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Hello all,

Hoping for some thoughts/advice about the situation with my dog. We adopted her last year - she was a rescue - and was very fearful at the time. Since then, her confidence has increased exponentially and she is overall a very happy dog.

However, over the past couple of months things have changed quite a bit. We moved to a new town, and I began working at home where my husband is now working out of the house (it was the other way around prior to that). Our dog has always responded to me as "the favorite", but over the past while we've noticed that she is acting more and more fearful around me. She will run straight to my husband, play with him, and turn around so that he can rub her back. Now often times when I call her, she approaches fearfully, if at all, and cowers in front of me. I'm very confused as to why this is happening. I am generally very gentle towards her and give her more affection that anyone. My main thoughts are:

(a) I'm now the one cutting her nails, which disturbs her quite a bit
(b) Hubby thinks that it's because I'm now working at home. He comes back from work, plays with her, and we both take her for a walk, so maybe she associates him with good things, and me with the boring work day.
(c) I've been going out of town for work - maybe this is throwing her off?

Any thoughts you might have (on the reasons behind this, or how to remedy it) would be greatly appreciated!

Cheers.
 

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Is the nail work a new thing since you moved? Or has she gotten visibly more upset at having it done?
Hi Winnie, thanks for replying.

She's always been weird about her nails. We used to take her to get them done (via clipping), but since just before we moved, I've been doing them at home with a filing system. She's actually way more calm with the file than with the clippers, but it still bothers her. She'll whine, and struggle to try to get away even with lots of pets and a calming voice.
 

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can you try bonding with her more? Maybe taking her for a quick walk around the block and some training in the yard? Does she like to play fetch? Play some fetch in the yard.
 

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It could just be general stress. That is a lot of change all at once and dogs don't take change well.

We moved 3 times with Muggsy, and it was 3 months each time before he calmed back down.

Have you tried highest value treats while doing her nails? Muggsy hated having his nails done, but he didn't fear me overall because I did it. I did one paw each day with a raw egg as a reward each time. Pain in my butt, but try holding down a struggling 90 lb GSD mix.
 

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Does seem strange for it to come on only with you this suddenly. You say you're very gentle with her but maybe her idea of what is scary is a little different. With some dogs, a glance makes them cringe. With others it takes a lot more to rattle them. Is there any possibility that you're more tense since the move, something she would pick up on, even though it might not be directed at her? A little too much excitement, the stress of a move, being a little unsure of the situation - these can make a dog fearful. Also possible that you're just now noticing more about her behavior because you're around her more. Who knows. I'm guessing it will work out over time as she becomes used to the new place and the new routine.

If I was in your situation, I would restart my relationship with her as if she was a new stray in my house that needed help with building confidence. I would be very low key around her, avoid too much eye contact, avoid approaching her head on, and use lots of positive reinforcement training on basics like sit, down, stay, recall, etc. - to set up a routine that's comfortable and predictable.
 

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<snip>She'll whine, and struggle to try to get away even with lots of pets and a calming voice.
If you pet and talk to her with a "calming" (soft, gentle) voice when she's scared she thinks that you are praising her for freaking out. The more you do it, the more she'll freak out ... in her mind that's what you want her to do.
Instead of petting and talking to her "calming" akt like if she's annoyingly in your way ... not harsh or irritated, just firm and matter of fact.
 

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I agree with Hast. You are rewarding the lack of confidence. Ignore her cowering and reward her for sitting upright.

Your treats need to be top shelf and given for anything she does around you. You need to be her reward "bowl".
 

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Adding my voice to those agreeing with Hast.

Be very careful not to 'coddle' her, or otherwise give her a positive pay off for being timid. If you do, that's exactly what she'll be with you.
 

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If you pet and talk to her with a "calming" (soft, gentle) voice when she's scared she thinks that you are praising her for freaking out. The more you do it, the more she'll freak out ... in her mind that's what you want her to do.
Instead of petting and talking to her "calming" akt like if she's annoyingly in your way ... not harsh or irritated, just firm and matter of fact.
I think we've disagreed on this point before. I don't think talking to a fearful dog in a calming voice is construed as praise. I don't think it does any good, either. It's just another input to process for an already overloaded dog. I think over time the calming voice thing can actually make the dog more restless and anxious to get away. Most of all, dogs want distance from things that scare them. Give her that. Find ways to reward her for being confident around you -- that's why obedience training and reward games can work wonders in turning around a fearful dog.

Over 6.5 years I have tried many different techniques to get my fearful dog to accept other people and situations that scare her and what has worked best is space management, keeping her under threshold while desensitizing, and lots of rewards & repetition of good behaviors. I watched her go from a dog that bit my dad to one that comes out of her skin when she sees him. He is now one of her favorite people. That takes effort and management.
 

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With my dog, who was an extreme abuse case, to squat down and talk sweet, she totally freaks. You can see here thinking, "om my god, what's wrong, why is she acting like this?! Something horrible is gonna happen!!"

Just being normal gives the dogs confidence. I don't coddle at all. When one gets hurt, I check them, if its alright, right back to normal, dog forgets and moves on. Some with nerve issues don't comply as well, but every dog I have ever worked with responds better to not making a big fuss of things.
 
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