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Discussion Starter #1
My husband and I have recently acquired a rescue dog, who we knew was very timid when we got him. We have had several rescue dogs previously. This boy was a stray and he has bonded closely with his foster carer who, although she loves him to bits, is not in a position to keep him because she already has two dogs and two young children. She feels she cannot give him the attention he deserves.

Today is Day 3 and although things were going reasonably well, he has now found he can get under the deck around our house and has decided this is his "safe spot" where no-one can reach him. (The deck is 3 metres wide.) Perhaps I was doing too much with him too soon by having him sleeping on the deck within easy petting distance and also having taken him for a couple of walks. Anyway, there is no way he is going to come out from his hiding place at the moment.

His foster carer suggests simply taking time, talking to him and gradually letting him come out at his own pace. However, a friend who is an animal behaviourist advises the opposite - in her words: "someone needs to crawl in there and get him out, then fence off that area so he can't go back under. Or he's likely to spend the rest of his life under there. He needs to spend his time inside the house with you to learn that you are safe to be with. He'll never learn that under the house. It will only add to his fearfulness."

Does anyone have any suggestions about which would be the best route to take at this point in time? Thank you so much for any suggestions you may have.

P.S. I should add that my husband and I are experienced dog owners of 35 years standing but this is the first time we've had to deal with an issue such as this, despite having had rescue dogs before.
 

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With the caveat that I am only a dog behavior nerd, not a professional behaviorist or trainer and have not personally worked with fearful dogs...

I'm going to be a stinker and say 'both', if possible. It is better if he comes out on his own. I'd try to encourage that by spending time in the yard but not paying attention to him. Do your own thing, so long as it's calm and non-threatening (IE no yard work with power tools, haha). Try to avoid looking at him and keep your back or side to him as much as possible. Occasionally toss really stinky, tasty treats in his direction, but don't put pressure on him by calling him or staring. If and when he does come out on his own, encourage him calmly to go into the house or another area where he won't have access to under the deck. Don't try to surprise grab him if you can at all help it, because you don't want to confirm his fears that you're a scary, unpredictable person.

After that, yes. Block off under the deck and/or don't let him out there. Keep him in the house where he can get used to you. BUT give him his own safe space inside, like a pen or covered/solid-sided crate, where he can go in and out at will. One that you absolutely do not interact with him when he's in unless it's absolutely an emergency, but also you actually can get to him easily if there is a real emergency. Put it somewhere quiet, but not completely removed from where you spend time in your home. Avoid all interaction unless he initiates it first for a little while, excepting absolute necessities like potty breaks and mealtimes. Since he seems so much more sensitive than most dogs, you really want him to learn that he gets to chose where his limits are, and that you won't pressure him into any interaction he finds scary or uncomfortable.

Again, I know there are excellent trainers here that have hands-on experience with fearful dogs, so I do hope more people chime in with additional or better advice than what I can provide. Good luck to you!
 

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I feel that forcing him to come out may damage what little trust he has put in you. I would coax him out with yummy food. I imagine he's going to get hungry at some point. I would sit next to the opening with a yummy hotdog or something and let him take it from your hand, very slowly, and at his own pace. He may not even want to do that, so if he won't take it from your hand set a bit of food near the opening, but move off a little. You can slowly move closer as he begins to understand that you are safe. If he is in no danger beneath the deck, let him be there and take time. Once he comes out though, close up that opening. I've used that method on group of feral kittens, so I imagine it will work on a dog!

I would also give him a "den" to go to when he is scared, such as a cozy crate, inside the house. Make that his safe place where nobody will bother him, and he can retreat there when he feels afraid.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
DaySleepers and Lillith, thank you both so much for your responses to our dilemma. I must admit that what you have both suggested is our preferred option but we also recognise that the instruction to get him out of there as soon as possible, if not now, is also an imperative. I am leaving his food on the deck at the moment and when we're not there he comes up to eat, so that is probably a good sign. Yesterday I also left some treats in a small bowl at the entrance to the deck and he has eaten those too. We're going to make sure we've got everything ready before he comes out, preferably on his own volition, with his crate set up in the laundry which is just off the kitchen. We had it set up on the deck before, which is also right next door to the kitchen with glass doors and windows all around, but I guess it does have a less connected feel to the house than the laundry.

I really appreciate the time you have taken to respond to my query and will let you know how it goes.
 

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I think your friend overstated the urgency of getting him out from under the deck. Yes, you should get him out from under the deck so that he doesn't spend the night outside, but otherwise there's very little reason to panic about not doing it as soon as possible. If he feels safe under the deck (and he is in no danger) let him feel safe - that is the #1 thing that scared dogs need anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Hello, I thought I'd do a follow-up on my 'dog under the deck' issue, which had an unexpected twist.

Darcy went under the deck on Wednesday and came out that night to eat his dinner which was on top of the deck. When he saw us in the adjacent room which has glass doors, he rushed back under the deck again. On Thursday morning I had to go to work for about three hours and my only option was to leave him in his under-deck hidey-hole where he seemed quite content. When I came back around lunchtime he wasn't there. I calmly search around the garden, which has lots of plants and hedges to hide behind, thinking there was no way he could escape. Eventually I realised he had indeed escaped and had ended up in my neighbour's yard which is completely overgrown with virtually impenetrable undergrowth. My neighbour thought he was still there, in the undergrowth, but all the gates were open so when I couldn't see or hear him I concluded he had run away. What an awful, awful experience. Anyway, to cut a VERY long story short, we did eventually find him in the undergrowth at 10pm by using a flashlight that picked up the glint of his eyes. By this time, his foster carer for the past 2 months had driven 3 hours to our place, with her 8 months old baby, to help in the search. She arrived just as we discovered where he was and was able to call him out in about 5 minutes. He is very bonded with her but she feels he would do better in a quieter house with fewer dogs and more one-on-one time. I hope so but we shall see.

So, yes, the dog came out from under the deck of his own accord but not in the way I had anticipated.

Yesterday, my husband raised the height of the fence with lattice panels and used these to block off the deck as well. Since his ordeal, Darcy has been living in our internal laundry which is right beside the kitchen, so he can hear our voices and activity but still feel safe. I now have to find a way to gradually bring him more into the kitchen/family room with us otherwise I fear he may stay hidden as much as possible for as long as possible.

A friend who is a psychiatrist has suggested we try medication to calm his anxiety but I feel it's early days yet. We've only had him here for one week after all. He's now coming out on walks OK with me. He's eating and drinking but definitely not when he thinks we're anywhere nearby. Patience, patience ;)
 

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Oh, goodness, I'm so happy you found him! And I'm glad he's finally inside - give him time, let him get used to you and approach you on his own terms. You can encourage him to associate you with good things by tossing yummy treats like boiled chicken bits on the ground every time you pass. I think it's a good sign that he did bond with his former foster family, so I'm rooting for you!

As for the medication, I agree that you should give him some time to come out of his shell, but if you don't see his anxiety improving over time please don't consider it a last-resort method. It can be a real boon to anxious dogs - if you look up the thread 'Medicating Molly' on here you'll see a really inspiring success story with an anxious dog making wonderful progress with the help of prozac. This article was posted here recently as well, and it's worth keeping in mind should you need to reconsider medication in the future: http://www.drjensdogblog.com/behavior-medication-first-line-therapy-or-last-resort/
 

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A friend who is a psychiatrist has suggested we try medication to calm his anxiety but I feel it's early days yet. We've only had him here for one week after all. He's now coming out on walks OK with me. He's eating and drinking but definitely not when he thinks we're anywhere nearby. Patience, patience ;)
Good on your friend for suggesting medication. In my (very personal) opinion, while it's not something to jump into on a whim and it's not a magic cure, medication shouldn't be a last resort. If it's something you think you might pursue in the future, I really recommend reading the article that Daysleepers suggested.

I'm not saying you should make a vet appointment right now - definitely give the dog a few weeks to settle in and see how things go - but I am also starting to think that many (possibly most) dogs that end up on medications would have benefited more from being on them sooner; my own included.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
I'm very happy to be getting feedback; thank you! I had already started reading the 'Medicating Molly' thread but was dipping in and out to the later posts but I'll look closer at the start of the thread now.

Further update on Darcy. Yesterday I spoke at length with a friend who is a qualified animal behaviourist. She agreed that if there's no improvement after a few weeks I should get some medication from the vet. In the meantime she suggested starting straight away with Bach's Rescue Remedy and changing Darcy to a pescatarian diet made up as follows:

30-40% protein - mix of fish, tofu and beans, e.g. 4 bean mix
30-40% vegetables - without corn
30-40% quick oats - to soak up the liquid

Remove meat and cheese from the diet and training treats, particularly processed meats of any kind, and make training treats soy cheese, soy carob drops, etc.

On the training front I've been taking Darcy out for 3-4 walks a day. I've noticed he's mostly scared of people walking behind him (understandably) so I've been taking him to one side and making him sit while the person walks past. My friend says this is called 'flooding' when the dog has to face up to his fears by sitting while the scary person goes past. She says this will be good once he's bonded with me and my husband but not before. To help with the bonding process she suggests running away from the scary thing with him, or crossing the road quickly so Darcy starts to think "this person takes me away from scary things" and starts to build trust in us. It's interesting because this is a tactic that would never have occurred to me.

Also on the walk she suggests mixing it up with bursts of running or turning unexpectedly and walking in the other direction so Darcy will keep focussed on me to know what to do next.

I've started on the Rescue Remedy and will be making up the first batch of his no-meat diet tonight. I'll be interested to hear anyone's thoughts or experiences with this type of regime. I think it's worth a try but am a little skeptical.
 

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Uh, no offense to your friend, but I would NOT be comfortable feeding that diet. Dogs may be slightly better physiologically at processing carbs than their closest relatives the wolves due to evolving alongside us omnivorous humans, but they are still carnivores. They function best on a diet based on animal protein, and derive energy primarily from animal fats. And besides that, I am suspect of any homemade diet that doesn't have a source of calcium and doesn't include organ meats. I am not a nutritionist or a professional behaviorist (I consider myself 'hobbyist' level there), but I urge you to research this diet more thoroughly. I say this as someone who does feed a homemade diet myself. I do think diet can have some influence over behavior (though I wouldn't expect it to fix everything), but everything I've read re: dogs actually says to move AWAY from carbs with them, because it's more sugar than they're designed to handle. As an aside, most vegetables need to be cooked down and/or blended for the dog to derive nutrients from them - they can't break them down on their own.

You can try posting it in the 'food' forum for more opinions - I know we have at least one member here (Kathyy) who frequents that area and knows a ton about specific nutrient/mineral ratios and has very successfully fed a cooked homemade diet themselves. They'll have good resources for you. I feed raw, which is different enough from home-cooked that I'm not going to try to go into the details here, but I do know that even at first glance with my very basic knowledge of home-cooked that diet looks... insufficient at best.

When you have Darcy sit, does he look stressed? Is he trying to get away from the scary passer-by? Is he stiff or showing signs of stress like panting, wide eyes, putting his ears back, etc? If any of these are 'yes', then it is probably a little bit of flooding. True flooding would look more like you inviting the stranger up and forcing Darcy to stay there until he accepts being petted - a big no-no. If he's comfortable and relaxed with people passing by without interacting with him I wouldn't worry about it. If he is stressed, I agree with your friend that it might help to cross the street or otherwise find a place where you can increase the distance between you and the passer-by until you pass each other (go down a side-street, up a driveway, etc.). Assuming, of course, that it's safe to do so. Just listen to his body language and try to reduce his stress as much as possible.

The switching direction/speed during the walk is also good advice, and a nice way to build foundations for leash walking and focus. Just again, pay attention to what he's telling you; if he seems to be getting overwhelmed or frustrated, make it a little easier for him. You always want training to be positive and fun for the dog!

Basically, I agree with your friend's training advice for the most part, and I have heard good things about Rescue Remedy, but again. That diet concerns me. I'd highly encourage you to dig a little deeper into canine nutrition if you want to try home-cooking.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
Thanks so much for your detailed reply DaySleepers. I have to say that when I cooked up the concoction I immediately thought 'No', this does not look right!! And Darcy doesn't like it either. He likes the tofu but I think at this stage I need to be giving him everything that he likes rather than changing his diet drastically. I was a little skeptical but thought I could perhaps use it as an addition to the high-quality dry food and cooked mince/chicken that I've been giving him. I'll also pop over to the food thread for more ideas re raw diets and/or home cooking.

As for the training and walking, he's actually not too stressed when I allow people to pass him and he's doing very well on the leash. I'm grateful to receive tips and suggestions from my friends but I think I need to have more faith in my own observations and abilities because I've had dogs virtually all my life, with minimal problems, however this is definitely a new situation for us. It's just great to have this forum as a back-up, especially as there is so much good advice in the threads.

Terrible storms and torrential rain here in Sydney at the moment and Darcy is completely chilled with it all, just like our previous dog. What a relief :)

Once again, thank you so much - I really appreciate your opinion and input.
 

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Yeah, I don't want to go off in a full rant because I don't want to derail this from the main issue - settling Darcy into your home and helping him bond - but I'm pretty strongly morally opposed to feeding carnivores a plant-based diet for anything short of a major medical reason (ie allergies to so many meat proteins that the owners can't find or can't afford a meat-based food that won't make the dog sick). Right now, I'd just keep him on a food he likes and does well on (IE no greasy fur or soft poop).

It's good to hear he does well on walks! Another thing I thought of is, when you ask him to sit as people go by, are you giving him some tasty treats as well? That can help him associate strangers with good things, which can start helping him understand they're not so scary.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Unfortunately he's not taking treats from our hands as yet but is starting to sometimes at home if I turn my back and hold my hand out backwards. Very small steps for the time being it seems!
 
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