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We took our dog home from the Humane Society four years ago. She's now 5 or 6. She has always been scared of everything, but over the past three years, I have been the source of much of her fear. I have MS and limp, fall, drop plates, etc. When any of these things happen, the dog takes off, she wants nothing to do with me and it makes me feel pretty lousy. I work from home and the dog hides from me all day.

The dog loves my wife. For this reason, I hired a behaviorist (for life) two years ago. The dog trainer's method of reinforcing positive behavior hasn't accomplished anything. The focus is on encouraging the dog to be brave, but the dog is not brave, and will never be brave. Coddling her only perpetuates and accepts her fear.

The dog does listens to me more than the dog listens to my wife. I think this is because I'm much harder on the dog. My wife will tell the dog to go to bed eight times before the dog pays any attention. If I say go to bed and the dog ignores my command, I'll raise my voice. Yes, this may cause the dog some incremental fear, but the dog would find something else to be scared off anyway. For this reason, I think a tough love approach is appropriate. Any advice? Please consider my physical issues. The behaviorist said he would, and after collecting the lifetime fee, gave generic assistance.

Thank you.
 

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The dog loves my wife.
First things first.

Do YOU love the dog ?

I get the strong impression that you don't. Maybe I'm wrong.

If you have few feelings other than disdain for the dog, it will be difficult to help her overcome her fear of you .. even with all of the training in the world, positive or otherwise.


Please consider the dog's emotional needs. We all have needs. :)
 

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I am sorry you are having this problem. And, I am glad you are here, looking for advice. I hope you will get a lot of responses with helpful advice. : )

That said, I think you are using a "tough love" approach for the wrong reason. You have a dog that seems skittish as a result of your physical issues. Instead of working with those skittish, fearful issues, it's my opinion that you are further alienating your dog by being harsh.

I completely agree that you shouldn't have to ask a dog to perform a command 8 times, as your wife does. But, there's no need to raise your voice in order to get your dog to listen, either, especially since your dog is fearful of you.

I can only imagine that it is hurtful for your dog to be fearful of those physical issues that you have no control over. But, please keep in mind that your dog isn't doing this to be hurtful. So, instead of being harsh, you might try to condition your dog to get used to your limitations, and train your dog with a more positive, lower key approach.

You don't want a dog that responds because you are harsh, especially since your dog is a bit afraid of some of the symptoms of your condition.
 

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Can you tell us a bit more about how you normally interact with your dog and how you have tried to diminish her fear of you? Dropping / tossing treats / rewarding her when she approaches you on her own? What kind of training have you done in general? Have you tried hand feeding her / taking over as much of her care as it is possible to you?
 

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Have you tried hand feeding her / taking over as much of her care as it is possible to you?
Hmmmm....not something I would recommend if the approach to the dog doesn't change along with the move to taking over the feeding. Both fearing and depending on the source of the fear creates an environment where learning is difficult, IMO. Tossing treats to desensitize, yes. Having all food come from the source of fear, is not something I would do until training has progressed a lot more. Just my personal preference - takes a variable out of the mix and when dealing with fear, I've found it easiest to keep things simple.

Like others, I sense an ambivalence towards the dog. The dog will pick up on that. Teaching a dog not to fear you is not "coddling." It's just teaching. Your goal is to get the dog to be around you without acting in a fearful manner. The only way to do that is to get it to make positive associations with you. That takes desensitization work.

An important concept to learn when dealing with a fearful dog is the one of threshold. If you push a dog past its comfort zone, it goes over threshold and can't learn to make positive associations - the fear overwhelms. So the key is to keep the dog below threshold while you slowly introduce it to the things it fears in a positive way. Force the dog to move too quickly and it won't work. That's likely why you're having trouble with the methods the trainer has shown you. Combine poor timing, a failure to read the dog's fear signals properly, and a less than positive environment to begin with and you're really setting the dog up to fail.

Your illness doesn't help, but I'm wondering if it's more your tone and approach to the dog that's more the problem. Lots of dogs shy away from loud noises or unexpected moves by humans. It's just a natural response to something startling. You can bomb proof the dog with training, but I would be more focused on building a positive relationship with the dog so that the fear is limited to those unexpected situations vs. having her generally afraid of you. If I pick up a large piece of cardboard, my dog heads for the hills. I could train her to accept it, but then I would have to buy more expensive baby gates to keep her out of spaces I don't want her in. :)

I really do understand your frustration. I think we all have an image of dogs as a source of comfort and companionship in our heads and when the reality doesn't meet that image, it's tough. We were very surprised to end up with a puppy that was fearful by nature. Had no idea how to deal with it and to be honest, felt a little cheated that we were putting all this work into raising her and not getting much back for it. But we kept at it and she means the world to us now. She has come a long way and is really a joy to be around.

Some wonderful resources you might want to check out (web sites are free; books easily available on Amazon):

Book: Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde
Book: Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell
http://fearfuldogs.wordpress.com/
http://fearfuldogs.com/

I wish you well and hope that you can get to a good place with your dog. I can tell you that with a little patience and effort it's entirely doable.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you for your responses.

I do not love the dog. If I lived alone, I would find a home for the dog where it would be less likely the dog would fear her owner. My effort is for my wife.


Every way I've tried to condition her to my physical issues, I'll trip or fumble her food dish, and spook her.

Things I have tried:
I work from home and have a big desk--big enough for a dog underneath. I put enough blankets underneath so she'd be comfortable.

Hand feeding

being the one who controls the food.

The trainer recommended tethering her to me. Great idea for a guy who trips all by himself

dropping treats as I walk by her


I'm glad you guys picked up on my wife's relationship and the coddling. My wife coddles, I do not. My wife is not an effective bad cop.
 

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One other question and I may get creamed for it:

When is enough enough?
If I give the dog back to the Humane Society, I'll be happier and the dog will be happier when it is adopted into a more appropriate home.
 

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Sorry if this is too personal, but this is just what I'm getting from this.

You said you have MS, so it's frustrating. You mention you dropping things due to MS, and again, that's frustrating. Now, because of that, the dog in the house is afraid of you, thus making the MS even more frustrating. It seems the thing that is most frustrating isn't the dog at all. Frustration from a frustrating condition is making you resent or angry at the dog, which in turn makes the dog even more fearful. You're not angry or upset with the dog...if you see what I'm trying to get at.

But what I would do is just not tell the dog to do anything. No commands. You're expecting a lot from the dog and the dog is getting overwhelmed from those expectations. No commands. Just ignore the dog. Really, you don't have to interact with them at all. The less you do, the better it may be. You don't seem to be a dog person, so why force it? The dog sees right through it. So, act like a person who doesn't care much for dogs...just ignore them. Do you daily activities and don't worry about the dog. The dog will realize you don't expect it do perform behaviors and will relax. I know, this sounds stupid, but it really does work.

One thing that you can do IF you do want some involvement is just dropping treats on the floor upon your arrival. Walk in, drop treats, ignore dog. Don't hand the dog food. Dropping treats will soon make your presence a positive thing. The site of you not only brings good treats, but also the dog doesn't have to do anything and doesn't have to interact with you. It seems interaction and confrontation is a big fear the dog has. So not pushing it would be a good thing to do.

What you need is relationship of some sort before you start expecting the dog to follow any commands you give them. And there are plenty of guys who don't do anything with dogs and the dogs will listen to them. Their relationship is very lax. Not as involved as many people are with dogs. And those dogs responded very well to it.
 

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coddling reinforces fear. It doesn't matter what words you use, dogs don't speak English; stroke a dog while it's afraid, what it hears is, "good dog, that's exactly what I want you to be like, keep doing that."

Your wife wants love from the dog, what she gets is disrepect.

You don't love the dog and that's ok, it's respect you want, and that's a much better goal.

You want respect from a dog, you have to respect the dog. Otherwise you get fear, and a fearful dog is unpredictable.

Movement contributes a lot to how a dog recognizes people. A dog might not recognize his owner riding a bike, until he catches the scent, just because he's moving differently. A person on a skateboard is a different animal from a person walking. Or a person in a wheelchair. Or an elderly person with a walker. Your gait might be sufficiently different from most. This might be at the origin of the dog's fear, but he's been with you long enough now to have got over that. Especially if he complies when you raise your voice.

If you react with frustration, anger, etc., when you drop stuff, that will affect the dog's perception of you.

When you give a command, expect it to be followed. If it isn't, don't repeat it (assuming the dog knows what you mean); just say "no". Or whatever word you use when the dog does something it shouldn't (noncompliance is now "something the dog shouldn't do"). You might have to say it again a couple times. Increase the volume but don't shout, don't get angry, don't get anything. Know the dog will comply, expect it to comply, and wait it out. Don't pretend to expect it, you can't fool the dog, the dog knows. If you can pull this off, the change will be immediate.
 

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I disagree with Dusty a bit. I don't believe you should repeat yourself to the dog a couple times and raise your voice; this just gives the dog the impression that she can ignore you until you raise your voice. If this dog is afraid of you, the best thing to do would be to interact in a calm way as much as possible.

Unfortunately, you got some bad advice from the trainer, tethering the dog to you comes to mind. Obviously, that will only make the dog continue to fear you, if you trip or drop things while the dog is tethered to you. No big deal. Lots of us have to use trial and error in working with our dogs. We have to find what works and what doesn't. So, give up on tethering.

There are ways to work with this dog. Things don't always get better after a few weeks or even a few months. Sometimes.it takes a lot of patience and concistency. The bottom line is, why did you get this dog? Did you want a dog? Do you resent this dog for being fearful of you? Dogs can sense our emotions almost better than we can. This dog MAY be better off in another home if there's no chance that you are truly willing to work with this dog in a genuine way.
 

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One other question and I may get creamed for it:

When is enough enough?
If I give the dog back to the Humane Society, I'll be happier and the dog will be happier when it is adopted into a more appropriate home.
Well, maybe. But if you get rid of your wife's dog without your wife's blessing, it could turn out that you would be decidedly not happier.

I vote for just ignoring the dog. That's what my dad does with my mom's dog's--he ignores them completely, in every possible way. He has zero interaction with them, they might as well be potted plants to him. Now personally, I couldn't live with that kind of man, but, well, I guess it works for them.
 

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I disagree with Dusty a bit. I don't believe you should repeat yourself to the dog a couple times and raise your voice; this just gives the dog the impression that she can ignore you until you raise your voice. If this dog is afraid of you, the best thing to do would be to interact in a calm way as much as possible.
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Clarification: don't repeat the command. "No" is a verbal correction, the dog doesn't like hearing it (if he doesn't mind hearing it, then it's not a correction), this has worked for me...but seems like nothing works in every circumstance with every dog.

As far as raising your voice...yeah, if I raise my voice too much, feels like I've lost already. I normally speak softly to the dogs and sometimes feel a little more volume is warranted.
 

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coddling reinforces fear. It doesn't matter what words you use, dogs don't speak English; stroke a dog while it's afraid, what it hears is, "good dog, that's exactly what I want you to be like, keep doing that."


When you give a command, expect it to be followed. If it isn't, don't repeat it (assuming the dog knows what you mean); just say "no". Or whatever word you use when the dog does something it shouldn't (noncompliance is now "something the dog shouldn't do"). You might have to say it again a couple times. Increase the volume but don't shout, don't get angry, don't get anything. Know the dog will comply, expect it to comply, and wait it out. Don't pretend to expect it, you can't fool the dog, the dog knows. If you can pull this off, the change will be immediate.

I disagree. Coddling does not reinforce fear. Just like you can't reinforce being sad. The only way to make a dog stay fearful is to scare them. Fear is the reaction of a scary event, not from the act of kindness.

Having said that, some dogs don't enjoy coddling or they may even find it scary depending on what the person is doing. If your act of kindness is deemed scary by the dog, then it's not an act of kindness. Since this dog doesn't seek out a person for its comfort, I'd say don't bother coddling. The dog finds comfort in another way, so go with that.

As for the command stuff...couldn't disagree more. You can't sternly give commands to a dog you have NO relationship with. And even if they did have a solid relationship, repeating commands, raising your voice at noncompliance and saying no inbetween (not sure of the importance of this) is not the way to go.

The dog is not doing what you are saying for a variety of possible reasons. The main thing is YOU. What are YOU doing wrong. Did you properly train this cue? If someone else trained it, are you saying it right or giving the right signal/body language? And if so, you may need to train the dog again to that to help the dog better understand what you want. Does the dog reliably know this cue in different settings? Many dogs will sit in the house, but won't sit outside when first taught. This is a problem all dogs have to an extent. They don't generalize well. What is going on in the environment in which you're asking the dog to do something? Many dogs won't listen if the environment is too stimulating or if you are conveying a message in body language they aren't comfortable with...like anger.

I could go on and on of all the possible reasons the dog isn't able to understand you. And that's the thing. It's not the dog. It's YOU. You haven't found a way to effectively communicate what you want to your dog. Don't yell at the dog, say no or repeat the command. It'd be like repeating words in English to someone who doesn't speak English. No matter how much you say it or how you say it, they still won't understand. And if the dog sometimes does it and sometimes doesn't, then that shows that more training is needed. Kind of like trying to remember stuff for a test. One day, you've got all the stuff memorized. The next day, you can only remember tid bits. In order to better get it all down in the long run, you train (study) more.

Not more in a day. Training should be kept short. But continue training rather than assuming the dog is deliberately disobeying.

Having said that, I still think the OP should not give the dog any commands and especially should not force it upon the dog.

You want the dog to want to do what you say, not just do it because you'll force them to. Make going in the crate, sitting, laying down, coming, etc. worthwhile and fun for the dog....not something that's taught and forced upon the dog to obey. That's a horrible relationship to have. You want compliance, and getting a dog to want to sit/whatever will give you that. You don't need sternly say commands to intimidate them into doing it. If you do, then you are severely limited in your training abilities and in your relationship with your dog.
 

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Coddling does not reinforce fear and it is a very very big and FALSE myth that fear can be reinforced. Fear is not a behavior, it is an emotional reaction. Attempting to comfort the dog will not make a dog more fearful than it already is.

I might suggest having your wife play some games with the dog where the DOG is the one producing noise/motion and being rewarded for it. Being trained to knock over some paper cups stacked in a pyramid, for example, in exchange for a treat, or teaching the dog to bang a cabinet door shut. Teaching the dog to step on bubble wrap. Etc. Etc. Etc. If the dog creates the sound and is reinforced for creating the sound, there is a higher likelihood that sound will no longer be as scary (because then sound = treats = fun). Now, transferring this sort of thing over to you might be difficult, since there seems to be a history of repetition of scary situations.. but it is worth a shot. It's something we do with agility dogs to instill confidence with the scarier obstacles that they encounter. Your wife can also try playing silly games with the dog by jumping around, or limping, or stumbling, etc., and throwing the dog its very favorite treat as she is doing this. If you are willing to carry a treat or two in your pocket while you are home, you might want to try something like this as well and otherwise ignore the dog (no eye contact, no directing your attention towards the dog, no commands or anything). The dog is clearly uncomfortable with you so to expect it to follow commands is unrealistic.

It sounds like the both of you (you and your wife) have huge problems in communicating with your dog. I think you need to take a step back and expect nothing from the dog and only do things that will better the dogs' feelings about you. If you become a human treat dispenser and nothing more, there is hope that your dog's associations towards you as a bad or scary person will change. As for your wife, she should not be repeating commands 8 times. It sounds like she needs to go back to training the dog with treats or other reinforcers, at least intermittently, so that the dog knows what is being asked of him AND sees that there is something in it for him. A dog will be much more likely to perform the things one asks of it if it is actually fun and rewarding for the dog.
 

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This is a really frustrating situation and I can't imagine how difficult it is..., the best way I've found to desensitize my dog from fear of loud noises is to make happy exclamations every time a dish drops or door slams. I think that maybe every time a dish drops, he senses your frustration/anger/upset feelings about the fact that a dish dropped and maybe broke, and then he senses that negative energy and then runs away (something anyone would do). It will make you feel silly at first, but the dog learns that the loud noise is cause for celebration and treats!

The key thing here is that you can't just 'act' a certain way - you really have to give off that positive energy. You can say 'good boy' but if you're not genuinely pleased with him, the dog will sense that and not really take away what you're trying to say. If it's difficult for you to feel positive around your dog, it may make it difficult for the dog to feel happy around you - just like people :)

He also needs a strong leader to direct him so he doesn't have to feel so anxious and fearful all the time. That's something maybe your wife can get some coaching on with a more suitable behaviourist.

I hope things get better for you soon,
 
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