Be aware that your dog, now a teenager in dog terms and very nearly adult, is a genetically nervous and fearful dog. Some you can help. Other things it is better to manage and not try to change.Hello I’m looking for some advice on a generally nervous 18 month old female staffy-something called Luna (we suspect the other half is ridgeback based on similarities to a friend’s pure ridgeback, but we are far from sure).
We got her from foster care when she was a few weeks old, her mum having been rescued from a puppy farm. Luna was borne in foster care. She has had a nervous disposition from the very first time we met her.
We had Luna in our first home for 6 months, then moved to our current location and have been here for a year now with no plans on moving again in the foreseeable future.
While she was a puppy we took her to puppy training every week, engaged in never ending treat-training (we literally had treats in our pockets at all times), took her to lots of different parks and a couple of beaches. We probably didn’t have as many people visit the house as would have been ideal, but that’s just how our lives are. We probably had 2-3 visits per week for a few months, which dropped back to about an average of 1 visit, and has recently picked back up to about 2 again.
Luna has ended up very obedient, really likes playing with other dogs, is happy with people who have dogs with them but is suspicious and nervous around people who don’t (until she gets to know them, then she loves them, but this can take minutes to days). She is still very nervous about anything and everything unfamiliar and has developed a few behaviours I’m a bit concerned about possibly including some fear aggression. I'll go into more detail below:
She should not be required to be friends with every dog she meets. Just like people, dogs have opinions about other dogs. As she matures she may be less inclined to like all dogs but may be selective. The situation you describe sounds like a dog park. I would stop going to the dog park. Instead, see if you can find a few friends with dogs and have play dates with just those dogs. Keep an eye on Luna. If she starts to get snarky, take her out of the group. Hackles up and ears down is a dog that is unsure and afraid. Hackles up to make her look bigger and ears down to appease. Learn dog behavior signals. She is telling you she is uncomfortable. Advocate for your dog and remove her from situations where she is uncomfortable. Again.. trusted friends a few dogs, the same dogs and the same people will help a lot. Liking all dogs is a puppy thing. She is now growing up. Adult dogs do not always like other dogs. Some do not like any other dogs.Up until the last 1-2 months she has always enjoyed playing with other dogs a lot. She can be quite boisterous or not depending on what the other dogs are like. Generally no worries at all about her........however in the last couple of months I had noticed her possibly getting a bit defensive around her people. If other dogs came over to me she might snap or lunge at them, but doesn’t do it consistently. To stop this I make her sit and stay while I go over to dogs first and interacted with them. This seems to have worked, but then in the last week she has started getting grumpy with other dogs seemingly at random. She will bounce over to them looking happy (or they come over to her) have a sniff, and then suddenly her ears go back, hackles go up, and she immediately lunges at them. I have no idea where this behaviour has come from or what sets it off. She hasn’t had a bad experience with other dogs recently that my wife and I are aware of. I’m wondering if this may be her becoming less tolerant of other dogs as she matures, but not having worked out that she doesn’t actually want to interact with every dog she meets like she used to?
In my world I do not let my dog play with other dogs. I have two dogs and I rarely let them play together (I compete and cannot risk injury). Dogs do find with NO dog friends.
Put Luna up when people come over. Do not have them interact with this dog. When she comes over to them I bet they are standing up. They bend over to pet her and that is VERY threatening to a dog. She does not need to be friends with your friends. After they have come in and settled down IF the people will actually do as you tell them and IGNORE THE DOG.. NO petting, NO eye contact, NO talking to her then MAYBE let her in to be part of the group. She is a fearful dog and it pushed she may bite and that will make her a huge liability (or a dead dog).I mentioned fear aggression so let’s describe how that manifests. Its most common at home. If we have a visitor (outside of the 10ish people she knows really well) she will bark loudly at them with her hackles fully up and just generally look quite scary. Thankfully she won’t go too close to people and will flinch away if people extend an arm to her (I know it’s not good, but sometimes people do it before I tell them not to). If people look at her (not even eye contact) she starts growling as well. To sort this Luna gets sent to bed (her safe zone) as the visitors arrive. We then do whatever we are going to do while ignoring her, and once Luna has calmed down she is allowed out of bed. She will almost always come over immediately of her own volition, if she is calm we give her treats as she approaches, and then the visitor might feed her some treats under the table if things are going well. This works pretty well but she will still be really jumpy if the visitor moves to a different location. Gradually she gets used to people and will be happy with them moving around and usually builds up to quite liking people if they are around for long enough. While this is good it doesn’t seem to be helping with the initial response to visitors (everyone new is scary, even though she has ended up liking everyone who has come into the house). I'm not sure what to do next on this one.
This is a very fearful dog. This dog's next move may be to bite. Manage the situation. This is what crates are for. This is why you need a place she can be put that is quiet and comfortable away from your guests.It’s worth noting that she seems to want to interact with visitors finding them interesting and exciting as well as scary. She is always very keen to come straight over to them and be near (but not too near) them while she gets over her fear. She often leans in for a sniff and will start wagging her tail and glancing at me while doing so....so long as the visitor doesn’t move, if they do its time to jump away and start barking with the hackles up again.
I have one friendly and confident dog and one that is nervy and less confident. They are German Shepherds. I value them greatly. When I have company they are put up. If I have over night guests that can be a bit different but I am selective. If a person so much as SUGGESTS a dog of my breed has touched them aggressively I could end up with a law suite or lose my dog. I manage the situation by separating my dogs from my guests. I have kennels and crates for this purpose.
Just keep sending her to her bed and give her the treat there. Try to get her to default to her bed when she is worried. This is why I like a crate. It is like a den and gives a dog a secure place to go if they need a time out. Dogs that use crates often choose to with the door open. It feels safe.The other thing she does at home is sit in the lounge looking out the front window. She growls or barks (not too much though, this is a much less vigorous response compared to when people visit the house) at most people going past (even if they have dogs) This extends to the full range of her vision and includes people moving about in their gardens across the road (basically if she can see a person they are too close). We normally let her get away with a very little rumble, but anything more and she gets sent to bed until she calms down. Having read some posts on these forums I think we should start giving her treats as soon as we see anyone going past instead?
Feeding her treats when she is reactive to the stuff outside may back fire. You are showing concern and then feeding her.. think about that a minute. It is unclear on your part and she may actually associate the barking with the reward.
She is NOT being protective. She is showing fear. She views you as incompetent to take care of the things she worries about. She thinks she must take care of things herself. You already KNOW she is fearful but advocate for your dog. Get between her and the thing that worries her. You face it. Put her behind you. Let her know it is not HER job and YOU will take care of it. She knows you won't advocate for her at the dog park (take her out when she is worried) or with company (put her some place quiet and safe when she feels insecure) so she has no security that you will advocate for her out on walks.And finally for fear aggression, while out on walks she will often growl at anyone new in a new area without a dog.
Other behaviours of note before getting onto general nervousness:
I get the impression she feels the need to protect her people from scary things. She seems to try and position herself between us and bikes, strangers, new objects etc. She can be quite subtle about it and I always get her to be on the other side of me if I spot that something is bothering her. In the last few days we seem to be making real progress here, and she has started going to the ‘safe’ side of me if she gets unsettled by something rather than getting in-between us.
She is showing fear and is over threshold. Dogs are associative creatures. She is fearful AND associative so when she is over threshold, she stays there and associates that with the place.Okay, general nervousness:
Throughout her whole life her default response to anything and everything new is to be scared of it. This includes things like new parks – we take her to 4 different parks and 2 dog beaches regularly and she will be excited and happy about going. If we go to a new one she gets out of the car and her tail immediately gets tucked under her body, ears back, looking all over the place. Just generally looking very unhappy.
If a new object or sound appears in a known area she will be scared of it (like a scooter parked in an unusual place, or some rubbish, or someone standing still bird watching when they weren’t there yesterday, or a street light rattles in the wind)/. She won’t go near it, won’t calm down, just wants to run a few 10’s of meters away from it. In an extreme case she may want to go home straight away, but this is rare.
Once she has been scared in an area she remains scared of that area even when there is nothing there/good things have happened there more recently. As an example, in one of the regular parks there are a couple of spots where bikes have come around a corner and startled her. Since then she has had loads of treats there, and several good interactions with other dogs. Despite this every time we go there her ears go back, she looks around in all directions very often, tail will be down but not underneath her, generally low body position, and she won’t want to play at all, she just marches forward as quickly as she can without running until we are through the scary section. I’m not sure how to make this a safe and fun area again? If I can’t then we are steadily going to run out of happy walk places :-(
It might be a good thing to simply take her to the same place all the time for her walks. Honestly? A dog this afraid I would be willing to leave at home and not take on walks. There are dogs like that.. happy as clams never to go anywhere. I have an older dog here that is nervy and prefers to stay home. Actually, she LOVES to ride in the car but just as soon NOT get out at a destination. She does not curl her tail under but she licks her lips, pants, glances away.. shows me in every way that she rather not be there.
Medication is an option for sure. This dog is very fearful and medication to take the edge off may be your answer and it may be life long. I would not hesitate to use medication to help her. There is a thread here "Medicating Molly." Look at it. You may need something stronger. The trick is to find the right combination so she can be happier and safer and you can enjoy her more.Finally, even while we are in good happy places she will still be looking around often, checking for anything. She even does this in the house at home.
We have spoken to the vet about this who recommended putting her on ENDEP50 while we try to desensitize her to things. This has made her slightly less afraid of things (we still get the same reactions but not always as strong), but it doesn’t really seem to be helping her improve in the long run.
Any help is much appreciated. It seems like we nearly have a wonderful dog, and it’s quite sad seeing how scared she gets of things that could otherwise be great.
If you don't want to do medication, then you need to do all you can to manage her environment and try to make her as comfortable as possible. At this age she is growing up. Her puppy play is disappearing and her adult behavior, which is largely genetic, is coming through. I wish you the best with your dog.