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Scared of visitors, to the point of peeing

1488 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  FourIsCompany
My dog is a rescued stray, roughly 8 or 9 months old. You may recall me story from before; I came home after dinner on Christmas Eve, to find a very sick puppy at the end of my drive way. I got out of the car and called to him, and he walked over to me as fast as he could. I convinced him to follow me up the driveway (about 1/8 mile) and to go into my fenced-in back yard, where I was able to feed him and treat his wounds the best that I could.

Since then, he is medically strong and sound, and his training is coming along fairly well. He acts like a normal dog, plays with his toys and my other dog (and me), tries to chase my cat, etc. He also walks wonderfully with me (leashed) on a daily basis down the driveway.

Unfortunately, though, I haven't had a lot of visitors at my house lately, so I only discovered a problem last week. My girlfriend's parents came to visit, and while they were outside my dog barked and ran from window to window, just like I would expect. But when they came in, he peed in several places and hid behind the sofa, refusing to come out (even when I called for him and offered him treats).

They stayed for about an hour, and I was finally able to coax him into the same room as them, but only if I stayed with him and petted him the entire time.

Then a few days later, a personal friend and his wife came over. I had hoped that he would be a little better the second time, but he was actually worse. Again, he peed everywhere (a lot), and hid in his crate the whole time they were here. They had been told about his problem ahead of time, so they were being particularly quiet and cautious with him, but he was absolutely terrified.

This fear surprises me, considering how quickly he came up to me when I first found him. So I'm guessing that this fear is something that developed after I found him, and that it doesn't stem from previous abuse (although I can't rule that out, considering that I don't know his background).

How should I handle this? With summer coming up, I was hoping to have friends over more often, and was hoping to take him to a dog park and maybe to a few outdoor festivals, but I don't want to traumatize my dog! Is this something that will get better as more people visit, or will it get worse?

I also have a fear that as he gets older, his fear might turn into aggression, which would be a BIG problem.

I don't think that his breed matters, but I believe that he's a beagle / Australian shepherd mix. He's about 25lbs, and has almost completely recovered from red mange. He was neutered about a month ago, with no complications in the recovery. Now that I think about it, when I took him to the vet for neutering he peed there, too (which had never happened before), but at the time I assumed that it was because there was another dog there that was yelling terribly.

Any advice on this would be very much appreciated! TIA,

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The urinating is "submissive urination" and if you do an internet search you'll ifnd a lot of info. I had an aussie shepherd that did it and grew out of the behavior in a year or two.

If your dog is afraid, goes to his crate, or hides behind furniture...do not try to lure him out. Let him come out in his own time. Just ignore the dog and he will decide his comfort level.

In the meanwhile I would try to give this dog a lot of self confidence. Try taking him to an obedience class with other dogs. And gradually get him out in social situations. It sounds like he was deprived during the crucial socialization puppy time spans. It can be fixed, and have lots of patience.
Never force your dog into a room where he's scared and don't pet him and comfort him when he's scared because that just reinforces the behavior.

When your dog was barking at your girlfriend's parents, he should have been taken to his crate or a "safe" room in the house where he wouldn't have to be confronted with strangers.

Visitors should IGNORE him. They should act normally, but not look at or speak to the dog. The dog should be free to approach them. THey shouldn't approach the dog.

Do you walk this dog? He should be getting out and seeing the world every day.

Let go of YOUR fear that he will become aggressive or you will bring it on yourself. :) Just deal with it as it is and don't project the future. Yes, it could happen, but probably only if you force him.

If you google "dog afraid of strangers" you'll find lots of techniques to handle this common problem. :)

Good luck!
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How is your dog with being crated or confined? And does he react the same way to strangers outdoors as indoors?

I don't think you need to re-arrange your social life for your pup, but I do think you need to set him up NOT to be stressed out by it. When you're going to have guests, set him up in a crate or x-pen with some really great chews, in an area that no one is going to mess with him (ideally in a room with the door closed where he doesn't even have to watch strangers.) or do the "Dogs Loooooove me" thing where they force attention on a scared dog. This should let you manage the problem while you work on it gradually.

There are two good books about shy dogs. One is called Scaredy Dog by Ali Brown, the other is "Help For Your Shy Dog" by Deb Wood. In general, you need to help your dog become more confident through positive obedience training while introducing him gradually to lots and lots of friendly people at a level he can tolerate.

Training allows your dog to learn that there are behaviors that he will always get rewarded for - so if he's scared and not sure what to do, he's more likely to perform a behavior that's been highly reinforced in the past. Now, with a dog who is approaching adulthood and for whom this is not a new habit, this will take a while- after all, running away has been reinforced in the past because it gets him away from scary people. So while you are working on obedience behaviors (sit, down (I wouldn't focus on down, since it puts him in a more vulnerable position and may be stressful), a good recall, and I'd teach some tricks too, because training is very valuable in building a bond of trust), you also need to teach him that YOU will handle the scary stuff- you will keep people from approaching him and remove him from a stressful situation BEFORE he feels the need to run away. Once you've got these two things well-started, you can start GRADUALLY introducing people in low-stress, low pressure situations where everyone ignores him and there's no pressure to interact.

Finding a local trainer who is experienced with working with shy dogs can be invaluable, but you need to make sure the trainer IS a good trainer. A trainer who forces the dog to 'get over it' or puts the dog repeatedly into situations* that he flips out in is NOT a good trainer. Picking up either of the books above should give you a good idea what kind of information a trainer should be giving you when you call to inquire about their services.

In the mean time, get your dog out and about in the world in ways that are NOT stressful. Go on walks- but don't force him to interact with people. (If you see people or people want to pet him? Say "Sorry, we're on a schedule" before they can stop you and KEEP WALKING- don't let him get cornered.) Work on going to slightly busier places once he's comfortable with just walks, and just take it slow. Try and get him out to places that aren't the house- even if it's just a walk down the block to the park- at least 4 times a week. These don't have to be big productions. Take it in 15 minute segments and just WORK with your dog.

Shyness is frustrating because you just want a dog to be able to hang out with other people, even if he doesn't particularly care to fawn over them. But it IS fixable in almost all cases.

*Caveat here is that a certain amount of 'flipping out' (going over threshold) is going to happen as the trainer learns your dog's limiits and triggers, unless your trainer is RALLY AMAZING at reading dogs- but the trainer should deal with it by having you back OUT of the situation and then trying something further away, not telling you to tough it out or correcting the dog. The best trainer should gradually increase the amount of triggers in the environment (in your dog's case, people closer, more people, louder, paying more attention to the dog) and if they do it right, they do it so slowly that your dog never goes over threshold and just progresses smoothly from scared to relaxed. This may seem like 'my dog never DOES anything when he's with the trainer' but if the level of difficulty is increasing, even slowly, don't stress out about it. Getting impatient here is the BIGGEST problem shy dog owners have.
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Thanks for all of the advice. Our biggest obstacle is that I'm in a fairly rural area, so there's not a lot of opportunity for outside socialization. My nearest neighbor is a mile away, and the nearest park is a 20 minute drive. And as much as I hate it, the nearest obedience class is over an hour drive away!

I do take him on a walk daily. It's usually to the end of the driveway and back, which is 1/4 mile, but at least once a week I try to take him a little further. I stay well away from the neighbor's house, though, because they have a large, aggressive dog and I'm not sure that it would be safe for either of us.

Since he has met my GF's parents, I thought about taking him to their house for a visit. They always come outside to greet us when we show up, anyway, so I thought it might be low-stress to take him and let him sit in the car, with the door open, while we socialize near by. Then, he can come out when/if he's ready.

Does this sound like a good first step? Or should I continue bringing them to us, keeping him in his own territory, until he's more confident?
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Since he has met my GF's parents, I thought about taking him to their house for a visit. They always come outside to greet us when we show up, anyway, so I thought it might be low-stress to take him and let him sit in the car, with the door open, while we socialize near by. Then, he can come out when/if he's ready.
Make sure he's leashed to something or someone stays in the car with him, as a frightened dog can bolt. As to whether or not it's a good idea, I think I'd try it. It all depends on the dog. He's more likely to be afraid with someone coming into his territory than going into someone else's. Just watch him and do everything you can to make sure he can feel safe and not rushed.

I live in a rural area, too, so I know how hard it is to get dogs socialized. If you can take him in the car to even a new place in the country or somewhere where there are even just a few people, maybe talking in their yards or whatever, just to let him observe people, that would be good. Pushing that envelope ever-so-slightly every day is going to be your best bet. In fact, I think I'd do that for a while before taking him to visit the in-laws. :)
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