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The Fearful Dog Thread

48709 Views 903 Replies 55 Participants Last post by  KBLover
Would love to hear your prior success stories and current works-in-progress with dogs that have behavior problems which are fear-based. What fears did they have and what did you do/are you doing to get them through it? How long did it take to see drastic improvement?

I'll be back with mine tomorrow...
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Wally was basically scared of everything.

Didn't like cable boxes. Didn't like "unnatural" terrain (blacktops or panels on the ground), didn't like new objects, didn't like "old" objects in new places. Kids. Dogs. Sounds. Me. Things in my hand. Cords. 90% of this made no sense to me. Why a dog is scared of a book is beyond me. This dog was even scared of trees - I was like what the ****? Dogs and trees = natural message boards for pee mail.

He's much better now. People would probably said I did it the "wrong" ways. I wanted to "ease" into it - but he learned that he could just stay away and never interact - which was going nowhere.

So I taught him targeting, then made him target what he doesn't like. He gets praised for doing it, and he had to a REAL touch - not just a "phantom" touch. (Freaking smart dog for even thinking of trying that). I want nose snot on object.

This turned him around. It gave him a way to interact with something he didn't like and still earn my praise for it. He could stretch out his neck and nose touch something, and get a treat and praise. He started doing this on his own over time, reaching out to touch things he was uncertain of. If they rustled or moved when he touched - he didn't run away and not want to touch them. He still startles when that happens (I guess that's just natural?) but he'll keep investigating.

So basically I "forced" him to do it even though I did so via a cue that required interaction (instead of just making him unable to run away). Some might call that "flooding". So be it - I call it what worked.

I also did this training off leash. Again, I wanted him to a) not think that leashed is the only time he has to do this - he won't be leashed all his life, and b) do it on his own power - instead of being dragged/pulled/forced to do so with me pulling on a leash or him feeling that he has to because he's "trapped"

He'll try to "back up" a little if I ask him to sit near an object he doesn't like, but I don't even let that subtle little fearfulness work. Once I know he can do something, I require it always - he learned that as well, so now he'll just come where I target and do as asked. He won't be nervous as he's focused on me for his reward.

With dogs, it's harder because we don't encounter them very often. Usually, they are being walked or worked with by their handlers and I don't believe in disturbing a handler/dog team unless we just happen to meet or are invited/talked to by the other handler (or their dog in a few cases). Usually the work comes in for him looking alert-yet-confident at another dog and getting c/t for it. Any awareness that's "brave" or "non-fearful" gets rewarded. He did give a little puppy the time of day once and that was encouraging. Still, a LOT of work to go on this front.

With adults - he's FAR better. Often he'll turn around and follow them for a little while sniffing the air they just walked past (why?!) and is usually indifferent if we pass by another adult. About the only oddity that gets him a little uneasy is canes/walking sticks.

With kids - had a setback just today. He was fine to start with but some young girls came running up from behind with their shrill voices and waving arms. Forget it. He ran off then (again off leash but in a very safe place - no streets, etc). Called him back, settled him down. But then it still stuck with him.

Another girl, this time younger but actually WAY calmer - but Wally still was on "oh crap" mode. He ran off again. This time I stopped him, picked him up, and took him back to the girl. Flopped him on the ground, told him to lie down and stay. Again, people probably would say "Don't do that!" but if it has to be that he needs to learn that running won't do him any good - so be it. He laid down and was actually super calm. He sniffed the girl while she pet him softly and we had a little conversation. He wasn't so-called "shut down" he was sniffing her hand, her shoes, sniffing her breath as she talked. I was thinking, "So why was he scared of her in the first place?" If he is calm and curious about the little girl - why did he RUN? Again, makes no sense to me.

As luck would have it - kids were all over the place. So I used this as a chance to try to calm him down around them and make their appearance less negative. If he looked in the direction of a kid - c/t. I was surprised he actually took the treats. Sometimes he got a little too worried to take one, but then a few seconds later did. Lines for the ice cream truck, a kid running over to us for a quick pet before getting ice cream prompted his default behavior (YES) so click and a jackpot. About 20 feet from some families having fun in the field, click and treats for looking at the movement/people. A girl came over to play on the equipment. C/T since he looked but wasn't afraid. C/T for looking at her. She started yelling (kids!) for some odd reason, he looked. C/T since he was still not afraid. I stood up he looked at her and then me - still sitting. C/T. I ran out of treats so we went home - he had earned them all - about 20 pieces.

It's always a struggle, but he's getting more confident. I can see it. Tail doesn't disappear like someone cut it off anymore when just walking past active kids. It might drop to a little lower than halfway - better than tucked. He can work around their distraction, only looking over once in a while.

Maybe one day, he'll be more socialized - I try not to think about how under socialized he was by his previous owner/his breeder.

Then it was his fear of doing the "wrong" thing I had to overcome. Getting him to actually try different things. Getting him to communicate with me. It's almost like he was scared to make a sound or touch me or try to do something. There were times he would physically shaking and panic because I wanted him to figure something out on his own. Shaping eventually worked for this but for weeks I was thinking of giving up on it because he just refused to do anything - and then became scared.
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The power keeps going out today and it's not freaking Wally out.

He looks at me (for my reaction I'm guessing?) and when I just act like nothing happened - he goes back to doing whatever it was. No shaking or panting - it's so wonderful.

Some loud BOOM happened while we were walking this evening. He looked around trying to figure out where it came from, but he wasn't scared.

Maybe he's growing up! :D
If Brenna will follow you around, I would start taking her out and letting her explore the world with you. She may not take the treats, probably because she's checking out the new place, trying to learn it, get the smells, check for trouble, etc.

Over time she'll probably get more comfortable and then you'll be able to treat her. Otherwise, a nice "good girl" can be just as comforting. I know if I say "good boy" to Wally while he's checking something out, even if apprehensive about it, he'll keep sniffing it, or he'll back away and then sniff again.

Also, try introducing her to people, but if she's a hider, you might want to take her somewhere she's comfortable, but can watch people go by. Praise/treat her as long as she's interested, but not in a fearful state (alert is fine). If she's fearful, increase the distance until she's calmer again, then start again. If she can't hold it together, go ahead and stop and let her do something she finds comfortable - it was just too much at the moment.
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I hope this isn't the start of a set back.

Out walking tonight so he could go potty before bed.

Someone let's their dog out, probably to do the same. Except his dog couldn't care less what he's saying.

So I start to walk Wally away. But that was probably a bad idea as it gets the other dog even more attracted (chase instinct probably).

So eventually, I have him turn and sit and I sit next to him. We're going to hold a position. This seemed to make Wally less nervous. I have my arm around him and using my eyes to keep the other dog back away from us. He tries to close in I lean forward to occupy the space. Wally also growled a little. I didn't correct him since growling is just communication to "stay back". I'd rather hear the growling than have him think I don't want him to and he just snaps/bites.

I see he (the dog) is using calming signals (sniffing the ground), so I stick my hand out into neutral space. It occupies him, and he sniffs my hand. I was hoping to help the other owner calm him down and get him more subdued.

Worked - until the owner started chasing the dog. *sigh*. So the dog gets the game on and runs away from him. We take the chance to go home - at least after a poop (the excitement must have made him need to go)
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It's weird, because I felt like we might have had a little bit of a setback tonight too. Not because of any incident in particular, but just because the warm weather means the streets are busier. Marge looked a bit uncomfortable on our walk, so I'm hoping it was just a one time thing.
I know that feeling too. More kids out. More dogs out. More people out talking. More activity (yard work, home improvements)

I've been stepping up the look at that games and my own "big deal" demeanor. So far both have been working. He let three young girls stroke him for a good 15 minutes. The oldest one (probably like 9 or 10) even asked me if she could have Wally. :eek: Forward little girl :D Kept looking at me too while stroking him - almost a little creepy now that I think about it :)

It was funny, though. One of the little ones (probably a 4 year old) picked up something off the ground and Wally almost licked her hair! I mean, I know he'll lick MY hair, but someone elses? What the heck?
Hmm...Wally's still a bit put-off by kids, especially little ones. I'm starting to think it's their voices (high-pitched) that's doing it. Trying to think of ways that I might can help this aside from just happening to be out with kids around.

Thought about making a high pitched sound and then c/t when he looks at it and not being afraid (almost turn the high-pitch voices almost like clicks), but then it will be hard to simulate a high-pitched kid's voice and I know a dog's hearing can't be fooled.

Whenever there's the chance, the "Look at That" game is always in effect - just wish I could get more opportunities. Like the last few days, it's been hard because of the constant rain so the kids aren't out.

He didn't freak out with all the yard work and such going on. Groundskeepers and their large, loud lawnmowers - other guys with leaf blowers and weed whackers. He even went potty about 10 feet from a worker with his leaf blower nearby. He looked at him (and the tool) but kept peeing and staying under control.

Now it's thundering - going to be another test for him since he'll be needing to go out soon so no way to "wait it out" unless the storm happens to pass.
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I clicked Wally for looking at a dog walking by and gave him a tasty treat - he kept following the dog LOL

I had to call him three times to get him to stop walking behind the dog! :)

NEVER saw that reaction before. I don't know if it was just a calm dog that put him at ease or if he thought "well if looking got me this...maybe following will get me even more!"
I have a feeling Wally would be too scared of all the obstacles to be able to learn how to get past them...

He'll run around them most likely. :(

I've thought about splurging for a few jumps and maybe some weave poles, but haven't.
Had to brag on Wally's EXCELLENT walk he just had.

Started with a dog a couple townhouses down being out - he just stood and looked at her - so he got a c/t. Then had him look at her (pointed to her) and when he turned to her, c/t. He did that a couple times before he stopped looking at her and just sat and looked at me. Then later on, the neighborhood playground was brimming with activity. He didn't care - he was too fixated on me LOL. When he actually noticed other stuff was going on, c/t.

A little further, a dog barked at him from his backyard. Wally looked while walking, c/t.

Then on the way back, there was even MORE activity and some people playing basketball. When he looked at them (and the sounds of the ball hitting the rim, etc) c/t. Then a kid came up. Wally didn't even flinch, he just sat and looked at him. Another c/t. He said put while the kid pet him and I even talked to the kid some and he (Wally) didn't care. I gave a piece of the treat (apple cake - really high value to him and he was really hungry since it's been 13 hr since his last meal) to the kid and Wally took it out his hand!

Another kid came up and knew I was training him to walk off-leash :eek: (Oh, I didn't mention he was off-leash this whole time?) so that was a nice surprise (always good to see kids understanding dogs, even had good body language - didn't stare at Wally, moved slowly, stood sideways, pet the neck/side instead of over his head). Gave this kid some of the apple cake (which he also recognized, well almost - he called it carrot cake) and Wally ate from his hand too.

Then, just on the way home, he saw a tiny little girl (probably 2 year old) running towards him. He stood still and looked, c/t. I asked him to sit as she got closer. He did, c/t. Then the girl walked, literally, about 3 inches from his nose. Wally just sniffed her as she went by. Click and more treats.

Basically, it was a perfect walk. I certainly would take this the whole time, every time - especially with him being off-leash the whole time. Never would imagine he'd eat from a kid's hand. Granted, those kids (both have dogs - one has a 23 year old Dalmatian :eek: ) are probably "easy" on the challenge scale (not the screaming high-pitched chaotic type), but I'll take it. It got him rewarded in the face of kids and up close. :)
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You aren't worried that Wally will spook at something and run off?
Of course I am :) I won't go off-leash if I was walking down a busy street but in the neighborhood where he can't get into any mess even if he did run - sure.

However, he'll never get better at it if he gets no experience. I also want him to control himself on his own - not just because he's got limited range of motion.

If he can learn to sit there, even if going over to being afraid, without the limit/crutch/security(?) of the leash, then he's really learning control.
It must be great to trust your dog in those situations. My neighborhood is far too busy for that kind of work. Guess that's living in NYC! Seems like you're both enjoying it, though! :)

(Marge also has no control of herself around squirrels :rolleyes: - which makes offleash a no-go right now)
Oh, if I were in NYC, I probably couldn't do this either :) I'm sure there's PLENTY that could cause enough concerns in a big city to add off-leash dog to the list.

Wally in a big city - now there's a test. I don't know if he'd be freaked out or overly curious!

Yeah, the squirrel (or cat, or bird) thing was an issue for Wally too. I put the chasing on a cue. Sometimes when walk towards the critter, I'd say "go get it!" and he'll run after it. Then I'll call him back after letting him have some fun and give him a reward.

Sometimes I'll cue "Wait" and that freezes him. Then "Go get it!"

He's got it down pretty good. Sometimes he'll freeze (waiting on his own) in hopes that I'll give the go ahead. Sometimes I do, just to keep him feeling like it's worthwhile for him to defer to me in the situation. He'll return on his own after some distance too - so it's like we made a chain for him to follow and have some fun while I still get some control/management of the situation.

Sometimes he'll get a "leave it" so we keep walking. The 'inconsistency' has him waiting for the direction (can I, huh? can I can I can I?) so that he doesn't jump to the chase in anticipation of the "Go get it!" .
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I wonder how Wally will do with the 4th of July this year also. Last year wasn't so hot (though he did learn to go up/down stairs).

He was clearly freaked and just was a shaking mess. It was hard to even get him to go potty (but I insisted that he did, and, eventually, he did).

Hopefully, the progress we've made will carry the day this time around.
Wow, I can imagine that's a disheartening situation, especially after seeing such progress.

Hopefully, she's healthy so no medicine or such will be needed, just some reassurance, patience, and guidance. That's something I think all us fearful dog guardians have (or develop) in spades.

Sadly, I don't know what else to tell you except to keep your spirits up and be as at ease as possible so Marge can continue to see everything is alright.

Here's hoping you and her can continue to work through the situation. :)
Yeah, your approach is probably one I need to learn and use more of.

I'm too much of a mind to give him experience and then use that experience to help him have confidence and to learn how to cope (instead of just running). Then when he slows down, he can actually read a situation instead of insta-assuming it's one he needs to get away from.

Like today - six people (either two families or one large one) gathered around Wally and asked me the usual questions (how old? Boy/girl? How'd you get him? etc) and he was not just fine, but basically perfect. Yeah, he hid behind me a little at first, but after talking to them a little and then backing up to let them come to him, he was fine. He didn't run or anything. He even lied down when they pet him calmly. He was sniffing them/the air around them and just being a happy little dog enjoying the attention.

Then later on that same walk - a lone little girl wanted to pet him and he was like "I want out - now!" again. I don't know - maybe the girl smelled bad to him or something, but I was thinking - he's fine with a crowd that included four kids, but one lone kid and he's scared?

So now I wonder if I should have just avoided all the people - or just went back in after the successful meeting or not, or just keep playing "Look at That" with people and try again in a week or so. *sigh*
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Please do. I'm always interested in more information.

Still at a loss for the one kid thing. I guess it was like a "lone wolf" to him, maybe a crowd is more predictable for him or makes more sense to him instead of just one person.

I don't know - doesn't seem to make any sense, even from a fearful standpoint.

I've always wondered about ending on a positive. From Wally, I can't tell if that matters much to him. Sometimes, we've had "bad" sessions (not with socialization so much, but in general) where I just stopped because I was getting frustrated and he was getting into "shaking mode" (this was especially the case when I threw him into shaping. I thought he'd never get it) and we couldn't even get one or two successful trails.

Then the next day (or even an hour later), he does it like it was old hat. So I don't know what goes on in his head a lot of times.
Like Miss Mutt said, Hound, you need to read the posts here and see that a) we know what it's like working with a fearful dog since we deal with it everyday, and b) We've done all that and more. Don't need the standard pat answers.

This isn't a thread for the cookie-cutter standard responses. It's a thread to share experiences/what worked for you, a place to brag on the victories and support for the defeats, and trying to figure out the sources/causes of fear (i.e. we already know that we need to do that) and how to eliminate them.
Any updates from anyone?

We had another good day today.. too tired to post too much, but she had a play session with her Spaniel friend and seems to be warming up to his (male) owner. Went to Rally and didn't have any incidents either though she was a bit afraid of the wing banging things around outside.

Not too much in the way of updates here. Just continual work in progress at this point. Wally's improving still, but still the fear flares up although it's more of trying to "walk faster" than OMG I need to get away, NOW!

Not so much afraid of new objects anymore, but now it's a thing about space. Like if there's two unknown objects he has to fit between, he'll hesitate and then go fast between them.

I make him do it over and over until he can walk controlled between them. If I can't stop the fear, I can have him still behave in a steady/controlled manner. Then he seems to realize he was afraid of nothing after a while and it's no big deal to go between them.

Sounds can still trigger him, and still especially loud kid's voices. It's a consistency thing since there's not always loud kids to train/expose him with so it's harder to really help him.
That's great! I'm happy for your and Brenna. I'm hoping Wally does that as well. One night he looked in a direction and started growling and wagging his tail (?) so I don't know what that was about or if it was the start of what Brenna's doing.

I'm trying to encourage Wally to use his voice more. He's getting better indoors (though sometimes he still needs encouraging) but outdoors we won't bark much unless I get him going with cue bark-then play chase-stop until he barks on his own-play chase and so on.

Hopefully, he'll one day make a breakthrough.
Can't give much details (short on time), but Wally actually pulled TOWARDS three dogs walking.

Edit: The details

Wally and I saw three dogs being walked. They all looked at him and one made sort of a hah-hah-hah sound and Wally perked up. He was sniffing and trying to follow them. One in particular seemed to catch his interest and that one sort of did a high-pitched...wouldn't call it a bark but it was like a wooo-rooo-rooo sound and Wally really wanted to follow
him then.

Was nice to see him take an interest in dogs that way instead of trying to get away from them.
Ran into a forward and bold little pup on a walk. Being the curious and bold pup that he is, he ran up to Wally and wanted to sniff him to death.

Wally, though, had other ideas *sigh*. He was starting to run away, but he was still listening for me so I got him to sit. He still didn't like the other pup sniffing him :( He did a lot of growling.

But he stopped shaking after a while - it was getting more like how he used to be towards the neighbor's dog where they hashed out a way to interact. Of course, what was most funny is that the pup wanted Wally's scent so bad he'd sniff where Wally was sitting. He was going to town on the grass sniffing.

When it started turning sour, I got the pups attention and he started sniffing me. Sweet little dog - it's too bad Wally doesn't like him :( This pup is FASCINATED by Wally for some reason. He even ran across the street :eek: to come up to Wally again. It was interesting on one level. I gathered up the little guy and held him until one of his handlers could come get him.

On the plus side, he was good with a group of strange kids around him. It seems he's getting his confidence around people, even kids. At first he backed up a little, but then he sat down and started getting curious about them (sniffing their hands, and kids LOVE getting sniffed for some reason) and sniffing the air around them and just being nice.

Got more work to do around the dogs, though. Of course, consistency is still a problem. Kids/people will be more common now with summer getting into swing, but dogs aren't too frequent, and I can't really pick out too much of a pattern of why some dogs Wally will want to approach and others, not so much.
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