It’s not surprising that two-year-old Moose suffers from lack of confidence around people. Considering his background as a puppy born on the streets of Romania, he’s doing great. They didn’t have him until he was sixteen weeks old.
No socialisation will have taken place during the crucial early weeks and what encounters he did have with people were very likely scary ones and now hard-wired into his brain.
They have worked hard with the training and should be proud of him. Training, however, isn’t enough.
Lack of confidence around people
I see our job now as further advancing progress already made. Moose is well-adjusted to life in general so long as people don’t get too close, try to touch him or give him eye contact.
Then, he will growl and explode into barking.
I was sitting down when Moose joined us. He barked briefly but, I ignored him initially and then rolled food away from me. He was soon settled and lying on my foot.
He’s not one of those dogs on guard duty that wants to drive people away with angry barking. It’s pure lack of confidence and, given a bit of time, he would accept someone just as he does his owners. He’s very affectionate with them.
To other issues are some separation distress along with stress and possibly panic in the car.
They had Moose DNA tested. He’s a big dog – a mix of German Shepherd, Labrador and American Terrier.
A newborn baby
They now have a newborn baby and Moose’s lack of confidence has increased. He has become more anxious, particularly if he can’t keep an eye on where each person is.
Not only does a baby change the dynamics, it necessarily will restrict some of Moose’s freedom. At present he can go where he likes in the house, when he likes.
They need some management in place, both for baby’s safety and their own convenience. It’s hard for a young mother, holding a baby, to deal with a large reactive dog when the doorbell rings.
I advise a dog gate in the kitchen doorway. Moose can continue to go in the living room and upstairs – but he can gradually learn that this will be on invitation only. With the dog behind a high gate, they can then more easily go to the front door and can safely leave baby in the living room alone.
It would be best to gradually restrict Moose’s freedom well before baby gets mobile.
Challenges for Moose
They like to travel and visit places but this is a challenge with Moose. They need to keep people from trying to interact with him. He gets so anxious in the car that he tries to break through the barrier and out of the boot, almost choking himself. He won’t settle however long the journey.
Soon they will need to travel by air to the other side of the world. They need Moose to be able to cope.
Working at counter-conditioning will reduce his lack of confidence around people. This isn’t about distraction but about getting him to feel more confident. This is done by pairing something he likes with the thing he doesn’t like. It can be food and it can be fun.
We always meet those people who ‘love dogs’ and ignore requests to hang back. Something is needed to prevent them from touching Moose, talking to him or even giving him eye contact while they build those good associations.
A yellow vest with ‘IGNORE ME’ in big perhaps? We need to be direct sometimes.
I hope that by using a crate in the car (which they can cover so he can’t see out the front) will help the car situation. At home his crate is his safe place – his den. Hopefully a crate will make him feel safer in the car. It’s also advisable for safety now that they have baby on the back seat.
Relationship with food
They will look at his relationship with food so that they can use it for building his confidence around people. They say he’s not foodie. A contributing factor is that it’s too readily available – left down all the time. Maybe they should cut down the quantity. The food for working with has to be of very high value (to Moose), used only for building positive associations and confidence and not just given to him randomly.
Another reason food doesn’t seem to interest him is that when a dog is highly anxious or aroused he won’t eat.
Walking out on him
Being left behind causes Moose great anxiety. There are two scenarios. One is when they go out of the house and leave him behind which is something they are unable to avoid. It’s never for more than two or three hours and he seems fairly settled so long as he is in his crate.
He pines at the back gate when the gentleman goes to work each day. To break this pattern I suggest the man uses the front door instead for now while they work on a plan around the back door and the gate.
The other scenario is being unable to walk freely around the house without an anxious Moose following them about.
Leaving him alone when they are still in the house is where the work starts.
These are the rules:
They will always make their exits nice. They can drop food behind them or, if going out for longer, leave him something of higher value. (Gentle calm petting before leaving and other tips).
They will make their returns boring. They don’t want him to be expecting a party!
A systematic plan.
We have devised a systematic plan to build Moose’s confidence in being left behind. They will first build into their daily routine shutting the gate very briefly on him. They shouldn’t leave him long enough to become distressed so it may be just a few seconds initially.
Anxiety, lack of confidence and arousal go together, so doing all they can to keep Moose in a stable and calm state of mind throughout all areas of his life will help them to take this next step forward with him.