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We got a 3 year old border collie from a rescue charity. Her name is Sweet Pea..
She has a lovely temperament, but she must have been very badly beaten in the past, and becomes terrified at nothing at all.
She seems particularly afaid of men, and therefore of me.
At the start, if I caught doing something wrong I might say a stern, "NO", but then she'd cower, and yelp. When I went to pet her, she'd yelp even more, seeming terrified.
Another time I was taking off my wellies, and it tipped her very slightly- same panic reaction.

Things were going okay for a while. She was behaving very well, and had stopped running off, and was coming back when called. I introduced her to the clicker a few days ago, as I thought more formal trainning might help. She hadn't had a freakout in a long while.

Today, however, she got caught in a poultry fence. She didn't seem to worried about that, at first. When I went to release her, talking gently, and taking her paw to guide it through the fence, she completely freaked out. Worse than ever. Luckily my wife was there to free her, because Sweet Pea wouldn't let me do it at all, and became more tangled.

Now Sweet Pea won't let me touch her. Even when I call her, or say "good girl", she starts yelping. I find it upsetting as I've only ever been nice to her. I hope she'll come around, because otherwise I don't think we'll be able to keep her.

Any tips or advice would be welcome.
 

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Maybe when the wellie fell over it scared her so now she is more jumpy. You may have to introduce her to them so she sees they are just shoes. Maybe put some treats next too them and sit with her so she can sniff and investigate learning they won't hurt her. That might take care of the shoes but other items may need a behaviorist.
 

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It's a do over. You got through the first hump and here's another. There probably will be many more times she has an upset and blames you. In time it's very likely she will get better but she is a bit of a project.

Max disliked men until he lost his hearing. If you really want to work through this you could try not talking to her or talking in that silly high pitched voice so many effective trainers use. Use hand gestures and the clicker to communicate instead. Along with that you might keep kibble or something she will always eat in your pocket and when you are talking to people and want to use a more normal voice toss a bit of it every time you open your mouth. It isn't fair that if a dog dislikes a voice it's generally a man's voice but that is the way it is.

Try never ever facing her or directly approaching her, that's bad dog manners. Of course you want to be able to do it as she is living in human society and it will happen, but as a scary person you need to be super polite. It's possible that was the problem with the fence incident. She was a trapped animal and you happened to approach too directly as if you were a predator. She hasn't forgotten it yet and is still traumatized.
 

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Border Collies--and many herders--are incredibly sensitive animals to begin with, and whatever happened to her before certainly did a number on her. This is a dog that is probably best trained using no corrections at all...no "NO!", no "ah-ah!" no nothing. Sounds difficult, but it can be done. It's going to be important to manage her so she doesn't do anything naughty so you never have to correct her: keep garbage locked up, keep clothing and shoes out of her reach, keep food off the counters, etc. Praise her for everything she does right, even looking at you, chewing on her toys, laying on her bed, or not being scared of something that falls down!

Pay special attention to your body and your voice. Approaching her head-on is probably scary for her. Instead, turn to the side and be relaxed, speaking in a higher voice. Even my dog, who is incredibly bonded to me, responds far better when I turn my body to the side instead of straight-on approaching him for pets or whatever. Herders are incredibly attuned to your body language and seem to know what you're feeling/want them to do just by looking at the set of your shoulders!

Because they are so attuned to body language, you don't have to speak to her if that scares her even if you are using a higher voice. They can learn that a "thumbs up" means "Good girl!" Try to teach her little basic obedience things like "sit" or "down" using luring and hand signals, if she allows it. Later, you can add voice commands when she is more comfortable.

And yeah, you probably will have lots of setbacks. She may blame you for things that you didn't do just because you were in the room. Hopefully she comes around. Good luck.
 

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What I would recommend for a dog with that degree of fear is to make pretend they don't exist. You don't need to tiptoe around her in your own house or anything. But casually move around her and never towards her. Don't make eye contact. Toss a few treats every now and then and maybe even be the one to set her meal down. But remove all expectations you might have and simply exist around her. I know that doesn't sound remotely like what you want out of a dog. But for dogs like this, the higher the expectations, the more you coax, and the more you TRY to be nice, the slower the progress will be.

Fearful dogs don't need to learn people are 'nice'. Fearful dogs need to learn that people aren't a threat. She will seek you out once she is ready.
 

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And to clarify, treating a fearful but food motivated dog is not a bad thing. But most people treat and then coax with their voices, their body language, and their gaze. If people could treat in a way that is very passive and detached, it wouldn't be an issue.

I know many fearful dogs through work and through my friends. My favorite one used to bare her teeth at me if I extended my hand or leaned towards her. I just shrugged it off and ignored her, since she wasn't my dog anyways. But because she was a coworker's dog I happened to see her very often. My interactions with her amounted to just passing her by on my way to my work space. I would casually toss her treats every time I walked by, not because I was trying to befriend her but because it is a habit of mine. Soon she was approaching me for treats and I would mindlessly give her some without talking to her or petting her (usually this happened when I was interacting with my friend, or in the middle of doing something else). In a few months, or maybe a year - I don't know because it wasn't my intention - up till present day, she now whines and trills when she sees me and jumps up on me for treats. To the slight dismay of her owner/my friend, her dog likes me so much now that I am often a distraction when they are trying to train or if they are trying to get somewhere.
 

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Thanks for all the replies - I didn't realise it posted so only getting back now.
Try never ever facing her or directly approaching her, that's bad dog manners. Of course you want to be able to do it as she is living in human society and it will happen, but as a scary person you need to be super polite. It's possible that was the problem with the fence incident. She was a trapped animal and you happened to approach too directly as if you were a predator. She hasn't forgotten it yet and is still traumatized.
Interesting to know that about approaching from the side. Most training I've seen on TV is face to face... but I'd be fairly certain that the fence thing happened to her in the past. It was only when I touched her paw and that she started yelping. The previous owners told the charity that the reason they were letting her go, was that she kept breaking out. I'm guessing she had a flashback of been beaten while stuck in a fence, or something.


Because they are so attuned to body language, you don't have to speak to her if that scares her even if you are using a higher voice. They can learn that a "thumbs up" means "Good girl!" Try to teach her little basic obedience things like "sit" or "down" using luring and hand signals, if she allows it. Later, you can add voice commands when she is more comfortable.
I've tried that a bit, but I think she's too fearful. She only just about takes treats when using the clicker. Our other dog is deaf, and we taught her the "thumbs up", and "Sit" hand signals. So when, Sweet Pea was here first we taught her that too. She didn't have long to learn it yet, but she does seem to respond more to the hand signal than the voice-command, so maybe I should not use my voice at all.

What I would recommend for a dog with that degree of fear is to make pretend they don't exist. You don't need to tiptoe around her in your own house or anything. But casually move around her and never towards her. Don't make eye contact. Toss a few treats every now and then and maybe even be the one to set her meal down. But remove all expectations you might have and simply exist around her. I know that doesn't sound remotely like what you want out of a dog. But for dogs like this, the higher the expectations, the more you coax, and the more you TRY to be nice, the slower the progress will be.
Thanks for that.
It's difficult to hear, but I think this is my only choice. The hardest part is letting go of my expectation, having seen how lovely she is when she is playing happily.
My wife will have to train her, and give affection, etc (while I look on jealously!)
I REALLY didn't think it'd end up like this when we went to get a dog. I don't think we could give her back now, though. She must have been through an awful experience in the past, and she has begun to settle. Still, we'll have to consider what to do
 

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Thanks for that.
It's difficult to hear, but I think this is my only choice. The hardest part is letting go of my expectation, having seen how lovely she is when she is playing happily.
My wife will have to train her, and give affection, etc (while I look on jealously!)
I REALLY didn't think it'd end up like this when we went to get a dog. I don't think we could give her back now, though. She must have been through an awful experience in the past, and she has begun to settle. Still, we'll have to consider what to do
Don't give up hope. Follow Canyx's advice, and things will eventually get better. I was 12 when we got our second dog. She was from the same breeder as our first, but was sold to a puppy mill (not by choice, they lied through their teeth to the breeder). She was bred when she was 6 months old, beaten, starved, the works. Our breeder found out after a year what happened and moved heaven and earth to get her back. Once she did, she gave her to me, because she knew how much I had wanted this dog as a pup, and she felt our home would be the best place for her to recover. None of us could get near her when she first arrived, she would hide under tables and beds, terrified, but we did pretty much what Canyx described, tossing her yummy treats, not encroaching on her space, etc, and she came around. It took her a good year to fully trust us, but she DID come to trust us eventually, and she became a fantastic dog.

You can do this, but you MUST have patience, let her decide to trust based on her timetable, not yours, and it will happen.
 

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Thanks. I'm a bit more hopeful today.
My wife took over last night, while I ignored the dog, as instructed. This morning she's already coming up to me wagging her tail! I'll still ignore her for a week or so.
I'll keep you posted.
 

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Great update! Set backs are so discouraging. She seems like she's going to be worth the extra time and patience.
 

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Thanks. I'm a bit more hopeful today.
My wife took over last night, while I ignored the dog, as instructed. This morning she's already coming up to me wagging her tail! I'll still ignore her for a week or so.
I'll keep you posted.
This is wonderful news! (Just catching up on the thread now.) You took the pressure off her and sometimes that can be SUPER helpful. When it comes to fearful dogs this is exactly what I do. If they approach me, I toss some treats (usually away from me) and don't force interaction. She just needs to learn that she can trust you and that takes some time.
 

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As she continues to grow calmer, here are a few more things to try:
1. When you see her yawn (fairly frequently could be a sign of uncertainty/anxiety), the turn your side to her, and yawn back 'at her'. Don't 'yawn in her face' and don't turn your back, but turn so she can see you yawn, and make a little noise. Sometimes, that can communicate a little 'understanding.'
2. When you are ignoring her, or watching TV, etc., sit on the ground and hold one piece of kibble in your hand resting on your knee. Don't move or acknowledge the dog, continuing to ignore her, even when she takes the kibble. When she does take the kibble, don't move the empty hand, but be prepared, and slowly put another piece of kibble using the other hand. Continue as long as she likes. If she chooses to nudge your hand when it's empty, then you can slowly pet her under the chin, if she allows it.
3. When you get the chance to interact, say "Catch!" and toss a piece of kibble. Caught kibble seems to taste better than from the dish.
4. Walk her around the block a few times a day, on a regular, predictable schedule.
5. When you feel that she is calm enough, take her for a walk in Petsmart, Home Depot, or Lowes.

I just went through something similar, but with a 1.5 Lab/GSD mix. After a year, he's no longer terrified of the world, and is dramatically calmer. He is not yet bullet proof and can be spooked, but I plan to sit in a Farmer's Market and ask everyone else to 'ignore' him, while they feed him kibble.
 

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Just posting to update.
The dog is doing great. She's not afraid of me anymore, and her behaviour is always improving. She's really settling into the family and has become much more confident. She's been much better around the chickens too, and doesn't chase them as much.

Thanks again for all the responses, it made a big difference to me to know the right way to approach it.
 

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Thanks for the update! I am so happy to hear that she is learning to trust you. Great job!
 
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