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Nervous Boy --Don't know what to do


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Hi. I haven't posted for a while. Mickey is 7 months old now, and has developed a big problem. Even though I bring him out to the park or to the pet stores one or two times a week to socialize, he has become more and more afraid of strangers. He tried to bite a pet shop employee who was telling me how to work with him on it, and tried to pet him. I can't take him where he's going to bite someone, but I need to have him not be so afraid of people. I was training him for my parents to have a companion dog, and they have friends over a lot. He likes them, but he might try to bite one of their friends. So I don't know what to do...

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Thanks! :rolleyes:

 

I read the story at the link, and there are some things that are helpful in it. I don't think any of the people he has met have ever been rude to him. The one guy at the pet store talked to me a long time and gave Mickey several treats, and then we were talking about obedience classes at the pet store when he just patted Mickey on the shoulder a second, and Mickey snapped at him. It doesn't seem "rude" to me that he patted Mickey, considering all the dogs I ever knew didn't mind being patted on the shoulder. I think Mickey has a fearful or nervous personality, and I am wondering if I can change that.

 

Mickey seems to be truly afraid of strangers. Whenever he sees anyone he doesn't know, even children, his hackles raise and he growls. He doesn't bark much at all, but I can tell he doesn't want to be anywhere near anyone outside the family. I have been taking him out to socialize and having people drop treats on the ground for him once or twice a week since he was little, but he hasn't gotten to the point where he will let people he doesn't know anywhere near him, even when they've given him treats. His brothers and sisters were not like this at all, nor was his mother, who belonged to my granddaughter. They were all fine with anyone and loved being patted by any humans. I think it must be some kind of gene he got that made him nervous, but of course I don't know. Anyway, I was thinking of taking him out more often, like three or four times a week, thinking that might desensitize him, but I don't know if that's a good idea or if something else needs to be done. :D

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But it IS rude to pet a scared dog that didn't initiate contact. It is your job to protect your dog, not force him into interactions that scare him. It should be your goal to have a dog that will calmly stand by your side while you are talking to strangers. People can drop treats for him, but he has made it clear he is not ready for physical contact. If he can't trust you to prevent scary people from petting him he will protect himself by growling and snapping. He is desperately trying to tell you something. You need to listen to your dog.

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I opened this to read and lurk, and Liz I have to save your link saved me really. I had never heard anyone put it like that. I always took my dogs 'aggression' towards puppies and other dogs that got in her face as well, aggression. She has a low tolerance I think, but it gave me a lot of ideas about her current situation. It was just what I needed. So I thank you deeply for sharing!

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It doesn't seem "rude" to me that he patted Mickey, considering all the dogs I ever knew didn't mind being patted on the shoulder. I think Mickey has a fearful or nervous personality, and I am wondering if I can change that.

 

I think it's both - fearful personality and rude behavior from this guy. :rolleyes:

 

My dog is fearful and reactive - you can search my posts and others', and find dozens of threads where we talk about how we worked with the dogs.

 

My dog is six now, and he still doesn't like to be approached directly by strangers. His reactivity has decreased so that he won't react unless there's a "threat" like a sudden reaching for him or pinning him into a corner where he can't escape. But, I can predict with nearly 100% accuracy things that will set him off, and I think they're similar things to what set off "normal" dogs - only my dog reacts much earlier, and much more strongly, than a "normal" dog would. Triggers include:

  • Direct stares from humans or dogs
  • Hands over his body or head. (He likes to be patted from beneath, as many dogs do, though the polite ones don't tell us.)
  • Sudden, face-to-face approaches from humans or dogs (Sudden seems to be the key with my dog. Slow, calm approaches are OK.)
  • Humping from other dogs
  • Near-humping, which includes other dogs' muzzles over his back, or other dogs' front legs on his shoulders

I don't think I can get Buddy "normal," but I know I can manage the way we interact with the world so he doesn't get overwhelmed and react. I just took a six-mile walk with him in a very busy park yesterday, and he was calm and happy the whole time. This from a dog who used to have a meltdown, shaking and panicked, if a person or dog or bike crossed his path.

 

Search the boards and read up - lots of good advice.

 

Mary

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This is just a tiny thing that caught my eye and a drop in the bucket as far as your issue goes, but my dog can't stand pet stores! He is a friendly, happy-go-lucky dog but something about PetsMart or Petco absolutely creeps him out. I think there are too many funky smells and there are always annoying dogs on Flexi leashes who get up in his face. I find the sales associates at these places a little too overly friendly toward strange dogs and Jack was uncomfortable with their overtures. I finally wised up and realized that it was a terrible place to work on his socialization skills and I leave him at home.

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Anyway, I was thinking of taking him out more often, like three or four times a week, thinking that might desensitize him, but I don't know if that's a good idea or if something else needs to be done. :rolleyes:

 

What are you doing to desensitize him on these outings?

 

In order for desensitization to work, you need to avoid situations that will bring forth a fearful response. So, taking him to places where people will try to pet him is not going to provide desensitization.

 

How does he do when strangers look at him? If he's OK with that, you can start there. You could ask them not to touch or interact with him (it is rude to pet a dog that one has been asked not to touch), and feed him some treats as the person is looking. Then give some kind of "let's go" cue, and move away from the person.

 

This approach actually provides a two-fold reward to the dog for being near the other person. The food reward is obvious, but moving off to take the person out of the picture is another - for some dogs it is even more powerful.

 

Once the dog is comfortable with that - I'd say give that several weeks, ask the other person to toss a treat on the floor for the dog. Same thing - person tosses treats, then you move off together.

 

Once the dog is comfortable with that, have the person try turning away from the dog to see if the dog will take a treat from his or her hand while not making any eye contact. Have them feed, move off, repeat.

 

Once the dog is comfortable with that, have the person try facing the dog while giving treats. It's best if the person can do this in a way that is very neutral. One of the biggest challenges for a dog who is fearful of people is dealing with people who approach making a big fuss. Neutral people are much better to work with as you desensitize.

 

Etc. Etc, gradually increasing the level of interaction that the person has toward the dog.

 

If, at any time, the dog cringes, or tries to hide, or moves away, I take that as communication from the dog that he or she is not yet ready for the level of interaction for which I'm asking, and I give the dog a break, and then back off in the process.

 

We did this with Speedy, who was, at one time, terrified when people even looked at him. He tolerates being petted by most strangers now. He actually LOVES being around people and having them watch him. He will never be a rush-up-to-strangers-love-love-love kind of dog, but he allows people to pet him gently, and he no longer hides from everyone in the world.

 

One thing to keep in mind - you might be able to teach your dog to tolerate interaction from people, but he might never really enjoy it in the way a more "typical" dog does. You can probably teach him to accept it, but you may not really be able to teach him to like it, although it is possible that he might someday.

 

There is a good website that has been recommended here before - fearfuldogs.com

 

I recommend checking that out.

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I think it's both - fearful personality and rude behavior from this guy. :rolleyes:

 

My dog is fearful and reactive - you can search my posts and others', and find dozens of threads where we talk about how we worked with the dogs.

 

My dog is six now, and he still doesn't like to be approached directly by strangers. His reactivity has decreased so that he won't react unless there's a "threat" like a sudden reaching for him or pinning him into a corner where he can't escape. But, I can predict with nearly 100% accuracy things that will set him off, and I think they're similar things to what set off "normal" dogs - only my dog reacts much earlier, and much more strongly, than a "normal" dog would. Triggers include:

  • Direct stares from humans or dogs
  • Hands over his body or head. (He likes to be patted from beneath, as many dogs do, though the polite ones don't tell us.)
  • Sudden, face-to-face approaches from humans or dogs (Sudden seems to be the key with my dog. Slow, calm approaches are OK.)
  • Humping from other dogs
  • Near-humping, which includes other dogs' muzzles over his back, or other dogs' front legs on his shoulders

I don't think I can get Buddy "normal," but I know I can manage the way we interact with the world so he doesn't get overwhelmed and react. I just took a six-mile walk with him in a very busy park yesterday, and he was calm and happy the whole time. This from a dog who used to have a meltdown, shaking and panicked, if a person or dog or bike crossed his path.

 

Search the boards and read up - lots of good advice.

 

Mary

 

I have had the distinct honor to meet Mary and Buddy in person, the Buddy is one of the sweetest dogs that I have ever met. Mary has done a wonderful job in working with Buddy and understanding his needs, if everyone did like her, the world of human-dog relationships would be a better place.

 

Everyone has issues with their chosen canine companions (especially those that take in rescues).

 

That article was awesome, and hopefully puts things in perspective for everyone who reads it.

 

Keep working with yours, time and patience will be rewarded.

 

Tim

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Hi, and thanks so much for all the ideas! I will work with him using all of them that seem to help. I mostly want him to be able to be trusted to not threaten people when they come over to the house. They don't need to be able to pet him. I am pretty sure, however, that he won't work out for my parents, because they need a bomb-proof dog, sort of a therapy or elderly companion dog, which I had planned to train him for and bought lots of books and tapes to use in training him.

 

The therapy type dogs need to like people to touch them, and even simple companion dogs for the elderly need to be pretty mellow. I just didn't recognize these traits in him when he was little, or I might have chosen one of the other puppies in the litter, who are all much more mellow personality.

 

Any way, I plan to work with him as much as I can to teach him to be less fearful. These suggestions are all very good, and will help a lot.

 

:rolleyes:

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I am going to ditto everything Mary and Kristine noted. And I would like to emphasize what Jack & Co. said about pet stores. They are seriously one of the worst places you could take a dog.. even a pretty stable dog. There is SO much going on in these stores, tons of smells, animals, people, kids, toys, food you name it. It is either a high stress environment or a high arousal environment. The rescue I'm with shows dogs at a pet store every week and even the most stable dogs we have get a bit grouchy after a while. People aren't paying attention to their dogs or are clueless to canine communication and just let their dogs wander at the end of the leash, getting into the faces of other dogs etc. So for a fearful dog, these places are nightmares!

 

The one guy at the pet store talked to me a long time and gave Mickey several treats, and then we were talking about obedience classes at the pet store when he just patted Mickey on the shoulder a second, and Mickey snapped at him. It doesn't seem "rude" to me that he patted Mickey, considering all the dogs I ever knew didn't mind being patted on the shoulder.

 

So, if this guy was giving you advice on how to help your dog, I wouldn't listen to him. He should have been able to tell by Mickey's posture, face, eyes, mouth and general behaviour that he was not ready to accept petting. Either that or the gesture to pet him was too swift a movement. But he should have been aware of his movements too, especially if you were talking about Mickey's issues. So many dog bites can be avoided by simple awareness. Awareness of what we're doing around the dogs and awareness of what the dogs are telling us.

 

I don't know if you've done much reading, but some good authors to check out are;

 

Patricia McConnell

(Specifically, Feisty Fido, Cautious Canine, The other end of the leash and How to be leader of the pack and have your dog love you for it)

She has a great behaviour blog too http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/training-schedules/

 

Pamela Dennison

(Specifically, How to right a dog gone wrong)

 

Ali Brown

(Specifically, Scaredy Dog! and Focus not fear)

 

Turid Rugaas

(Specifically, On talking terms with dogs, the DVD is really useful too)

 

Emma Parsons

(Specifically, Click to Calm)

 

There are way more, but all of these books and authors have very, very useful information and experience with reactive, shy and fearful dogs. They are great resources.

 

Oh, another good blog is;

http://fearfuldogs.wordpress.com/

 

and a couple of yahoo groups

http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/shy-k9s/ and http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/Pos-4-ReactiveDogs/

 

Also, I wouldn't recommend taking an obedience class at a pet store... if you could find a good, positive trainer and can afford a few private lessons first, that would be ideal, other wise a reactive dog class would be good too... that's what saved our life.

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Hi. Thanks for the info. What is a reactive dog class?

 

Also, I wouldn't recommend taking an obedience class at a pet store... if you could find a good, positive trainer and can afford a few private lessons first, that would be ideal, other wise a reactive dog class would be good too... that's what saved our life.
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Hi. Thanks for the info. What is a reactive dog class?

 

A reactive dog class is a class where owners of reactive dogs learn how to use training and conditioning to help the dogs interface with the things that trigger those reactions in a more appropriate way.

 

One thing to be aware of when seeking out a reactive dog class - talk to the trainer before you jump in. Make sure that the techniques that will be taught and used are in line with what you are willing to do with your dog. If you aren't comfortable with the techniques, trust your judgment. You know your dog and yourself better than anyone.

 

I took a reactive dog class years ago that was based on Patricia McConnell's "Feisty Fido" program. It was very good. That was where I learned the basics of good desensitization and counterconditioning.

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One thing to be aware of when seeking out a reactive dog class - talk to the trainer before you jump in. Make sure that the techniques that will be taught and used are in line with what you are willing to do with your dog. If you aren't comfortable with the techniques, trust your judgment. You know your dog and yourself better than anyone.

 

Yes, that couldn't be more true. While, I couldn't actually attend the reactive dog class as a spectator, because of the reactive dogs, I did sit in on a couple of that specific trainers obedience and recall classes to make sure I was comfortable with her training methods. Also classes specific to dogs with reactivity shouldn't have large numbers. 4 or 5 dogs is more than enough any more than that would be a red flag.

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Thanks again. I am trying just parks for a while. Mickey did pretty well at the park today, and didn't raise his hackles very long at people, so that's better than before. I didn't have anyone get near him at all, and we just walked past people and dogs. He raised hackles for a minute or so each time he saw someone, but then lowered the hackles after a bit and didn't growl. Maybe just walking past people over and over will stop his raising the hackles and growling at people eventually. He isn't afraid of little dogs, and doesn't growl at them, just people and big dogs. He's really a sweetheart and loves attention from everyone in the family, so I do hope he will mellow out if I keep trying.

 

I have never heard of any classes for dog training here besides the pet stores. We are a pretty small community, which is why I had bought all the books for working with him for being a companion/therapy dog for my parents. Those books pretty much all say that a nervous dog will not work for what I wanted for my parents. I have trained dogs for obedience, but not for therapy. My dad has Alzheimer's, and they need a gentle, loving dog. He is so very gentle and sweet with us and them, but always growling and hackles-raising when strangers are near. Anyway, the park with no pressure seems the best thing for now.

 

--Suzyann13

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Mickey did pretty well at the park today, and didn't raise his hackles very long at people

 

Anyway, the park with no pressure seems the best thing for now.

No pressure means NO raised hackles. You should strive to walk where he shows no sign of arousal at all. Only then will he start to trust you. The classic mistake everyone makes is to ramp down the pressure too gradually. Instead, remove the pressure entirely if you want to start building his ability to deal with it.

 

Also, I just wanted to point out that the article posted by Liz P is in violation of copyright (not by Liz but by the site she got it from). I recommend that people go to the author's website to read it, along with many other useful articles that Suzanne Clothier also makes freely available through her site: Flying Dog Press. Check it out.

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I agree with Alaska. The key to desensitizing your dog to his fears is to keep him below his reaction threshold and to make each of those situations as pleasant as possible.

 

So, just walking past people repetitively isn't going to do the trick... especially if he's raising his hackles.

 

You want to find a distance from people where he's not doing this and start working there. Be it 10 ft, 5 ft or 20 ft. While you're at this distance give him treats (if he's food motivated) or do something he enjoys, but nothing to arousing like tug, that might over excite him and backfire. I found having my dog under threshold and playing games or making her do tricks along with sitting or lying down and calmly watching them (people AND dogs) for treats made being near her triggers more comfortable for her. Continue brining him within this distance to his triggers and working him, while under threshold until he seems to not care anymore. Once you get to this point you can move a little closer, still keeping him from showing any stress or fear and start working again. Continue until you are working within direct proximity to strangers and he doesn't care. THEN you can work on strangers approaching him (no touching) and work up to them touching/petting him. The one book I recommended "How to right a dog gone wrong" actually has specifics and training schedules in it for working with these types of things.

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Oops, posted that link when I was in a hurry. You can reproduce that article with the permission of the author as long as you include her copyright information, which can be found on her web page. I hand it out to all my new puppy owners along with a few other training articles that I like.

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