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Nervous dog...at the end of my rope...

1331 Views 2 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  doxiemommy
I have a 16 month old shih tzu (or perhaps Lhasa Apso) mix. He has always had issues with submissive and excited urination and he is afraid of strangers. Though these issues have improved somewhat with age, they are still a problem. However, more recently, the biggest issue has been his barking. He has always barked a bit, but he learned quickly what "shhh" meant, and he does listen. However, it's that first bark that must stop. We can be sound asleep in bed, or relaxing watching TV and he'll just jump up from a dead sleep and bark. He has the most terrifyingly shrill bark, and he seems to be barking at absolutely nothing. He does it all day long. Every time he does it, it nearly gives me a heart attack. You know that feeling you get when someone pops up behind you and taps you when you're not expecting it? It's like that feeling, x10, 20 times a day! The only time he stops is when we put him in the bathroom to sleep (we have to, because if he's left out on his own, he continues to bark at everything and wake everyone up). It's so frustrating. It startles the hell out of everyone every time because there is seemingly nothing (or very little) precipitating the bark. He isn't doing it for attention, he seems to be startled by something we can't hear or see. He just pops up and barks and seems scared. He listens if we tell him to "shhhh" but that's not good enough. This is putting a serious strain on my relationship with my boyfriend. He says the dog is taking years off his life and beings him no pleasure what so ever. He really is a very sweet dog, he adores my boyfriend, and it's sad to see him ignore him all the time because he's so irritated by his behaviour. He's very "trainable" in the sense that he is so eager to please, but I'm not even sure how to "train" him not to do this. Everything I've read online says to teach them to hush or be quiet, but he already know how to do that. That doesn't not help this situation. it's that first bark that he needs to stop doing. Or at least only do at appropriate times (e.g. when a stranger is at the door).
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Hi! I'm new to the forum, but I think I might be able to help you out with an experience I had with my own previous dogs (ironically I've owned both a Skiddish dog and a Lhasa Apso mix, but never both at the same time).

--Short answer--
1. Gently socialize your dog as much as possible with other dogs and people. Make it a personal mission. At 16 months there is still some (but very little) time to correct skiddishness, but it's going to be very difficult. You will need to take him to dog parks, friends houses, dog dates with other dog lovers, and long walks to fun places. You'll need to do this in controlled, gentle environments. You don't want to traumatize your dog, just expose him to new and exciting friends. The easiest way to get this started is by dog dates. Setup a controlled time and place to bring your dog to a meet and greet with a friend's dog and family. And then schedule another one. And another.

I'm not going to lie to you - it's a trying process. With my dog, K.D., it took us years to impact her naturally skiddish and fearful nature. The important point is to arrange social situations but never force them. Eventually, the dog will be more used to them.

2. On barking, the answer here is Crate Training. Despite what some people think, it is a godsend for the dog. And it provides a safe place. Generally, dogs that bark excessively do so because they feel the need to patrol or alert the pack because they don't have a place to call their home. You need to make sure to establish that place.

In the case that you dog is already crate trained, I would suggest doing something more passive - like setting up black-out blinds or blocking vision from external influences when the dog is in the crate.

My German Shepherd, whom I loved with all my heart, was the most skiddish dog I've ever seen. She used to run from her own shadow - literally. It made my entire family very sad. This was only worsened that, like your own dog, she would bark loudly and fiercly at anything that past by. It was terrifying. We eventually got to the point that we had to give her medication, but it didn't do much good. The only thing that eventually worked was too expose her to more and more friends. Eventually, she started to trust people and dogs more. She never became captain social, but she was much more balanced toward the end of her life. I hope the same will happen for your dog as well.

Disclaimer: I am not a dog trainer and I'm sure there are vastly superior experts on this forum. Make sure you consult others, because I'm just a laymen. I just know what worked for me. Best of luck!
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Crating MIGHT work, as you say he's better when you have him sleep in the bathroom. BUT, I am afraid that you can't, nor should you, stop the "first bark". I understand what you mean about it being very shrill, and startling, and irritating to your boyfriend. BUT, look at it from your dog's perspective....something either startled your dog or just alerted your dog. He is waking up out of a deep sleep, just as you are, to hear something that he wants to let you know about. It's part of a dog's "job" to let their human know when something or someone is on or near the property. He hears it, and he lets you know. Be lucky that he responds to you asking him to shhhh; not all dogs respond.

The desensitizing to noises might work, but as I say, if something wakes him up in the night, it would be hard to stop him from letting you know by barking....
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