backs.

As for the "submissive" approach, my dog is getting more and more comfortable showing me his belly. he'll roll over on his side, not his back, wag his tail and have more times than not, fallen asleep with me scratching his belly. : ) Is it possible Buddy is more comfortable than you're assuming he'd be?

Good luck, I'm looking forward to learning more about you and Buddy!
 

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Buddy was obviously abused in his past home. He has a flinch reaction to raised hands. He's fine with women, but any strange men or children he's very fearful of. He'll bark incessantly and nip their heals trying to heard them out of the house. He's never actually bit anyone, and he doesn't seem to have any aggression issues, but he's very skittish.
He may not have necessarily been abused, but just undersocialized. Men are scary to unsocialized dogs because they're big and talk loud. Children are scary because they're fast moving and often have squeaky voices or scream/yell. If he was wandering in a forest for any significant amount of time, it could be that he just simply has not been exposed to these things yet in his life.

Also, there's one big thing that he does that really confuses me. Sometimes when you walk up to him to pet him, he will just drop and roll over to expose his belly. But the whole time his ears are perked up, his stub of a tail is wagging, and he's got a puppy grin on his face. Is this just extreme submission? Or does he really want his belly rubbed?
I always feel like you'd KNOW 100% if a dog was rolling over out of fear. It doesn't sound fearful, maybe a little bit "submissive" whatever that may mean to you, but I don't think it's a cause for concern. He sounds happy/goofy, from what you describe.

I've never met a dog that acted this fearful without any signs of aggression.
Believe me, that's a good thing. A very very good thing.

I want to work with him on building his confidence around new people, and even around us, but I'm not sure where to begin with this.
Start with your family first. Work on these games with him, in particular the Name Game and Hand Targeting. They will do a world of good. Once he is more comfortable with you guys, then introduce other people, using these games as your backbone, and making sure the stranger issues LOTS of treats.

The one thing that I did do was to tell my in-laws to never yell at Buddy for growling, and explained that this was his way of saying that he wasn't comfortable. I told them that it was better if he growled, because if he didn't, he might just bite someone with no warning.
You are 100% right about this. If he ever growls, do not reprimand him, just redirect him onto something else or into another room.

I really want this dog to live a full and happy life, and realize that he doesn't have to be afraid of everything. And he has his moments that you can see the dog he could be shining through, like when he plays with a toy. But as soon as you reach for the toy, he automatically drops it and lays down, like you caught him doing something bad... It just breaks my heart. Please help me help Buddy. Thanks in advance. Sorry this was so long...
I know how you feel right now. Really, I do. Things will continue to get better over time. You'll have your ups and downs and some fears may never completely go away, but they can be managed. You are doing a great job so far -- more commited than probably 99% of the fearful dog owners out there. Good luck and come back to us with questions/updates. Definitely check out FearfulDogs.com and even the thread we have going here where we post updates.
 

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Thank you for all of your support! I will definitely check out those books and links to get more information. I'll be sure to keep you all updated. I'm sure Buddy's progress is going to be slow, but I have a world of patience (for animals at least, lol), and I'm really looking forward to helping him become a happier and more confident dog. Thanks again for the support!
 
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