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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a 2-3 year old sheltie mix i adopted a couple of months ago as a playmate for my 7 month puppy. At home, he’s a somewhat normal dog: plays tug of war with the other dog, lap dog attention seeker, loves treats, etc. Sometimes he barks at the other dog, but only when she oversteps her boundaries and tries to steal his toys away (I hope that’s normal?). She is a puppy still at heart.

But when i take the leash out, he all of a sudden hides in a corner and slouches onto his back all miserable (sometimes exposing his belly). After 20 minutes of trying to get him outside, he reversed back into his harness with 100% of his effort (as if his life depended on it), escapes, and runs back to the apartment. He almost got hit by a couple of cars because he kept escaping from all of the harnesses I buy him, even the “no escape” ones. The only one he can’t escape from is the choke collar + leash combo, but I hate having to resort to using that to just walk him to the park.

So when I’m finally walking him away from the house, he zig zags back and fourth and up and down the sidewalk and it takes me 5 minutes to walk just a block. Sometimes he sits down and I have to drag him to the park.

When we get there, he doesn’t even play with the other dog as he does at home. He’s so worried about trying to find escape routes out of the park he doesn’t even acknowledge her attempts at play fighting him. Most of the time he’s there he’s either trying to escape or is jumping all over me/nudging his head in my arm begging me to leave. I push him off sometimes and 30 seconds later he does the same thing. Sometimes I ignore his attempts yet 30 seconds later he, yet again, does the same thing.

After they both had their “fun” i walk them home, and he pulls like a mad man. I can’t even walk properly without him zig zagging his way to get home. All my repeated attempts of new collars, new walking techniques (stopping when he pulls, walk when he chills out, etc.) have failed. I think he has it in his mind that he’ll accomplish anything he wants with brute force. He also forces me to pet him a bunch. Sometimes I’m cooking or cleaning and he throws whatever I’m doing out of my hand and smashes his head in my arms in hopes i’ll let him. I always ignore it when he does that from the moment I noticed the trend, yet he keeps pushing on.

Should I try one tactic and keep pushing it until he gives in? If so which would be the best solution? He’s so riled up outside he won’t even take the treats he loves so much when he’s out there. I’ve been trying to walk him consistently everyday for the past couple of months. I either take him to this really big fenced in dog park with a bunch of trees or the smaller grass fenced field near my apartment to go to the bathroom. My other puppy does fantastic off leash, but he only does good off leash if he’s in a location he’s never been in once in his life. Once he knows he’s near his house he does whatever he can to run away to it. On a rare occasion, he tried to bite the vet because of how bad he wanted to leave and how they had to pin him down and muzzle him for the shots. I also caught him stealing my breakfast and had to grab him pretty forcefully because the food had avocado in it (which i remembered was poisonous to dogs), where he lunged at me there, then proceeded to cower in front of me and wag his tail/ show his belly and act friendly as if nothing happened. He bit my nose that time. I wouldn’t want him doing that to anyone else and want to teach him as much as I can to help him grow out of it.

The previous house he was living in had a bunch of kids. Would that have contributed to any of this? Maybe he was overwhelmed or something; I also just neutered him a month or so ago, because they never gave him his shots or anything, so that might have an effect. I feel bad that he’s so anxious all the time and that my other dog doesn’t have her friend to play with when he’s so scared like that. I don’t want to abandon him at all but I also have no idea what to do. I am in college right now living in an apartment and have dedicated my living room space filled with dog toys, food, crates, etc for them to play in because he refuses to do well outside. I have been taking him out daily for short bursts of time (15mins-2hours; 2-4 times a day) even with my heavy college schedule/work hours. I want him to be happy and stop being so scared, as my roommate is growing irritated as well. What do I do?
 

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Pushing through anxiety is typically not a great idea. It's an approach that doesn't tend to change the dog's underlying fear about a situation or trigger and rather shows them that they're not allowed to react to it. Which may seem to work, for a while, but can create something of a pressure cooker where the dog is becoming more and more stressed when forced into uncomfortable/scary situations, and this tends to come out as other behavior problems including, in serious cases, severe aggression.

I would immediately stop any forced play with strange dogs in dog parks, and avoid 'thunderdome' style dog parks (a relatively small, bare fenced area where there's nothing for dogs to do except fixate on each other) altogether, unless it's completely empty. He's giving you very clear signals this isn't fun for him, and is very likely to lead to him learning the only way to keep the other dogs away is through aggressive posturing, which can further lead into full-blown fear aggression towards dogs. Many dogs, especially anxious dogs, aren't a good fit for dog parks and that's okay - they don't need to socialize with strange dogs who stress them out. He'll be happier going on solo walks with you and playing with dogs he knows and is comfortable with.

I say this from a place of experience. My oldest dog isn't anxious like your boy, but he is stressed by chaotic, unpredictable situations like dog parks can be. I didn't recognize how stressed he was getting, and over time he went from being insecure in these settings to actively going off on dogs that were making him uncomfortable, and even instigating fights if he felt like that was the only way to get space and control in the situation. As he's a small dog, I'm very lucky he never got seriously injured or killed. We are still, years later, dealing with leash reactive behavior around other dogs (the dog park stuff wasn't the only cause of this, but it didn't help) and difficulties introducing him to new dogs we need him to be comfortable with, like ones owned by family.

It sounds like he's stressed every time he goes outside, no matter what you do or how far you go, is this correct? If this is the case, I strongly suggest getting a certified behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist on board to evaluate him and create a behavior modification plan. He's only been with you a couple months, so it may be too early to say for sure that medication is necessary, but I personally believe that if fear/anxiety is getting in the way of a dog being able to be a dog, even in what should be 'safe' spaces, anti-anxiety medication needs to be on the table. I suggest reading up on it and even talking to your vet so you know the options. Here's a great article to get you started: Behavior Medication: First-Line Therapy Or Last Resort? and here's a thread on our forum where a member documented her anxious dog's journey on medication: Medicating Molly. This dog no longer requires meds at, but they were 100% necessary in her being able to be desensitized to triggers and learning better coping skills for dealing with stress.

In the meantime, I would go really easy for a few weeks. No pushing, short outdoor potty trips and a lot of indoor games and enrichment to keep him mentally stimulated and take the edge off. Stop walks before he starts fighting to go back home, even if that means you only go ten feet from home at first. If you can't even get that far, try sitting right outside quietly for a while and then immediately go back inside, doing this regularly until he seems more comfortable. Two months might seem like a long time, but sensitive dogs can need much longer to truly settle into a home and start feeling comfortable and safe. Obviously sometimes longer trips might be necessary, such as for vet visits, but if you keep pushing him way out of his comfort zone and well beyond the point where he can handle things, you'll set back him learning to trust and be comfortable with you, even in scary, new situations. Again, if none of this seems to be making any difference, professional intervention and likely medication are warranted.

If by choke collar you mean an unlimited slip choke, I highly suggest you look into a martingale or limited slip collar instead - they still tighten when pulled and are used for many escape artist dogs, but they can't tighten so much you're risking serious damage to the neck and trachea or suffocation. You can also buy what's called a 'safety strap' or 'safety clip', which is a short strap with clips on both ends that allows you to attach the harness ring to a collar, so if the dog slips the harness they're still attached to the lead. What kind of harnesses have you tried, if I may ask?

Lastly, I'll recommend The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell as a great starting primer by an experienced and well-respected canine behaviorist. It's a relatively short book that's easily digestible and easy to find. There's a lot more books on working with fearful dogs out there if you're interested, but that one will at least give you a start!
 

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Daysleepers pretty much covered it. I don't have much to add.

I will second that talk with your vet about medication. If your dog can barely leave your apartment without exhibiting extreme anxiety he needs something on board so he can be in a mental state to learn. When they go from 0 to 100 on the anxiety scale a few feet out the door, there isn't much room for learning.

You should also consider training your dog to accept and enjoy wearing a muzzle, especially for vet visits. Look up the Muzzle Up project.

Sounds like he's a bit of a resource guarder. I don't know many dogs who wouldn't at least stiffen up if they have a high value food item and are grabbed unexpectedly, so I wouldn't file this as a "really big deal", but it is certainly something to be aware of. Management of the situation is your best bet, which usually looks like making certain the dog has a private, safe space to eat and chew on high value chews where nobody can bother him. You'll have to be a bit more vigilant about your breakfast since now you know he will steal. Teach the dog a really good "leave it" that is rewarded heavily so when he does get ahold of something he can't have and will likely guard, you can trade him for it and calmly diffuse the situation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I will definitely look into all of the articles you guys sent, thank you so much. I’ve also booked an appointment to a vet to see where he should be directed in the future, whether it be medication or behavioral training. Is there anyway to get him to stop leaning backwards into his leash when i walk him to escape in the mean time? I don’t want him to get hit by a car because he escaped from his harness. There aren’t any areas directly outside of my house I can quickly get him to without a car nearby, I live in an apartment complex with multiple fields, trees, and parking lots, but the only fenced in area is on the other side of the complex, so it’s mandatory I walk him through that if I needed to get there. He isn’t really fidgety because of other dogs at all and tends to ignore the ones outside/ try to herd them on occasion. I never really saw him become aggressive to other dogs unless my other dog was trying to rip something from him like a toy. I think it’s the fact that he’s outside and that alone can set him off. I usually only take him outside in the morning and night since the heatwave, so he doesn’t see many dogs to begin with unless he goes to the really big fenced dog park. I believe I used a slip rope choke collar (that’s the best I can describe it) that attaches to a leash. He still pulls heavily with that, so I didn’t even bother looking at the weird prong ones. If he’d choke himself to death with the other one pulling to get home, I would think he would do the same with the prong one which would just do more damage with the same result of him pulling. He also isn’t that big of a dog so it’s not like I’m not able to control him enough to the point of which I would need a prong collar. I’ve used the no escape harness with the 3 sets of clips (2 in the back, 1 in the front), the regular kong padded harnesses, generic harnesses, no pull harnesses, and so on.

Also everytime he shoves his head into my arm, what do I do? Do I ignore it? I also heard rubbing your dogs belly is bad but I don’t really know much about that either. Again, I have no idea what the other owner did, I just remembered she had a bunch of young children and lived in a pretty big house.
 

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Look into martingale collars. They tighten if the dog tries to back out, but not enough to strangle them. You can also do a two clip type thing by attaching the lead to the harness, and then have a backup attached to the collar so if he escapes the harness he can't get out of the collar.

If you don't want to pet the dog, don't pet him. Ignoring him is fine. Rubbing his belly is only bad if the dog doesn't like it. If he clearly enjoys belly rubs, then there's nothing wrong with it.
 

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What Lillith said. Stop using a harness. You cannot communicate anything useful to a dog in a harness and they can get out of them which is dangerous to the dog. I suggest you throw all the harnesses in the trash and get a good martingale collar for BOTH dogs. Adjust them so that when the dog pulls they cannot slip their head out no matter what.
 

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If he's trying to back out of the lead because he's panicking, unfortunately there's not much you can do training wise except use gear that's as hard to get out of as possible. You were right to avoid prongs and the like - they can absolutely worsen fear in anxious dogs, especially if you're not already experienced/trained in how to use them correctly. Martingales are a flat collar with an extra loop of strap or chain where the leash connects, so they tighten when pressure is put on them but not so much they'll crush the neck like an unlimited slip choke collar will. Here's a very basic one to give you an idea:


And this shows a bit more clearly how they work when they're properly fitted (I know nothing about this company, just thought the visual was informative):


A martingale and a harness with a belly strap that sits tightly behind the ribcage connected together by a safety clip would probably be the most escape-proof setup, and you could choose to have the leash connected primarily to the collar or harness depending on your preference, but many people have success with a martingale alone.

Unless it's absolutely necessary to bring him to the fenced area on your complex, I'd just not push it for now. Literally just stand outside the door (or far enough to one side to avoid being in people's way) and hang out, getting him used to being outside and seeing if he calms down enough to be interested in treats. If he stays anxious that close to the building, you can practice just putting on the leash and taking it off in the apartment, then stepping out your apartment door and coming right back in, etc. to try to normalize each step and make it less scary. Aside from mandatory potty trips, of course.

It's good that he's not in dog parks with a lot of strange dogs often, and that he isn't showing aggression so far! I'd still suggest caution, because he sounds very stressed and anxious on these outings, and that does not lead to healthy, positive interactions with other dogs. You also can't control the other people bringing their dogs into these spaces, so you don't know if any will pick up on his stress and harass him or instigate a fight, which sadly is also a thing that happens.

As for demanding attention, I'm with Lillith. Either ignore the pushy behavior or train/ask him to do another, more polite behavior (like sit nicely) to ask for attention instead. It'll take time and consistency, but I had success with reducing my younger dog's rude demand barking and pawing by ignoring it when I wasn't available to pay attention to him, asking for a polite behavior first when I was available, and rewarding him with a big fuss when I saw him choose to do something more polite/acceptable on his own. Now he is much more likely to walk up to us and sit nicely or quietly bring us one of his toys when he wants attention and play than bark in our faces and claw our knees. Belly rubs are 100% fine if he enjoys them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Ok, i’ll try and get one of those martingale collars and possibly connect it to the harness for better protection before the vet visit. The one I’m using right now prevents him from pulling my arms apart as much and accidentally letting go of the leash, however the leash connected to his front chest and back makes him walk sideways when he starts to pull heavily and he looks at me confused as to why he turned around haha.
I’ve also heard from a friend that one of those over the counter hemp calming supports work for some dogs and are a miss for others, but Ill try to get him to a vet first to better asses the issues. He was awfully skinny and shaped like a greyhound when I got him and have been trying to slowly get his weight a little up by adding stuff to his dog kibble like toppers, salmon oil, wet food on occasion, etc.

My other dog walks great both off leash and on leash and comes to me whenever I whistle, so I don’t know what good changing her harness would do if it already works well enough for her. On occasion she’ll try to pounce at the nearest squirrel but other than that she doesn’t really pull and leaves a lot of slack in my leash/ walks along side of me. She does growl and bark at homeless people a lot though. It’s always only homeless people too, which I find a little odd.

I was also going to try and get the anxious dog a crate of his own rather than just one in my living room so he’d have his own little safe space away from the crazy puppy. I want him to be as comfortable and happy in his new home and I’m very thankful for all of the advice!
 
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