Scared Dog. Jumpy. Nervous. Walks are a Nightmare for Her.

Scared dogBelle was found with her siblings, at just a few weeks old, by the roadside. From the beginning,, in her loving home, the Whippet mix was a scared and nervous puppy – in total contrast to their two Labradors.

When someone comes into the house the scared dog will leap onto the lady’s lap for reassurance.

Belle is now three years old and the behaviours her fear generates are hard for her family to deal with. She is extremely jumpy and scared of many everyday household things.

It’s easy to get cross with too much barking when one seems powerless to stop it.

Emotions behind the behaviour

The main message for helping Belle is for them to consider the emotions that cause her behaviours and deal with them instead of trying to stop the actions themselves. It can help to translate it into human terms. For instance, they wouldn’t scold a child who was crying due to fear. They would address the fear itself. Continue reading…

Jumpy and Easily Startled



I was welcomed at the door by two very friendly and seemingly confident little dogs – Bud, a Yorkie age two and his five-month-old son, Bentley, a Yorkie mix already double the size of Bud.

Bud, however, was strangely jumpy and startled by anything that might make an unexpected sound, even soft sounds coming from another room. He would instantly recoil and might run away from even what seemed like a soft tap, but he was back again in no time like nothing had happened.

Bud will also run the other way if he simply senses a sound was coming. If the man carries something through the room, Bud will run away in anticipation of the sound that object may make if put down noisily. If someone goes to push their chair back to stand up, Bud runs, anticipating the sound of the chair scraping against the floor.

Puppy Bentley seems now to be copying him. He also startles, but not so much – yet. Very possibly there could be a genetic element.

Bud’s bounce-back recovery was amazing really.  It all seemed a bit odd.

A dog quite this reactive to noises is likely to have other issues like excessive barking and fearfulness of new people coming into his house. Bud is friendly and confident with both new people and with other dogs. It seemed almost like an automatic reaction rather than deep-seated fear.

Bud apparently only became so jumpy at about nine months old and it coincided with a break-in when he was alone in the house. Despite men breaking into his house, he’s not scared of people as you might expect.

Other noisy things that frighten him include the usual – vacuum cleaner, things with motors like hairdryer and the ironing board.

People so often think that if they force the dog to remain in the presence of these sounds that he will gradually get over it. Called flooding, it very occasionally can work, but the risks are great. Nearly always the fear becomes deeper rooted, transfers onto other things, even to the point of the dog shutting down altogether. Unexpected bangs and noises are so much part of daily life they can’t all be avoided but they can avoid the obvious. Because stress and fear builds up in the system, the calmer the dogs can be in general the less jumpy they are likely to be.

Bud and Bentley

Bud and Bentley

So, the plan now is for them to do their very best to keep Bud (and Bentley) away from the things they know scare them whilst working on controlled sounds that they generate themselves.

I suggested they deal with one specific sound at a time and I believe that as time goes by the progress will spill over onto other sounds.

I noticed Bud flinched and ran away when I unthinkingly moved the footstool beside me. So, with my tastiest tiny treats and with the very friendly Bud beside me, I moved the stool a fraction, dropping food as I did so. He jumped slightly but I hadn’t pushed him over his threshold and he ate the food and stayed with me. I did this quite a few times, lifting the stool and putting it down again, a little more loudly as he stopped reacting.

Then the man said ‘Try this’, and dropped some keys beside me onto the stool. Bud ran. When he came back he was seriously spooked by the keys. I just reached out towards them and fed him. I silently touched them and fed him but he was already backing off. When they made a small sound he ran.

If the keys had been put down really gently initially we would have got further and it was a good example for the family to see of just how slowly and carefully they need to take desensitisation. It also demonstrated how once the dog is ‘over-threshold’ he’s not in a mental state to learn anything, so the session needs to end.

With each thing, the aim is for Bud to actually welcome that particular sound because it means yummy food. With sufficient careful work he will learn to love keys being put down, if not suddenly dropped!

Talking of food, the dogs’ diet has little nutritional value along with colourings and additives which could well encourage nervous behaviour. Unless people know better they fall for colourful packs and often rubbish food tastes good – we know that don’t we!  Many people don’t realise just to what extent food can affect their dog’s behaviour and nervous system. That is something easily changed.

As the jumpiness is so out-of-place with the rest of his character, I just wonder whether Bud may have inherited a tendency to startle. He was originally bought from a pet shop at about twelve weeks old so very likely was bred in a puppy farm. Who knows what his life was like during those first very formative weeks of his life?

He will probably always have the jumpiness in him if something is unexpected or sufficiently loud but they can help him greatly through deliberately avoiding exposing him to things that get him startled, jumpy or scared whilst working on controlled sounds.

Hopefully we have caught it soon enough to avoid Bentley going down the same route.

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 Bud. 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).

Constantly Chewing Herself

JRBella2Jack Russell Bella is constantly nibbling, sucking and chewing herself – or scratching.

She has many seasonal allergies and allergies to food, but the nibbling and sucking was something else. The intensity and manner in which she was chewing herself looked to me like she was deliberately shutting out the world.

How could this be when she is loved so much?

I could see that she was enormously stressed. In fact, the lady and her daughter were also anxious and fearful – mostly about Bella, something she would be picking up on.

The dog is the centre of their universe. She is treated very excitedly whether it is physical play, cuddles or when one of them arrives home.  I have found that constant focus on a dog can be a burden for it – as it would for us. Caring owners however should never beat themselves up when they are doing things with the very best of intentions.

I experimented and found she liked being touched very gently but not vigorously at all. A little tickle behind her ears or a tickle on her chest. A hand stretched out over her made he cower slightly. It is enlightening for people to read a bit more of their dog’s body language.

Little Bella is extremely jumpy. Any small sound of a cooking utensil sends her running and she is also scared on walks – a car door slamming causes her to freeze or try to run for home.

It didn’t help that a while ago when they were out, neighbours reported a break-in and three police officers smashed through the front door with poor little Bella the other side. Also, last year a large dog got into their garden and in protecting little Bella the lady was very badly bitten and is now terrified. Watching out for dogs makes walks a nightmare for her as well. There have been some hard times.

We had a lovely evening. We gave Bella little attention – something they never would normally have considered. Instead of focussing on the scratching and sucking and constantly trying to distract or stop her, the daughter quietly gave her a tiny bit of food each time she stopped.

They said it was the calmest the house had been for years.

I have just received an email to say that Bella slept better than ever last night and didn’t wake until 9.30.

It is my bet that as she relaxes her allergies will improve and she will also stop chewing herself.

Just a couple of weeks later I have received this message: We are so happy with our beautifully behaved, quiet little dog.  The house is so quiet and calm and we really cannot believe the difference already.  She is doing so well and the only time she slips up is when I am not so on the ball (she has learnt quicker than me), but she is much younger !! it is a real learning curve for us too.
And a week after that, ‘Well, I have to say that Bella is a transformed dog, I barely recognise her, she is so different. Mum has done so well and is really firm about the new changes, and regime. I am comforted in the fact that she is so calm when I don’t make a big thing of greeting her.  It was so hard at first, I had to go into another room as I had tears in my eyes! Oh dear. Thank you so much again for all your solid advice, it makes so much sense and we could not have done it without you.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella, 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. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Jumpy and Nervy Staffie

Staffie Mikey is easily worried or scaredMikey is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier mixed with something else – it looks very much like Pit Bull.  He had an uncertain start in life with several different homes in the first six months. He now lives with a young couple who have overcome a lot of difficulties as he was very hard to handle initially, and he is now settled, affectionate and obedient with them.

Unfortunately he is easily spooked by things, like someone suddenly appearing when they are out, and certain people that make him feel uneasy. He may bark or even lunge and grab with his mouth. Fortunately he hasn’t so far broken skin, but his young owners are naturally very worried.

Mikey is also getting increasingly unpredictable when approached by certain other dogs. He chased off a young dog recently in an aggressive manner. He also is obsessed with the balls they take on walks, and had quite a major fight with a dog he knows well – over a ball.

Mikey is jumpy and nervous. He does a lot of pacing, some tail chasing and lots of chewing bones and toys. He is restless. I gently put my finger on his back as he lay in front of me, and he sprang to his feet. He runs away from carrier bags and is worried by new things in new places.

Looking as he does, it’s important he has a good reputation. It is vital they never get complaints about him and that he never gets the opportunity to bite anyone. At present he goes with them outside their flat off lead which I think is a mistake. His young male owner teases him and plays games like so many young men do, that not only wind him up but also encourage use of his mouth and teeth which I also believe is a mistake. Many walks consist of constant ball play which may exhaust him physically but do nothing to relax him mentally. Balls have become an obsession. Running around after balls on a walk isn’t what a dog would do if left to his own devises. What is a dog walk, after all?

Mikey needs to be surrounded by calm. He needs his young owners to act like confident leaders when they are out and make the decisions that are wise in Mikey’s eyes. We have been working on exactly how to achieve this. He should then be less jumpy, more stable, and less reactive to dogs and people. It will take time.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.