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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,

I'll post a little background info before my question, so you'll have a bit of info to work with.

I'm 46 years old and, aside from a few years when I couldn't own a dog due to housing restrictions, I've always had a dog in the house. I learned a long time ago how to train a dog to do the basics such as sit, down, stay, heeling on the leash, etc. All four of the dogs I've owned over the years have been adopted from shelters. All of my dogs have been my best friends and companions.

My most recent dog, Chewie, was adopted from a shelter when he was about six months old. He's an Akita/Chow mix and is probably about 6 years old now.

He's terrified of thunder and lightening to the point that he will begin to pace and stay within a few feet of me when it starts raining. Once it's been raining for a while without thunder, he will calm down and go back to snoozing or playing with his rawhide. However, if it starts to thunder, he's attached to my knee and shaking uncontrollably for the duration of the storm. I've tried various techniques such as trying to sooth him, sitting calmly with him at the window and plying him with treats when he stops shaking. Recently, I've begun (we've had quite a few bad storms recently) acting like nothing was amiss when he starts this nervous behavior. He seems to be responding to that the best.

However, just last night I was getting his leash out of the closet to take him for a walk. When I had the leash in my hand, I accidently dropped the loop end of the leash. I grabbed the leash reflexively, like one does when trying to catch a falling object, and ran it through my hands to snag the loop with my free hand. That's the best way I can describe my actions. I was walking towards him while I did this. He made the most pitiful sound and almost fell over trying to get away from me. I've never heard any dog make a sound like that before. It sounded like I'd kicked him in the ribs. It was a horrified sound much worse than anything he's vocalized to this day even during the loudest thunderclap you can imagine.

He immediately calmed down and came towards me to get the leash on to go outside. Once the leash was on his harness, he was fine and we had a nice walk. But, I had to figure out what was going on. So, when we returned home, I took the leash and harness off of him and put them away. As I was putting the leash away, talking to him about what a good boy he was like I always do, I turned towards him and lifted the leash quickly again. He didn't quite react like the first time, but he still backed away quickly and cringed.

I am almost in tears. I don't know what to do, aside from being really careful when I have a leash in my hands. I never want my dog to be afraid of a leash...or of me...

What should I do? Should I try to desensitize him to it with treats? Should I just be really careful with raising the leash above waist level? Should I try with other strappy objects and find out if it's just the leash?

He's never acted like that before and I just don't know what to do about it.

Thanks in advance.
 

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You've had him since he was a young dog and this is the first time he's reacted in that way? Hm.
There could be several things going on.
Did you have a thunderstorm or other stressful event happen in the last 12 hours before the leash incident? Sometimes if the dog is already/still stressed about something else his reactions could be over the top to other things that may seem unusual to him. They call this "bounce back"...some dogs bounce back quickly from stressors, some take longer. Does he have anyone else in his life that may have recently treated him badly with the leash or with a raised arm? Not saying he's been abused here, but you'd be surprised how little it can take if he had ANY history as a very young pup with abuse.

Have you had his thyroid checked? Any increase in fear or anxiety based behaviours that does not seem to have a cause (like a traumatic incident) can be due to thyroid imbalances. In fact, most people think thyroid issues (hypothyroid) are only evident with weight gain or loss, dry skin and coat etc. but the EARLY signs of thyroid disease are almost always related to anxiety, fear and aggression changes in the dog. By the time the gross (physical signs) occur the thyroid is seriously in trouble. I would recommend you have his thyroid (full panel) checked at the vet, even a slightly low result can result in increased fear reactions.

Yes, you should work on desensitizing to the leash, and possibly to the arm movements involved in the incident as well. I highly recommend Dr. Karen Overall's protocol for relaxation, which is a graduated series of "stressors" that helps the dog learn to remain calm with physical movement, noises and separation. The exercises can feel a bit silly (for you) in the beginning (jumping around and clapping for example..lol) but they DO work.

Keep the treats used for the desens. very high value and only use them for that purpose while you are working. If the dog won't take the high value (for him) treats, you have gone too far too fast.

I still recommend a vet check first, any work you do will be for naught if he has a physical issue affecting his mental state.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
You've had him since he was a young dog and this is the first time he's reacted in that way? Hm.
Yeah, I hear ya. He's acted a bit skittish around me when I've had a newspaper or magazine in my hand, but that was just a wary look and I just chalked it up to idiot previous owners. This reaction was over the top. It seems odd and I have no explanation.

There could be several things going on.
Did you have a thunderstorm or other stressful event happen in the last 12 hours before the leash incident? Sometimes if the dog is already/still stressed about something else his reactions could be over the top to other things that may seem unusual to him. They call this "bounce back"...some dogs bounce back quickly from stressors, some take longer. Does he have anyone else in his life that may have recently treated him badly with the leash or with a raised arm? Not saying he's been abused here, but you'd be surprised how little it can take if he had ANY history as a very young pup with abuse.
Regarding anyone in the house that may have treated him badly, I doubt it. There's only myself, my wife and my father. My wife and I are the only ones that walk him and my wife wouldn't hurt a fly. My father gets crotchety at times, but that's just being grumpy and he just tells the dog to "Go lay down" or some such.

As far as stressful events, I'd rather not go into details, but we had a loss in the family on Sunday. Everyone has been quite upset and sad.

Have you had his thyroid checked? Any increase in fear or anxiety based behaviours that does not seem to have a cause (like a traumatic incident) can be due to thyroid imbalances. In fact, most people think thyroid issues (hypothyroid) are only evident with weight gain or loss, dry skin and coat etc. but the EARLY signs of thyroid disease are almost always related to anxiety, fear and aggression changes in the dog. By the time the gross (physical signs) occur the thyroid is seriously in trouble. I would recommend you have his thyroid (full panel) checked at the vet, even a slightly low result can result in increased fear reactions.
Thanks, I'll do that. He hasn't shown any signs of increased agression or fear that I know about. However, I have noticed that he's moving a bit slower in the mornings and stretching a lot more. I just chalked it up to the fact that he's not a puppy anymore. He still runs laps in the back yard if I haven't taken him to park in a while.

Yes, you should work on desensitizing to the leash, and possibly to the arm movements involved in the incident as well. I highly recommend Dr. Karen Overall's protocol for relaxation, which is a graduated series of "stressors" that helps the dog learn to remain calm with physical movement, noises and separation. The exercises can feel a bit silly (for you) in the beginning (jumping around and clapping for example..lol) but they DO work.
Now that you mention it, he gets very excited when his humans are active. My wife picked up a playstation game called Dance Dance Revolution that has a dance pad and, when played, it looks like a high-impact aerobic workout. It took a few weeks before he would let her play the game without disrupting her. I guess it looked like fun and he wanted to play, too.

I see what you're getting at. That might be just the thing. I'll look into it today.

Keep the treats used for the desens. very high value and only use them for that purpose while you are working. If the dog won't take the high value (for him) treats, you have gone too far too fast.
Understood. He only gets "cookies" when we're working on something, anyway. I know not to over do it.

I still recommend a vet check first, any work you do will be for naught if he has a physical issue affecting his mental state.
Will do. He was at the vet a few months ago for an updated rabies vac, but they didn't take any blood or stool samples, so maybe it's time for a good work up. Thanks for the advice.

Randy
 

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Do the vet work. Absolutely. Also have him checked for cataracts. He might be having some vision issues.

After that and regardless of the out come see if the following makes any difference. I trained MANY dogs successfully (or so I thought) but have learned a "better way" recently.. :) too late smart or something like that. LOL

Get better treats than the store bought biscuit things (trust me on this). Get a Hot dog and quarter it lengthwise and then make cross cuts.. and make yourself about 50 treats. You can use spam too and some dogs like it better than hot dogs... I use steak, hot dogs, spam, and bits of string cheese.. Treat quantity is not what counts.. QUALITY makes the dog turn his head. (This was one of my learning epiphanys).

Next, when you take out the leash and hold it in one hand. do nothing with it. Just hold it. Say your dog's name and when he looks at you say, YES!" empahtically and immediately hand the dog a bit of hot dog with the hand with no leash in it. Do this several times.

Continue this and move the leash around. Move your hands around. Do it slowly. Every time you dog looks at the leash and or your hands, say "YES!" and give him a treat.

Do this routine for a few days in a row and gradually move your hands a bit faster (normal speed). Sometimes have a newspaper in your hands. Sometimes another object. Every time he looks at hands and/or object, say YES and feed a treat.

The object here is for the dog to associate anything you have in your hands.. and your hands in general.. with something REALLY GOOD.

Do not lean over your dog or put your hand over your dog's head. When you do touch him, give him long, reassuring strokes with one hand and give him a little bit of hot dog with the other.

Continue the work and gradually use less treats and more stroking and praise (to replace the treats).

None of this work will hurt the dog and it will give him a lot more confidence in you and where you move your hands.

When he is good in the house, you can repeat the process in other places (outside, on walks etc.). This will generalize "hand and objects in hands = good things" in any location you are.

You can try to use these same high end treats and the word YES if it rains and there is no thunder. Say the dog's name and when he focuses on you, say YES and immediately feed. You may actually get him to accept rain as long as there is no thunder.

The technique MAY help with thunderstorms too, but in my limited experience, once a dog is afraid of thunder, they never get over it. You can try anyhow. If it doesn't work, you can stop.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
After that and regardless of the out come see if the following makes any difference. I trained MANY dogs successfully (or so I thought) but have learned a "better way" recently.. :) too late smart or something like that. LOL
Never call me an old dog that can't learn new tricks :) I know I can always learn something new.

After my second post, I tried a few things. I lifted my hand up in the air and walked towards him. I did it when I was about to take him for a walk and I did it when I was standing in another room when I had his attention. I even waved it around menacingly. He looked at me like I was nuts. So, I tried getting a belt from my closet. I did the same thing (although not with the intent of taking him for a walk) but I did it near the closet door where his leash is and in another room. Then, I got his leash and put it on him with no problem. We went for another walk around the block (not unusual when the weather is nice). When we got back, I took the leash off him and raised the loop end. He cringed, backed away and closed his eyes like he was waiting for a smack in the face.

This is going to take some time. Until yesterday, I never knew that about him. It makes me sick to think about it.

Thanks for the good words and encouragement, folks.
 

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I find that food will conquer all with most dogs..

The other day at the park I thought to buy Atka a vanilla ice cream from the Ice Cream truck. She decided the electronic music was very bad scary stuff.

I decided not to play into this and as she sat there (same as she had when she decided the chime was bad scary) she would concentrate on eating ice cream (her most favorite stuff in the whole world) and then concentrate on being scared and then go back to eating ice cream.

Later on we had to go past the still chiming ice cream truck in another part of the park and Atka decided maybe it wasn't so scary after all....

Don't be sick about your dog's reaction. Get something really deliciious so the big scary has to compete with the really yummy. You will make progress and if you do this enough your dog will start to WANT you do to the thing he is finding a need to be fearful of. That is the goal.. having the dog cease having fear and to do that you need to replace the fear with something else.. like a desire to be around the thing that used to be scary.
 
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