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

Scared of everything

Odie

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)

 

Not an Easy First Dog

Lucy must have once before been loved.

Not an easy dog for first time dog ownersIn the few days since German Shepherd mix Lucy moved in with the young couple she has been through several stages as she begins to settle into a very different new life. She is their first dog so it’s a big adjustment for them also.

For the past six months the young dog has been living in a very ‘basic’ kennel situation. A chaotic and bleak place.

For six months she has had to toilet in the same place where she slept and ate, so it’s not surprising she initially had a couple of accidents in the house. Being their first dog that was something they’d not anticipated.

The young lady contacted me a couple of days after they had picked Lucy up because they were having difficulties on walks with the pulling, with her jumping about and her general excitability. She ‘wouldn’t listen’. She had growled at a friend coming in the front door. She’s their first dog and they weren’t quite prepared for this.

I visited on Lucy’s fifth day. She had already calmed down a bit. All toileting was now outside unless she was scared.

Her fearful reactivity to people coming into the house was increasing however.

When I arrived she barked at me loudly. I didn’t react in any way and, unusually, she didn’t pee with fear. I rBEautiful dog for first time dog ownersestrained the young couple from fussing her as this can transfer their own anxiety and I sat down. Lucy stopped barking. I dropped her a piece of food and she took another from my hand.

Then the beautiful dog came and sat on my foot. She rested with her head lovingly beside my knee.

My heart melted.

Over the next few weeks I shall be helping these new dog owners to field anything that Lady may happen to throw at them as they work through the ‘honeymoon period’. We are working on loose lead walking, a suitable diet, leaving her alone happily and other things.

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We want to nip the fearful reaction in the bud.

The young lady contacted me this morning (the day after my visit) to tell me Lucy is now barking more at people and even cars that pass. The sitting room has a long picture window looking out over the road. Each day it gets worse.

The more frequently Lucy engages in this barking the more of a habit it will become, so now is the time to act. People’s instinct, particularly if it’s their first dog, is to try to stop the dog barking by letting the dog know she’s ‘doing wrong’.

In my opinion the only truly efficient way to change the barking is to change the emotions in Lucy that are driving her to bark. It is certainly fear in her case. There may be a touch of instinctive guarding or territorial emotion too.

When she barks – or better still if they can pre-empt the barking – they need to reassure her and call her away, rewarding her for doing so. If this doesn’t work, they will need to go over to her, help her and remove her. Any scolding will just make her feel worse about whatever she is barking at.

Why not, however, get to the root of the barking – change how Lucy is feeling about the people and cars going past?

I suggest they take her out the front on lead with a pocket of her food.

Stand. Watch. Listen.

With everything that goes past, feed her. If she’s reluctant to eat she needs tastier food and they may need to stand further back, inside the open front door. They can scatter food on the ground so she associates the scary area where she watches people approaching the house with something good.

Then they can come indoors and do the same thing from the sitting room window – watching and feeding, listening and feeding.

They may need to do this exercise very regularly for weeks and any time in the future when she looks like reverting.

It’s easy to see how Lucy’s fear of people both passing the house and approaching the house is linked to her fear of people entering the house. It may also be linked to her having been trapped in a kennel for the best part of each day for six months, unable to escape when someone walked towards her and entered.

With different management of visitors and Lucy feeling differently about  people approaching or passing the house, the fear of callers shouldn’t be too hard to crack. She is wonderfully friendly and affectionate once she’s feeling safe.

She should certainly no longer have access to the view out of that picture window.

Lucy’s reaction to people coming to the house could snowball into a bigger problem if not caught straight away. It’s unlikely that people with their first dog will have sufficient knowledge of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning without some help.

 

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 Lady. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog along with listening to friends can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes. I also provide moral support which people will probably need for a while. 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 Get My Help page)

Desensitising or Flooding?

Is it desensitising or is it over-exposure?

Tibetan needs desensitising

Ellie

Ellie, her siblings and other Tibetan Terriers were picked up from a breeder in a dreadful state of neglect, with matted fur and no socialisation. They had no exposure to life outside the shed where they were kept.

Lucky Ellie was re-homed to my clients three months ago. She is now nine months old. She lives with a calmer and slightly older Tibetan called Bailie.

Her family took her on holiday a couple of months later and it was a nightmare.

Ellie became increasingly terrified of traffic and people – particularly children. From the beginning of each day one scary new thing after another would have added to her accumulating stress as, with the best of loving intentions, they included the previously unsocialised small dog in their holiday activities.

They have actually come a long way in three months in some respects and are already doing many of the things I usually suggest. However they admit that her reactivity to people, traffic and any new environment is getting worse.

I feel there are a couple of things being done by Ellie’s humans, in the mistaken belief that they are helping her and being kind, that they can now do differently.

For hours Ellie occupies what the lady calls her ‘sentry point’ on the back of the sofa, watching the ‘scary’ things go past their house. It won’t have taken long for her to get the idea that it was her barking which was chasing those enemies, who kept on moving past, away.

Instead of this regular exposure acclimatising and desensitising her to new things as they thought, it is doing the opposite.

Ellie with Bailie

Ellie with Bailie

Each barking bout will be adding to her already rapidly rising stress levels. Daily she is repatedly rehearsing the very behaviour towards people and traffic that they are trying to change.

The other thing that is actually making her worse is a common belief that desensitising a dog to the things she fears – cars, bicycles, children, plastic bags, anywhere new – involves active exposure by way of as many encounters as possible all at once in order to ‘get her used’ to them.

Over-exposure has the reverse effect to desensitising.

 

Over-exposure is flooding and the very opposite to desensitising.

Controlling Ellie’s environment is the way to go here. They have already removed Ellie’s access to her ‘sentinel’ point and will be helping both dogs as soon as they start to bark at anything (the neighbours will be thankful).

Then, very slowly, they will begin the desensitising and counter-conditioning she needs in order to see those things she fears in a different light whilst getting used to them gradually.

Before they can take her on any more outings beyond their gate and past traffic, past people and into shops, they must surely first get her to feel better about the world immediately outside their gate. On a long, loose lead she should be given a choice whilst they work on proper desensitisation.

She will herself let them know what she’s ready to do. Only when she feels safe enough to herself choose to venture out should they make their way further afield, very gradually.

‘Proper’ outings for now will need to be by car to transport her and Bailie directly to somewhere ‘safe’ and open.

This will take multiples sessions. The greater the number of very short desensitisation outings they do, the more progress they should make.

It’s best if they can work on things one at a time. Take fear of plastic bags – something easy to control unlike a child running up from nowhere. First a bag can be at a distance that Ellie finds okay and she can be given food each time she looks at it. She can also be rewarded with food or by increasing distance each time she deliberately looks away from it (making a ‘good’ decision).

They can put Ellie indoors, remove the plastic bag, lace with food the ground where the bag had been so the area is associated with good stuff. Then let Ellie back out to forage where the bag had been. Next, with Ellie back out of the way, they can replace the bag – and so on.

One thing at a time, we can work out appropriate procedures. Desensitising to children can be worked on in the same sort of way at a comfortable distance from a school playground at playtime.

Considering her deprived beginnings, Ellie could be a lot worse and in many respects they have come a long way. It’s the fearfulness of things and people new to her that has increased.

With the best of intentions, they are doing things back to front. Here is a very good article with a couple of great short videos about the sort of time and patience needed for desensitising and counter-conditioning a dog to something that really scares it.

With slow and gradual exposure whilst avoiding pushing Ellie over her comfort threshold they will build up her trust. She should eventually be able to go on holiday with them again and enjoy it this time.

Message received a couple of days later: ‘I learned something interesting about Ellie today. I opened the front door and stood just inside our covered porch with her on a long training lead and with the front door open so that she could retreat if she wanted to. Rather than flying out of the door and being desperate to go on a walk (which has been my previous impression of her), given the option, she stayed close to me or even backed up back into the house. This makes me realise she was flying out of the door to bark/be protective/banish passers by.
We’ve sat outside three times today now, with me feeding her little titbits whenever a car or person passes by. I’ll carry on little and often until she’s confident to go beyond the front garden without reacting (here’s hoping!!!)…..
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 Ellie. 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. 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)

From Street Dogs to Pets

Rocky and Flossie were born on the streets in a small coastal town in BulgaDogs from streets of Kavanaria around two years ago from mothers also born on the streets. For the past year or so they have lived in a house with a couple who have done remarkably well with them, transforming them from street dogs to settled house dogs.

The one respect in which they are, if anything, getting worse is when out on walks and particularly when encountering other dogs.

Outside the house – more their natural habitat one might think – they are finding things harder.

Initially there were no problems with other dogs. When picked up they had no scars or evidence of fighting and they had lived happily and free around the other street dogs. Now when they encounter a dog, Rocky in particular is scared and Flossie is getting worse. Rocky shrinks and lowers himself and as they get nearer he resorts to lunging and barking, not wanting the other dog to get any closer.

This is where humans need to start thinking ‘dog’. It really doesn’t matter whether a destination is reached, it’s about the journey. What does matter is that they mimic as closely as possible what a free dog would do to feel safe. If the dog wants to increase distance then that’s what must happen. It could mean turning around. For now it could mean avoiding narrow passages and taking different routes. It could in some cases mean starting walks with a car journey to somewhere appropriate and safe.

In his past life, unleashed, Rocky could have chosen to turn and go the other way.  Both dogs would have had free choice as to whether to interact with other dogs or not. Now Flossie and Rocky are, necessarily, trapped on the end of leashes even when away from the roads. If let off lead, Rocky will take himself off for an hour or two and Flossie may well go home.

The lady in particular is finding walking the dogs increasingly nerve-wracking. She is afraid Rocky in particular might harm another dog.

There are three elements we discussed to help these two lovely dogs. The first is, when they are out, for them to feel as free and comfortable as possible. From having no restriction at all they are now on the end of retractable leads which, by the very way they work, always have tension. They thankfully wear harnesses but even these could be more comfortable.

The next thing is that the dogs need to be walked separately for a while because each needs full attention and their ways of reacting aren’t the same so they could well be firing one another up.

Thirdly, their reactivity needs to be worked on – carefully. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but even worse is to push them too close, beyond their comfort threshold so that they feel forced to defend themselves. The human at the end of the lead, watching their own dog carefully and increasing distance the instant there is any sign of discomfort or fear will, over time, build up trust. If Rocky knows he’s being ‘listened to’ then he should gradually dare go a bit closer.

Now desensitisation can begin. The appearance of another dog can start to be associated with good things like scattered food – but from a ‘safe’ distance.

When the dogs are in open places they are currently restricted on the end of just ten feet or so of retractable lead. They could be on 15 metre long, loose training lines, able to run, sniff and explore. If an off-lead dog does happen to run up, whilst escape strategies have been discussed, the dog should feel he has some choice. On the end of long lines their recall can really be worked on.

Both dogs are understandably nervous of new things, certain sudden sounds and people who look ‘different’. The best tool to change this is for every single time either Rocky or Flossie encounters something even slightly scary or anxious-making, something good should happen. This can be food or fun – the more rewarding to the dog the better.

Helping the dogs to feel safe is the priority. It’s the most important thing – more important to them than food even. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be interested in food. Right from puppyhood these two would have been free to follow their instincts in order to keep themselves safe. In their new life, because trapped in effect, they need total trust in their humans to keep them safe instead.

So much of the stuff I normally advise is already in place for these dogs at home including a perfect diet and kind, positive training techniques from caring and knowledgeable people. It will be great when (and it will take as long as it take), the walks become relaxed and enjoyable too.

Dog Feels Unsafe out on Walks

British Bulldog sitting like a humanWhen I arrived British Bulldog Bentley was very interested in sniffing me as most dogs are – they probably know all about my own four dogs within a few seconds!

He didn’t seem nervous of me initially and was happy with me tickling his chest as he sat on his bed beside me, but when later I asked him to come to me he withdrew and watched me from a distance (as you can see from the photos). He is wildly excited when people he knows come to the house, but is wary of anyone new.

Because he was so quiet I never saw the real dog – who has a full repertoire of gimmicks to get attention! You’d think butter wouldn’t melt to look at him! He will scratch persistently at the door to have it opened but may not then go through, he has a sequence starting with grunts that lead up to barking at the man to get the attention he wants, he won’t let the lady talk on her mobile and he steals then runs off with things – all for the chase, then won’t give them up.

He is quite comical in a way – look at how he sits!

Bentley is two years old, and until the end of last year had the ‘back up’ of an older dog who has now died. His British Bulldogproblems, mostly to do with feeling unsafe, particularly outside the house, seem to have become a lot worse since then.

He is ambiguous about walks. When the harness is produced he runs away to his bed, but once it’s on he seems happy to go out. The further they walk away from the quiet area in which they live however the more anxious he gets, pulling and panting, and getting very noisy when he sees another dog.

They usually route leads beside busy roads or to a local park, which is very popular and noisy with children, people and dogs. Only when they get back near to home again does Bentley calm down a bit.

Both humans and dog arrive back home more stressed than when they started out – certainly not what walks are designed for.

Added to all that, even in the park, fields or woods he is still held on the shortish lead which must be very frustrating for him. They dare not let him off as sometimes it is hard to read his intentions towards other dogs. Because he has a tiny, twisty tail that doesn’t give out the usual signals and a face that whilst looking amazingly cute to us, maybe be difficult for another dog to decipher, he himself may be unwittingly inviting negative responses.

Just as with the two black dogs I went to last week, we will separate the currently stressful pavement walking from the countryside walking so that he can slowly be desensitised to traffic whilst also getting healthy stimulation and exercise. They can pop him in the car and take him to the fields.

So far as ‘normal’ walks are concerned, the bottom line is that he doesn’t feel safe at the moment, and that has to change.

Bit by bit, starting in the garden and then out in the road near their house where Bentley is still reasonably comfortable, they will work on his walking on a longish loose lead. The walk is about the journey, not the destination. Several short sessions on a loose lead with encouragement and food rewards will do much more good than one long session.

They will very gradually go a little further from home., a few yards at a time. As soon as he starts to be even slightly agitated, they should take a few steps back into his comfort zone and then ‘lace the environment’ – sprinkle food about on the ground. He needs to learn that the environment with other dogs, traffic and people at an acceptable (to him) distance is a good place. If he won’t eat, then they need to increase the distance further.

If they take this sufficiently slowly Bentley should gradually be able to get further from home before he starts to get agitated, until the time comes when then can walk instead of drive to the nearest off-road open area. It will take considerably longer to desensitise him and build up his confidence sufficiently to get back to their former route beside the busier roads.

It’s essential that in order to feel safe Bentley trusts the person who is holding the lead to look after him. This requires general relationship building which starts at home. He is a much-loved dog with people who just need pointing in the right direction.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bentley. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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 specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).