Scared of Everything – People, Dogs, Bins, New Things

Scared of everything


Little Odie seems scared of everything when he goes out. He is also frightened of people coming to his house and of sounds he hears coming from outside.

He is a sad little dog in my photo, very sore with a gland problem and not his usual self. Hence the collar to stop him licking it.

He is a Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, age about two and he has lived with the lovely family for about nine months. They have another rescue Jack Russell mix, Penny.

It is very likely that Odie hadn’t been introduced to much of the world outside a house before he came to live here.

The outside world is overwhelming for the timid little dog.

They have worked very hard indeed with their two little dogs and have built up considerable knowledge. However, with Odie they seem to have come to a full stop. The lady walks him, and nothing she tries seems to further reduce his fearfulness.

Odie is scared of everything when out on walks.

He tries to avoid his harness and lead being put on. Once out, he is on high alert. Different things or things in different places frighten him. Even static objects scare him, things that are always there. There is the ‘cat’ house where a black cat used to stare at him. Even though the cat is now long gone, Odie is still scared when approaching the house.

He is scared of wheelie bins.

He is particularly frightened of other dogs.

In order to help move things forward now with Odie, we took a fresh look at dealing with his fears.

Already the lady walks the two dogs separately which is good. Penny is very happy on walks, if a little over-excitable. Odie needs her full attention.

She will now do two different kinds of walks with him. Currently she walks along a road where he is encountering all the scary things, ending up at open fields where she puts him on a long line.

I suggest for starters she does a ten or fifteen minute road walk each day, keeping near to home and working on his fearfulness. She then can get in the car and drive him to the fields.

As he seems so scared of everything when out, how should she help him?

I suggest begin with static things – like wheelie bins.

Penny in a quiet moment

Penny in a quiet moment

She can practise her desensitising and counter-conditioning technique on wheelie bins! I suggest she avoids dogs and people meanwhile.

They can approach the stationery bin. She will walk slowly and watch Odie carefully. He will then notice it. If he doesn’t react she can slowly continue to advance. If he reacts in any way she must increase distance until once again he is comfortable.

He now knows the bin is there. He will realise he’s not being forced forward into danger, thus building trust. Now, at this comfortable distance, the ‘frankfurter sausage bar’ can open. Odie will love frankfurters.

If they go out of sight of the bin the bar will close. Back in sight, it opens again. They can slowly advance, once more ready to retreat at the first sign of anxiety. It won’t be long before Odie will be lifting his leg on this particular bin!

They can look for another bin. She could even point it out – ‘Look at That’! Then proceed with the same technique.

Next, on bin collection day, the lady can do exactly the same thing with other bins. With the technique under her belt she can do likewise when approaching the ‘cat’ house, garden statues or anything else that spooks him.

Eventually they will be ready to do start working with distant dogs.

This is a whole different thing of course because dogs are moving but the process is the same. She must always give herself room to increase distance.

What if she gets sandwiched between two dogs?

She picks Odie up.

He is very small. Everything must seem huge to him. Make a quick escape and remove him from danger immediately. The lady has been told ‘not to pick him up’. I wonder why people advise this? The only danger I can see is that a big dog may leap up in order to get to the little dog.

Here is a lovely training video from Steve Mann, teaching the little dog to ask when he would like to be lifted.

The very short and regular car trip to the fields should help Odie to feel better about the car too. On the long line he can do as much sniffing as he likes and the lady can be ready straight away to deal with anything that scares him. She already has a tabard for herself reading ‘My Dog Needs Space’ which she finds other dog walkers are taking note of.

Scared of everything when out, Odie needs to be ‘built up’ at home too.

This means reducing stress levels in every way possible so that he is less jumpy. This can be a bit more boring for (particularly male!) humans who like rough-house play etc.! Instead, there are plenty of hunting, foraging and brain games activities that, because they give appropriate stimulation, are stress-reducing.

Odie will learn to love his harness being put on – coming for it instead of running off.

Understanding how reducing fearfulness actually works is key to progress. I wrote one of my Paws for Thought blogs on Habituation, Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning.

The family has been working so hard with their dear little dogs. They have taken advice, some of which was good and some not so good. The lady has involved them in agility and flyball but found that it stressed them out too much. Through reading and research they have now nearly conquered separation issues the dogs had.

Now they will be making some more headway with Odie’s being scared of everything. It will doubtless be slow. These things can’t be rushed.


Three months have now gone by: When walking Odie over the moor he is not at the end of the long line, he is sniffing and relaxed and open mouthed. At home Odie will sometimes take himself to his crate, sleep on the bed in the living room, sleep on the floor rather than always looking for a lap. Poppy and Odie play together more frequently. Odie sometimes asks to play.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Odie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)


Dog Won’t Get Into the Car

Rosie is now getting into the carRosie swings between being totally relaxed and happy to being a somewhat mixed-up character.

The seven-year-old Springer Labrador cross’ problems have been coming to a head over her reluctance to get into the lady’s car. Interestingly she is okay getting into the man’s car and the daughter’s, but she won’t get into the lady’s car. From my questions it seems this is not to do with the vehicle itself, but the human. With the lady there has been an undercurrent of shortage of time at the start of the day before she leaves for work, where when the man takes her after work or at the weekend he is unlikely to have deadlines.

Several times the lady said to me ‘Time is precious’ as she explained her frustrations at Rosie’s behaviour where she won’t get into the car has culminated in her being bitten.

A ritual has built up over the past couple of years in order to get Rosie into the car.

All her walks started with a car journey – to somewhere she would toilet (another pressure).  Initially it was enough to throw a biscuit into the car to get Rosie to jump in. She would put her front feet up and the lady then lifted her back legs in. She is a nimble little dog who loves agility – and certainly could jump in for herself.

As time went by she began to refuse even to put her front feet up. Over time the lady was opening the boot, taking Rosie away from the car and then making an enthusiastic game of running up to the car to get her in.  The number of times Rosie got her to do this increased.  However, there came a point when she started to refuse to get in the car even after all this and was snarling and growling at the lady. The final straw was when the lady shut the boot instead and tried to walk Rosie away from the car, whereupon Rosie became very angry and grabbed her arm.

I would say that Rosie is totally confused. Due to the understandably exasperated lady feeling the pressure of time, Rosie is under a lot of pressure as well. To the lady, the toileting was dependent upon that off-lead run. ‘You would think she’d know that with all this messing about at the start of a walk (up to 20 minutes sometimes) she’d get a shorter walk’.

The ritual has to be broken and actually fate has stepped in. Poor Rosie has had stitches after cutting herself jumping over barbed wire so had to be road-walked on lead for the past three weeks. It has proved that she can toilet without running round the fields. It has also shown that life goes on without these car journeys for off-lead walks. The pressure is off somewhat.

Our plan is to carry on with road walks only whilst building in-car work; by merely touching the boot initially whilst feeding Rosie, gradually and incrementally doing a little more – opening the boot and feeding Rosie, opening it and shutting it again, all the time feeding Rosie.  At home they will be teaching her to jump on and off things on cue. Considerably later the lady can introduce opening the boot, feeding, then casually saying ‘up you get’, waiting a moment (no pressure) and if she doesn’t jump in continuing with the road walk, and so on.

It could take a long time to undo two year’s worth of ritual where Rosie’s own behaviour has dictated the amount of effort the lady put in, until she sort of lost control of the lady and understandably became very confused and frustrated – angry.

The lady felt very pressurised, understandably – and so did Rosie.  People and dogs in a close relationship so bounce of one another!

At home the lady will now spend more time encouraging Rosie to give her her full attention and to enjoy doing little things for her – for rewards. The family can show Rosie that from now on they won’t always do what she wants, when she wants it but that it’s fun and rewarding to do things for her humans when they ask her. Currently Rosie, in her own sweet way, calls the tune.

The lady need no longer be thinking ‘time is precious’! If she has an hour, she has an hour. If this starts with a short road walk, followed by an invitation to Rosie to get into the car which she declines, they can carry on with more lead-walking instead, so be it.

About 8 weeks have now gone by and i have just received this email: ‘Thought I’d let you know that although we are still taking it very slowly and carefully, Rosie has been behaving perfectly with the car for about a week now – getting in with no problem both before her walk and again on returning from it.  We’re beginning to feel that we’re really made some progress with this, thanks very much for your support and suggestions!’ and a months later: ‘Just thought I’d give you a quick update on how things are with Rosie. She has been really settled for the last couple of months; (the lady) takes her to the back of the car and opens the hatchback, and the habit we have is just to leave her sat there for a moment or two and she then gets her front paws onto the boot floor and is then quite happy to be helped in’.  

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, particularly where there is any aggression involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).