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So we got a great border collie named Patrick from a breader. She normally bread working dogs, but in Patricks case he was a classic "Shy dog" afraid of everything, including sheep. She wasn't able to find a home for him, but we wanted a cuddly dog and didn't have any sheep so she gave us a discount and we drove 5 hours each way to pick him up. He was so nervouse he farted all the way home... man was that stinky.


Patrick is an AWSOME dog. The smartest dog I've ever seen. He loves to sit up on his butt on the couch like hes a human in-between my wife and I so he can lean either way and lick either one of our faces. When he's with us, by himself he is the perfect dog.


The Problem

Patrick is pretty insecure. He's afraid of strangers, other dogs, our cats, Women in drivethrough windows at McDonalds.

He hides under the kitchen table and peeks out at the cats. If they move to another room, he darts in there and hides under a different table so he can keep an eye on them. That's not really a big deal... but the real problem is, if strangers want to pet him he hides under the same tables and growls... if they persist he trys to nip... not really bite, just a quick snap.


When we go to the dog park, he runs up to other dogs... but when he gets there he stands as tall as he can, but is clearly nervous. Then he trys to nip the back of their neck.


We went to petsmart training classes, but they were so terrible we just stopped. We have friends that can bring their dogs over, but he is so obsessed with hurrasing the other dogs that it's embarressing. Nothing we say or do will distract him from annoying the poor other dogs.


We can get a personal trainer... but they charge $80/hr... and that would be a real stretch for our budget. I don't normally condone shock collars but I'm really considering one. Any other ideas out there?

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Since your dog was shy- this was told to you before you got him, and he continues this way, the best you can do is try to improve his confidence, by being a good leader- show to him you can handle all the situations. Also, do not force him to have contact with visitors. Some dogs just are not social this way. You should tell everyone to ignore him. I see no purpose for a shock collar on the dog you describe. Keep him leashed around other dogs, and perhaps, get to know some other friends and take some walks with their dogs and Patrick so he can have some dog friends. Some dogs just are not into the social scene, and some are not confident- I have one like that. I take her for what she is.

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If you use a shock collar on a dog that is already fearful, you will just be multiplying the fear. He will be experiencing pain/discomfort when he is already upset and fearful of something or someone, it will not have any relevance to what he is doing, and you would likely destroy any chance he has of overcoming his fear of strangers and strange things.


When you got this young dog, he was already "shy". At what age did you get him? For certain things, the critical learning time is at a very young age, less than about four months of age. In that same time frame, pups tend to go through a "fear stage", no matter how well-socialized and well-adjusted they may have been prior to that (another often happens during "doggie adolescence" around six or eight months of age).


One reason for critical "windows" of learning is that during those times, the neural pathways in the brain are developing at the same time as the pup is growing and being exposed to new things. If the pup has not been able to experience new things and in a positive manner, he/she might never possess the ability to cope with those particular situations because the brain has not been "wired" to comprehend or deal with them (like strangers).


Of course, dogs that are differing in their genetic makeup may be more or less affected by a lack of positive experiences at those critical growth times. Therefore, depending on the combination of nature (genetics) and nurture (environment, including experience) a dog may be confident and outgoing, or fearful and shy, or any of the shadings in between.


I would not allow people to try to pet your dog if he is not comfortable with that. He is hiding under that table because he feels safe and secure, and for someone to stick their hand under there to force a pat on him, is asking for him to bite out of fear. You are his advocate and you need to protect him. Nobody needs to be petting him if it causes him fear.


If he is not comfortable at the dog park, try to provide interactions with confident and non-aggresive dogs that you are familiar with. Take it one step at a time. He is fearful, he is trying to "make himself big" and trying to be pre-emptive - "I'm a big bad dog and I am dominant and you can't hurt me" when it is really the opposite that is true. The old idea of it being cowards who are the bullies.


Slow down, expose him to strangers or dogs in a non-confrontational manner. Let him go to the guest in your house when he is ready, not when they want to touch him. Let them toss him little treats while you sit and talk and have them ignore him. Many shy dogs feel much better if they can initiate the contact, and if the person they are "checking out" just ignores them while they approach and give a sniff. That sure has helped my two shy dogs.


I guess the best thing I can say is to take it easy, one small step at a time, and let your dog let you know when he is ready for more exposure or contact. Some dogs will never be comfortable with strangers, strange things, or other dogs and it will be a matter of management on your part to make him as comfortable as possible, even if it means you don't go to the dog park or visitors in your house don't get to pet your dog.


You did not say how long you have had Patrick. Please let us know that so that folks can help. There are many people here who are much more qualified than I am to give you advice on dogs with the same issues that Patrick has. I expect you will be getting replies from others that will be much more helpful.


Best wishes!


ETA - I see that while I was rambling on and on, Julie gave you great advice in the sweet and concise version!

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I have no problem with (just about) any training tool IF it's used on the right dog, in the right situations, and is in the right hands. Using an e-collar in this situation would exacerbate the problem, not correct it, so please don't.


I have a fear aggressive dog as well so I understand what you are facing. It takes lots of time and lots of patience. It's important not to put your dog into a situation where he feels the need to act out aggressively. If he's hiding away from strangers then have them leave your dog alone. My dog Fynne absolutely hated my dad, and that was a real issue because I moved in with him 5 months ago. He couldn't even walk by without her being nasty to him. (Only thing I can figure is that he reminds her of someone because others can interact with her after a quick sniff.)


Anyway, I told my dad to completely ignore her - don't look at her, don't talk to her, and don't try to interact with her. Well, he's my dad so I didn't push it when he didn't take my advice, and she had a problem with him until he finally gave up on her and started ignoring her. It's then that she would cautiously come up and sniff him when he wasn't looking.


They just played fetch with the tennis racket and ball the other day for the first time. At first she would bring the ball within about 10 feet of him then bark at him and not come any closer. After half a dozen whacks of the ball she was fine and his new best friend. :-)


A shy or fearful dog lacks confidence. Anything you can do to build that confidence is a step forward, but every time you put (or allow) your dog into a situation where he feels he needs to act out, such as growling, barking aggressively, or nipping, then you are taking him a step or three back.


Consider this; you are afraid of snakes. How would you feel if someone pushed a snake on you? It wouldn't help. It might help to have the snake in a cage so you can go up to it at your own pace to check it out, then let you open the cage in time, then maybe reach your hand part-way in there, then maybe quickly touch it with one finger... In time maybe you have a friend to hold the snake so you can touch it more and maybe hold part of the snake for yourself. Now if that person quick shoved the snake in your face to frighten you then it would set you back, and you wouldn't much trust that person anymore.


So try to think of it from Patrick's point of view. It's important to get him out for socialization - new people, places, things, and experiences, but control his environtment so that he's not pushed too fast. If someone approaches you to pet him then tell them it's better to just admire him from where they are. Don't force scary things on him.


I would not recommend taking him to the dog park, in fact I strongly discourage that for right now. You don't want him to nip or bite someone or even growl. That's just too much for him right now.


As far as your friends bringing their dogs over to play, don't allow Patrick to harass them. My Fynne was 2 1/2 years old when I got her three years ago. She was not socialized at all, so didn't know anything about other dogs, other people, other places, new things... Even a package left by the gate or a new plant on the porch caused her to cautiously approach it and bark aggressively at it.


I've worked hard with her and we still have a long way to go. She's been loose around only a handful of dogs so far, and she will harass them as well, once she gets over her initial fear. This is only with dogs that are very submissive though. Any dog that will stand up for itself, even a little dog, still terrifies her and she will tuck tail and run and then act big and mean once she's a safe distance away.


I don't know about Patrick, but Fynne just needed (and needs) to be exposed to an assortment of dogs to make up for the socialization she never got with her previous owners. Right now I only expose her to dogs that will not give her any *legitimate* reason to be afraid. I will start with her on leash with me, where she feels safe, and I won't let the other dog get into our space. (I'll shoo it away or have the owner keep the dog a comfortable distance away). I'll walk her in the yard or whatever and make sure she knows that we are to focus on walking, and not on the strange dog. She is to a point now where she'll quickly focus on the walk and not worry too much about the other dog.


Once she's comfortable with that (and it took a long time and many dogs to get to this point) then I will have the owner hold their dog with its butt facing us, then I'll have Fynne go up so she can sniff the dog and check it out real good. (This is only if the other dog is ok with this btw.)


Then I'll keep Fynne on leash by me while the dog sniffs around the yard or house or whatever, pretty much ignoring Fynne. Once Fynne is comfortable with that then, depending on the dog and owner, I will let go of the leash and let her drag it and sniff around the room/yard like the other dog.


If she gets snarky or harasses the dog then I can verbally correct her or take up the leash if needed. I pay close attention to her body language and that of the other dog as well. I don't want either dog to be pushed into anything they are not ok with, so it's important that you are able to read Patrick and the other dog(s) so that neither one becomes fearful or aggressive or anything else. Control the situation and know when to keep going and when to stop. It takes time and patience like I said. Don't let Patrick harass another dog.


So to recap, don't put him into a situation he's not ready for. Crate him, use a leash, put him into another room, have people ignore him, have people keep their dogs at a comfortable distance, take your time, be patient, build his confidence up, and teach him that he can trust you, that you are his leader and will keep him safe so that he does not feel the need to act out with growling and nips and such.


Other people will have things to share and there is plenty you can learn by reading books and internet sites that deal with this topic too. Do not give Patrick the opportunity to bite though. I can't stress that enough. You don't want anyone to get hurt and you don't want to have to put him down, so prevent situations like that from developing in the first place and slowly work on building his confidence.


I wish you and him the best!

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Change the word "Patrick" to "Buddy" and our stories are the same. :rolleyes:


My dog came home almost 3 years ago, and he's never going to be an "in-your-face" friendly dog like a lab or a golden. But he has made a lot of progress, and can manage most situations. I even hosted Christmas brunch and didn't have to lock him in a room. (Mind you, all the people were animal lovers, but still...!)


I'd start by reading anything by Patricia McConnell, but especially "Cautious Canine" and "Feisty Fido." Then read "The Other End of the Leash" and Susan Clothier's "Bones Would Rain from the Sky."


I absolutely agree with previous posters about taking it slowly and NOT using shock collars on a dog who's already scared. I went down that road by leash-jerking with Buddy, and it only made him worse. I did end up hiring a private trainer for a couple sessions, and luckily stumbled on a good one. After he saw the dog a few times, he let him enter a group class and we worked solely on his being calm and not panicking. At the last class, Buddy approached one of the women in the class for a petting - and I almost cried! That was the first time he'd willingly approached anyone but me.


I now look at my life as if I have a slightly disabled dog depending on me to slightly adjust the world he encounters. He might have a minor breakdown at sudden movements or unexpected social situations. As long as I don't push Buddy beyond his threshhold, he is fine. When I put him in situations that create fear, he still reacts... but it's much more seldom now. Absolutely IGNORING him is the quickest way for both people and dogs to make him interested in them.


I do a lot of this: "He's a little scared of people, especially men. If you squat down low and don't look him in the eye, he'll take a treat from you. There you go. Now he'll let you pat him on the chest, but not over his head." People who like dogs seem to really have good intentions, and I think they generally end up feeling really good after they "help" the poor scared doggie. :D


Good luck! If you do a search on these boards for "fearful dog" or "reactive dog," you'll find lots and lots of stories about dogs like Buddy and Patrick, and lots of advice from experienced owners who've been down the same road.



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I think you've got some really good and thoughtful advice from people so far. If I were in your situation, I would print out these instructive posts and read them a few times to remind you of your strategy -- personally, I have found that repetition is the best way for me to learn :rolleyes: and it is alot of information to digest all at once, especially if there are several of you in the family that are going to be working with Patrick. I second the recommendation of referring to previous threads, looking at the recommended website and also those books that Mary recommends.

Also, do take time to write again and update us on Patrick. We would love to hear how you are progressing.


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I had never had a fearful dog until Kya. I didn't know the best way to handle the situation so I checked with a behaviorist. We went through a 6 week sensitive dog class with 3 other dogs and it was the best thing ever.


I learned how to keep her calm in some situations and I also learned she was movement and noise sensitive.


I'm not saying she is cured by any means but I now have something to work with and each day she improves. We can go to Petco without her going off at every dog she sees and we also have play time with other dogs. Our walks are so much more enjoyable since she isn't scouring the area for any small movement to stress over.


She continues to teach me everyday and we go to obedience classes without disrupting the class.


You can over come her fears, it's all baby steps but so worth it. Kya just turned a year this Jan and is on her way to starting a beginners agility class this spring.

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You've gotten some great advice here (& there's plenty of bad advice about shy dogs around). A book that helped me a lot with my shy dog (who started out very much like yours & still has some fear issues) is SCAREDY DOG. It's a little hard to find, but if you want to email me & send me your snail mail address, I'd be happy to pass on my copy to you.


One thing the book recommended was to give the dog an entire week of quiet time when you first get it. I didn't b/c I didn't get the book until I'd had D for a couple of months, but I did it then. It's a way for the dog to experience what it's like to be really relaxed. No contact with strangers at all during that week.


Another thing that helped a lot with my dog was enlisting friends to help. I started with one friend who would come over, sit and ignore D completely. No eye contact, no approach, no calling her by name--all of which make a shy dog more scared. Then she would toss treats in D's direction, still ignoring her. Eventually D. approached my friend, then in time let her pet her.


The trick is to set up situations where the dog can initiate the contact. And can retreat is he needs to.


Some of your friends probably won't be any good at this--not all of mine were.


It wasn't easy with D, my dog. It took a while & was very frustrating & worrying at times. But now she loves it when people come over (though not the postman!) and is one of the friendliest dogs in the park. And she's pretty happy.

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