Screams With Fear in Crowds. Scared of Traffic.

Archie gets so scared in crowds that he screams.

People tend to think that giving a dog lots of exposure will ‘get him used to it’. Fortunately, Archie’s owners realised when they first took him into a town a few days ago that they needed to do something to help him before doing so again. They do all they know to do everything right for their dear puppy.

Archie is a beautiful little Miniature Schnauzer, not yet ten months old. They live in quite a quiet area and he’s unaccustomed to crowds.

Early exposure to the real world.

Screams when scaredHe was the most timid puppy of the litter and his lack of confidence will probably be genetic. With hindsight, he would have benefited from being much more actively habituated to people, vacuum cleaners, new things, traffic and the bustle of real life in general – but in a structured way – from a few weeks old.

Archie is a delightful little dog. When I arrived I could see how torn he was between fearfulness and wanting to be friendly. Fortunately the ‘friendly’ soon won.

He’s sweetly affectionate without being pushy.

A lot of things scare him. Where other dogs might bark, poor little Archie screams and whimpers.

He daily has to run a ten-minute gauntlet beside a busy road in order to get to the field where they let him off lead. Daily exposure isn’t making him ‘get used to it’ and in fact his screams are getting worse. He will try also to chase the traffic. He is trapped, held tightly by lead and collar, so attack can be the only form of defence left to him.

Slow, systematic work

They will work at getting Archie as confident, least stressed and stable as possible in all areas of his home life. This will give the best basis for working on his fears of people, dogs and traffic when out.

They will teach him strategies that will enable them to get his attention. Screams and barks directed at something or someone are less likely to happen when the dog is looking elsewhere.

The work needs to be done in a very systematic way, starting at the beginning.

Bit by bit they will be habituating, desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those things that scare him.

Walks themselves should be a bit different. For now they will take him to the field only by car while they work on his fearful reactivity to people, dogs and traffic, gradually and systematically.

Lead walks will be near home where it’s quiet and the distance from these threats can be controlled. The more short planned sessions they can fit in, the faster they will make progress.

Panic pulling and screams

They will carefully introduce Archie to comfortable equipment (even introducing the harness will need to be done very gradually). We will look at loose lead walking rather than panic pulling.

No longer will Archie have to endure this terrifying path past people, dogs and vehicles, a gauntlet to run that he has to endure daily in order to get to the field.

Traffic watching

A successful approach to fear of traffic is to find a quiet side road and watch traffic passing by the end from a comfortable distance. Each vehicle will trigger food for Archie. The lead should be long and loose to allow him to feel he can escape if scared – by increasing distance. Bit by bit they will inch nearer to the traffic. On times I have done this, the dog is eventually walking happily along beside the traffic. How soon depends upon the frequency of the short sessions and how fearful the dog is to start with.

To Archie, the world out of his house is generally unsafe. When his panic and stress get simply too much, he screams. Fortunately he is fine with dogs he knows in environments he considers ‘safe’.

With time and patience he should ultimately be able to better cope with the world of people and traffic.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Archie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

The Young Dog Chases Traffic

German Shepherd with ballWe understand roads, but do our dogs? A roaring, smelly monster either approaches him head-on or bears down on him from behind. How can the dog know that the vehicle won’t plough into him and his human?

With each car that passes he becomes more highly aroused. Each vehicle could annihilate him and so he has to chase it off. He is successful this time, but the next one that comes along – will he manage to get rid of that one also?

A vehicle approaches and the dog lunges and barks, so what happens next? The vehicle goes away. I’m sure he feels the vehicle’s departure is the direct consequence of his barking and lunging. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the lead who he should be able to trust doesn’t help him, but traps him and may even join in the ‘car rage’.

No wonder Harry dreads walks

German Shepherd avoiding coming inThe German Shepherd is now nine months old and he lives an otherwise wonderful life in a rural area. Down the lane cars are sudden happenings.

I was called because of traffic chasing but that isn’t the actual problem. Anyone using enough force could physically prevent a dog from chasing a vehicle. The real problem, the cause of the behaviour, is fear, and this is what Harry’s humans need to deal with.

Harry is now so worried about leaving the safety of his house and garden that they only have to call him in from outside and he becomes suspicious that they may want to put his harness on – and that would mean having to confront cars. Top left is happy Harry as he usually is. On the right he has his harness on and is suspicious we may want to put his lead on also, so he’s not coming in.

Getting Harry to be chilled around traffic will need to be taken in tiny steps with work, patience and persistence which I know his owners have. They have had several German Shepherds over the years but none of the things they have tried have cracked the problem of a dog that chases traffic, so they need a different approach.

Step one, before they can do anything else, is for Harry to come happily to have his harness and lead put on. The only way to do that will be for the equipment to not be a precursor of going out and to be associated with food and fun at home.

As soon as they step out through the door Harry is pulling and barking should any car dare pass by the end of their long drive. Going out through the door itself must be conquered for starters until they achieve a happy and relaxed dog within just a few feet of the house.

There should be no more close encounters at all with cars for now while they work on him. Fortunately Harry is fine when inside a car so he will be taken to traffic-free places for his outings whilst the intensive desensitisation work is done near home and in places where moving vehicles are at a ‘safe’ distance.

I have shown them an emergency procedure should an unexpected vehicle appear, whereby Harry’s humans will take decisive and logical (to Harry) action and he will see the monster disappear into the distance without his having chased it away.

NB. The best approach to use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Harry, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here. One size does not fit all. For help with your own dog, I suggest you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

 

Walking the Dogs is Not Fun

German Shepherd Rottie mix

Marley

They are not enjoying their two lovely dogs as they should.

Marley is a three-year-old Rottie German Shepherd cross, a beautiful dog. He’s a little on the nervous side with new people, but particularly uneasy on walks where he is reactive to other dogs (he’s always on lead) and scared of traffic.

Rottie Staffie mix

Bella

Rottie Staffie mix Bella had been a stray whom they adopted a few months ago. Marley hadn’t been castrated and Bella was also entire – so no prizes for guessing what happened next! Nine weeks ago Bella had nine puppies! They have managed to find good homes for all of them which is an achievement.

The two dogs lack sufficient healthy stimulation and seem to be getting more stressed – a gauge of which is the level of play that breaks out between them when things get a bit too much for them. They don’t have things about to chew or to do, so excess energy boils over.

Most particularly the family members aren’t enjoying walking the dogs. This is sad. If the people are finding walking a real drag, the dogs will be picking up on this. A walk should be a joyful occasion for them. Marley even tries to avoid going out with one of the family members on account of her lack of patience – getting cross and using physical restraint and control. It is so understandable because trying to walk with pulling reactive dogs can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t know any other way. It becomes a battle. It was the same for me many years ago, so I understand.

They dare not let Bella off lead in particular as they are sure she would run off. Neither dog pays much attention when asked to come. I am often surprised to hear the tone of voice with which people call their dogs. If someone called me like that, I wouldn’t come either!

I saw that they very seldom rewarded the dogs in any way. We work better for pay and so do dogs – their currency usually being food. It was amazing how fast we taught Bella to sit, to stay sitting and to lie down – using food rewards. She became focussed and motivated.

Trying to stop our dogs doing unwanted behaviours can sometimes be overwhelming. Life is one big ‘no’. It can completely change people’s attitude when they look for alternatives to give the dogs – ‘yes, do this instead’.

They will be working on Marley and Bella coming to them when called with ‘recall games’ around the house until it becomes second nature to them, and then on a long line when out.

With the walking they will be going back to the beginning and starting again, getting rid of the retractable lead and Halti and using comfortable harnesses – preferably where the lead hooks onto the chest. They can teach the dogs to walk near them on a longish loose lead, one at a time. They will walk the dogs individually for several very short sessions a day to start with.

Meanwhile, by pretending another dog appears, they can rehearse what to do so when they see another dog for real they are ready. They have a strategy in place to deal with Marley’s lunging, barking and trying to chase away busses and motorbikes – giving him an alternative behaviour and an escape route.

Most of all, by starting all over again with different equipment and a different technique, using encouragement and rewards and taking things slowly, walks will start to be FUN. If the humans start to find walks enjoyable, then for sure so will the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Marley and Bella, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here as to the methods I have suggested. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Get Help page).