Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler

She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything, most importantly her reactions to their baby daughter.

So many things she fears

With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address. Continue reading…

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)

 

Importance of Early Socialisation

Canaan puppies

The other three ears should come up soon!

I have just been to two five-month-old siblings. Before the family picked them up about four weeks ago, despite being brother and sister each puppy had had a very different life.

They are Canaans, a rare and ancient breed. Lapidos is confident and friendly, Leah is afraid of everything – of people and anything new, noisy or sudden.

Lapidos had been bullied by the other puppies in the kennel, so was brought into the house to live with the family.

Leah had remained outside with the other puppies. All her physical needs were met but I would guess she had little interaction with the normal things of daily life at that very crucial time before about thirteen weeks old when the ‘fear period’ kicks in. She is such a clear demonstration of the importance of early socialisation.

These puppies are are settling in well with a lovely family with four very young little children in a well-organised environment. Leah has made considerable progress thanks to the love and patience of her new family so far as relaxing with them is concerned.

But she is very scared of anyone new.

She is often too frightened to go out into the garden, particularly during the day – but strangely she is more courageous outside after dark. She shies at gusts of wind, sounds, anything moving, anything new or sudden.

Leah lying where she feels safe

The two pups lived exclusively in the utility room which is off their large kitchen and they had not been allowed into the house. They are quite content to be in there without crying to come out and join the family, probably because that’s how it’s been from the start. All their encounters with the little children and other people have either been in that room, out in the garden or on walks.

There are downsides to this. When friends and even the children go into their utility room Leah, in particular, has nowhere to escape to if scared unless the back door is open which she is sometimes too anxious to go through anyway. When I came I was immediately introduced to the dogs in the utility room and Leah ran to the furthest bed, the best she could do to hide. Other people who don’t know better will no doubt try to approach and befriend her.

After I had been there a while they opened the gate so the dogs could join us in the kitchen. Lapidos was in with us straight away, friendly, curious and testing new boundaries. Leah ventured in and kept running back out again. I rolled food to her which she ate and at one stage she dared come near to me as I sat still and looked the other way.

I suggested that the dogs now have monitored sessions in the kitchen, both separately and together, where they can begin to learn a few cues and interact with their humans and with new people in a calmer environment than the garden and in a less trapped environment than the utility room.

The kids should be taught to read how the dogs are feeling and whether, at any particular moment, they want to be touched or approached. From what I saw from their body language with the very little girl who joined us, both dogs, even Leah, welcomed her proximity. Dogs and children should never be left alone together unsupervised.

Leah with the dog food they will be returning

If Leah can’t gradually socialise with new people in an environment where she feels safe, it will make things very difficult for them all as she grows older. Now that they understand the way to deal with a fearful dog, they will no longer make her go anywhere she doesn’t want to go but give her time and always an escape route.

When out, these unusual and beautiful puppies are like a magnets to people and Leah can’t escape the scary attention. It’s the owners’ job to protect her as they would their children.

If something scary happens to a dog when one of their humans happens to be present, the dog can associate the person with the fear even though they had nothing to do with it. There was an incident where a child tied Lapidos’ lead to a chair in the garden and went away. The pup pulled the chair over which terrified him and the lady was nearby and rescued him. For the following week he tried to avoid her.

We looked at all aspects of the puppies’ lives to make sure they get off to the best start, including diet. In the picture is Leah, venturing out of the utility room and past a new large pack of Baker’s Complete dog food. Diet affects the dogs both physically and mentally, and food like this is made to be tasty and pretty, but contains little proper nutrition and even some harmful stuff and additives. They will return it.

So, we have made a start. The purpose of having me to help are for the humans to be able to teach the pups basic training cues, to walk nicely on lead and for the beautiful Leah to gradually grow in confidence. Finally, and understandably with such young children playing outside, they would like the dogs to toilet in one area only in the garden.

Welcoming the New Puppy

Black Maltese puppyThey had picked up thirteen week old Maltese, Oakley, the day before I came. He now lives with a couple and their two young sons aged eleven and eight.

About a month ago I had been to see the grandparents who live next door and the puppy lives with the young boy who was bitten by Asha and who has been doing so well in learning to understand her. He has even been training his friends.

My job is to help them to make sure all goes well from the start with little Oakley and the boys, and to help with the tricky situation of introducing the two Shitzus next door to the new puppy. One little dog, Gizzy, should be fine. Asha, however, is not at all good with other dogs and it’s important she doesn’t frighten the new puppy.

There is a gate between the two properties which both dogs and children freely go through. For now the gaps have been blocked although there is still a space underneath – a space large enough for little noses and for barking.

Although not house trained by the breeder, Oakley is taking to it naturally, and will even go to the door when he needs to toilet.  When I was there, however, this coincided with the two Shitzus being out in their garden. Asha barked and little Oakley barked and came dashing back into the safety of the kitchen. The younger boy sat on the swing while the puppy was outside and this scared him too.

It’s important that nothing frightens him outside else he won’t be so willing to go out to toilet. We don’t want him having to run the gauntlet past that gate which may have an aggressive-sounding Asha barking underneath it.

When little Oakley has settled I shall go back and work out a plan for integrating the new puppy with the other two dogs. We can start with the more relaxed and dog-friendly Gizzy first. Meanwhile, they should block the gap under the gate and both sides should be ready to start throwing tasty bits of food on the ground when dogs and puppy are aware of each other – far enough away from the gate and fence that they are not so aroused they won’t eat.

This way the dogs will begin to associate each other with something good – food.

We looked at the other basic ‘puppy parenting’ aspects such as gradually teaching Oakley that being all alone is fine (he had a good first night fortunately) in order to pre-empt separation problems, teaching the boys how to deal with puppy nipping, not to over-excite him and to give him space.

We looked at what is good food and what is not so good. I showed them how to lure him into sitting but suggested leaving any more training for now and allow him to settle in before putting any pressure on him. I stressed, as I always do, the importance of appropriate and non-scary acclimatisation to people, other dogs, appliances, traffic and everyday life outside the home.

One boy took a feather off him that he had found in the garden. This was a good opportunity to explain the importance of never just ‘taking’ something – but to exchange (and also not to remove things that don’t matter!). This then pre-empts any resource guarding behaviour.

I am really looking forward to my next visit when Oakley is properly settled. One boy is keen to learn to clicker train Oakley. We will then look at the best way to work on getting that gate between the gardens open again.

It took a while, but a couple of months later here are all three dogs happily together.casey

Little Dog Barks at Everything

Scared Shihuahua Yorie mix

Freddie

Sometimes people can be at their wit’s end with a dog that seems to bark incessantly, particularly when they know it affects the neighbours. This is the case with the owners of little Chihuahua Yorkie mix Freddie, on the left. He is only ten months old and lives with thirteen-month Westie/Yorkie Belle, who is now joining in.

Actually, although Freddie spends a lot of time barking, he’s not a barker as such. At times when other dogs would be barking, he is quiet – like when he is put in the kitchen alone. He doesn’t bark for attention either. He has a lot of attention and gentle training so isn’t lacking stimulation. It is very evident that the one and only cause of his barking is fear.

If fear is causing barking, then it’s the fear that needs to be dealt with rather than the barking as such. His barking is basically yelling ‘go away, go away, I don’t feel safe’. On the left I just caught a break in his barking at me for this photo,

Westie Yorkie cross

Belle

When I arrived and for much of the time I was there, Freddie was so aroused that it was hard to do anything at all about it, so we experimented with various approaches before popping him into the kitchen for a break where he calmed down, eventually leaving him in there. It seems that so many things alarm Freddie that he’s in a permanently heightened state, most particularly when he hears any sound, when he meets a new person – particularly someone coming into his house and also people, dogs and noises when he’s out on walks.

The five-minute walk to the park is yet another story of barking that needs working on! The lady has resorted to carrying him so he can be off lead to play with Belle. I am a believer in little dogs walking, but in this case I would say that anything that can be done to reduce Freddie’s stress and anxiety is valid just now.

We ‘unpicked’ Freddie’s day and found quite a few little things that, when added together, should make him calmer. The two main ones were to block the dog flap so that he hasn’t constant access to the outdoors even when they are out and can bark at everything he hears, and to control the two dogs’ unchecked and prolonged wild play when they are out in the park.

Again, like a jigsaw, there are several small pieces that when added together can create a better picture.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).