Nervous Dog. New Puppy. Early Exposure.

What is it with so many Staffies? Is it a genetic tendency I wonder? Nervous dog Tom is yet another Staffie who is fearful of the outside world and reluctant to walk.

Tom drools when he is scared. He does a lot of drooling on walks.

A new Staffie puppy

The other day they brought home a new Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. Buster is a nine week old heart-breaker with a coat of grey velvet.

New puppy with nervous dogThey first brought home something that smelt of the puppy to introduce his scent to Tom. Tom drooled.

When puppy arrived, the poor nervous dog was really scared of him. Tom drooled continuously.

Over the past three days he has improved but still likes to keep out of the enthusiastic puppy’s way.

One surprising development is that Tom himself sometimes now initiates play. Strangely he’s not a nervous dog with Buster when they play. He bows and barks to Buster to get him to chase him.

There is only so much he can take though, and then he’s back to his nervous, quiet self and retires.

Buster follows him into the corner and Tom then drools or tries to escape. It’s like he is expecting to be told off or punished when the puppy is near him (something which definitely isn’t happening).

The big outside world.

They have had the four-year-old Tom for five months now and it’s clear he didn’t get the best start when he was Buster’s age. With my help they will make sure Buster is properly introduced to the outside word of dogs, people, vehicles, wheelie bins, paper bags, buggies and so on. All the experiences should be positive.

They should start this right away. The clock is ticking. Buster needs plenty of early exposure before he is fully vaccinated and ready to put down on the ground. They will have to carry him.

Poor Tom is scared of so many things, particularly when out of the house.

The main priority at present is to get the nervous dog’s stress levels down. To build up his confidence. Then he will be in a better state of mind to cope with Buster and to enjoy his company.

Every time Tom has to face things he is scared of without the opportunity to escape, it makes him worse. Every day he has to face the ordeal of a walk, particularly as it means going under a scary underpass if they are gong to get to the green. This is much too big a price to pay for exercise.

Building confidence in the nervous dog.

They will go back to basics with him and build up the nervous dog’s confidence immediately outside the house, going no further for now. Without this daily stress Tom should then become more resilient around Buster.

Buster fortunately seems a very confident puppy though he hates being alone. After all, he had lots of siblings and had never been alone before. He has adopted a bean bag as his favourite sleeping place, snuggling into it like it’s a pile of puppies.

Patiently and gradually they will wean him into being alone. Over the next six weeks I shall be helping them with all the usual puppy things, a mix of settling into his new life and pre-empting any future possible problems. We will start loose lead walking and basic training.

Confident little Buster may well, in the future, be a real confidence booster to nervous dog Tom – and even bring out the inner, carefree puppy in him.

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 Tom and Buster and because 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 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 fearfulness is concerned. 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)

 

On High Alert When Out on Walks

There seem to be many things that worry Gibson, a beautiful three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He was, apparently, an anxious puppy. If the couple hadn’t already done so many things for and with him, he could be a lot worse.

On high alert when out

On high alert? Not just now!

He reacts to sounds at home, mostly sounds associated with people, like car doors slamming, voices outside or the neighbour shutting a door.

He then barks.

Gibson is nervous on walks, mainly of people and occasionally dogs also. More recently he has also become jumpy at sounds when out, particularly when it’s windy.

They have been managing the situation well – apart from a couple of incidents when a person suddenly appeared and they were unprepared. The most recent involved him jumping at someone and he may have caught her hand. This is serious, not least because of the recent changes in the dog law. Someone now need only to feel threatened by our dog, with no damage done, for us to be in trouble.

On high alert on walks

Walks are miserable for a huge proportion of dog walkers who, along with their dogs, are on high alert all the time, looking out for people or, more commonly, other dogs.

For the lady in particular, walks are simply not enjoyable and have become something of a duty. They mostly cover exactly the same route and it’s taking longer and longer to get round. When not on alert, Gibson has taken to ignoring her and engaging in excessive sniffing and foraging for anything edible.

He may refuse to move. He’s a big dog.

She will now inject a lot more enthusiasm and interaction into their walking. She will engage more with Gibson – because this is part of the solution where feeling less threatened by an approaching person is concerned. They will make walks and themselves more relevant and unpredictable. Keep him on his toes and focussing more on them.

A person coming to the house.

When someone calls to the house he is noisy to begin with. Then there is excitement in which I see a big element of anxiety. He barks at the person as they try to walk through the door into the room. He is a big dog and he’s in the way.  I found what worked best was for the man to call Gibson back and out of the way, hold onto his collar and feed him (in Gibson’s case, cheese). The dog then was quiet. I then went through and sat down. He came and sniffed me, much more relaxed.

Sometimes it works best when the visitor drops the food. In this case I feel it gives Gibson comfort and support when the owner takes control of the situation and administers the food. He should, eventually, not need the restraint.

You might say, why food? Apart from motivating Gibson to leave the person and go to the owner, it helps to give him positive emotions about the person.

Gibson is a very good eater, so food is the answer to a lot of things!

See-saw.

Whenever Gibson is uneasy about something, they can counterbalance it with something he likes. I think of it like a see-saw. For instance, when he sees something new and looks worried, they can immediately feed him – associating it with food. If a door slams, they can drop food before he even has time to start barking.

Feeling better about people he sees on walks is done the same way and always from a distance at which Gibson feels safe. Currently they use food to keep his attention away from the person, to distract him, which is working well on the whole. Now, from the safe distance, they will want him to be fully aware of the person. The special ‘food bar’ opens. They may even point out the person – ‘Look, a PERSON!’ and then do some rapid feeding.

When the person goes out of sight, the special food bar closes.

In order to make progress they now need to have Gibson not merely being under control, but feeling differently about people he encounters.

Looking so gorgeous and cuddly, people of course want to pet him. Especially those people who ‘have dogs and love dogs’! Here is a way to increase distance without seeming rude.

They have come so far already, With a little change in direction I’m sure they will make another leap of progress and will no longer have to be on high alert for people all the time they are out.

 

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 Gibson. 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 or any form of aggression 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).