Puppy Joyfulness Lost. Tail Between Legs. Acts Careful

Hettie is an adorable Cockerpoo puppy, now sixteen weeks old.

Why has she lost her puppy joyfulness?

For the first four weeks that Hettie was with them (eight to twelve weeks old), she was a typical confident, happy and energetic puppy. She would fly around in puppy joyfulness, grab things and cause the usual puppy chaos.

she used to be filled with puppy joyfulness

Before getting her, they had already booked their holiday. While they were away, they left her in what they believed was the best place possible. This was a well respected daycare and kennels.

From what I observed of Hettie’s new careful, tail-down behaviour, something must have happened while they were away. She had come back a different puppy. Not to be too dramatic, it’s like something had broken her spirit. She had lost her joyfulness.

Her tail goes between her legs even when the lady owner appears.

It could have been that this holiday care was totally the wrong environment for a young puppy. Too many dogs all at once and too much noise, perhaps.

It can only be guesswork.

Hettie’s not scared of dogs, however. It’s people she’s wary of now; she’s generally reserved and what I can only call careful.

Sensitive period for socialisation

The damage done resulting in her fear of humans won’t have been anything deliberate.

To quote Dr. Sophia Yin: ‘From about 3 weeks to about 3 months of age, puppies are primed for bonding to other animals and individuals, for learning that objects, people, and environments are safe, and for learning what the body cues and signals of others mean. It is their sensitive period for socialization and it is the most important socialization period in a dog’s life. …….but what types of interactions should puppies actually have? ……it’s important to actually make sure that the puppy is having a positive experience and learning something good.’

For the first four weeks the family did all the right things, exposing Hettie gradually to the outside world of traffic, noise, people and other dogs.

During her stay away there could have been one or two single incidents that were negative and scary to Hettie. It could be that the whole thing – the number of big dogs and the barking may have just been too much for her.

Could this explain why Hettie has lost her puppy joyfulness?

Building up her confidence with people

The priority now is to build her confidence in every way possible. They will always use encouragement and avoid scolding. They will put no pressure on her. When the lady approaches she will throw food to the puppy; I’m sure her tail won’t be between her legs for long.

Most importantly, they must train all visitors. Knowing what to expect, I had avoided walking towards her. When I did move, it wasn’t directly. I avoided eye contact and spoke quietly. As I moved about, I leaked food from my hand onto the floor.

Hettie was very soon quite literally eating out of my hand.

What we would love to see is a return of the enthusiastic, excited puppy she had been before they went away. A return of a her puppy joyfulness.

PS: From an email that evening: ‘Hettie has been much more ‘naughty’ this evening and stolen lots of items from the sitting room plus made a break for upstairs – quite a relief after such a withdrawn persona earlier on’.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

Screams With Fear in Crowds. Scared of Traffic.

Archie gets so scared in crowds that he screams.

People tend to think that giving a dog lots of exposure will ‘get him used to it’. Fortunately, Archie’s owners realised when they first took him into a town a few days ago that they needed to do something to help him before doing so again. They do all they know to do everything right for their dear puppy.

Archie is a beautiful little Miniature Schnauzer, not yet ten months old. They live in quite a quiet area and he’s unaccustomed to crowds.

Early exposure to the real world.

Screams when scaredHe was the most timid puppy of the litter and his lack of confidence will probably be genetic. With hindsight, he would have benefited from being much more actively habituated to people, vacuum cleaners, new things, traffic and the bustle of real life in general – but in a structured way – from a few weeks old.

Archie is a delightful little dog. When I arrived I could see how torn he was between fearfulness and wanting to be friendly. Fortunately the ‘friendly’ soon won.

He’s sweetly affectionate without being pushy.

A lot of things scare him. Where other dogs might bark, poor little Archie screams and whimpers.

He daily has to run a ten-minute gauntlet beside a busy road in order to get to the field where they let him off lead. Daily exposure isn’t making him ‘get used to it’ and in fact his screams are getting worse. He will try also to chase the traffic. He is trapped, held tightly by lead and collar, so attack can be the only form of defence left to him.

Slow, systematic work

They will work at getting Archie as confident, least stressed and stable as possible in all areas of his home life. This will give the best basis for working on his fears of people, dogs and traffic when out.

They will teach him strategies that will enable them to get his attention. Screams and barks directed at something or someone are less likely to happen when the dog is looking elsewhere.

The work needs to be done in a very systematic way, starting at the beginning.

Bit by bit they will be habituating, desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those things that scare him.

Walks themselves should be a bit different. For now they will take him to the field only by car while they work on his fearful reactivity to people, dogs and traffic, gradually and systematically.

Lead walks will be near home where it’s quiet and the distance from these threats can be controlled. The more short planned sessions they can fit in, the faster they will make progress.

Panic pulling and screams

They will carefully introduce Archie to comfortable equipment (even introducing the harness will need to be done very gradually). We will look at loose lead walking rather than panic pulling.

No longer will Archie have to endure this terrifying path past people, dogs and vehicles, a gauntlet to run that he has to endure daily in order to get to the field.

Traffic watching

A successful approach to fear of traffic is to find a quiet side road and watch traffic passing by the end from a comfortable distance. Each vehicle will trigger food for Archie. The lead should be long and loose to allow him to feel he can escape if scared – by increasing distance. Bit by bit they will inch nearer to the traffic. On times I have done this, the dog is eventually walking happily along beside the traffic. How soon depends upon the frequency of the short sessions and how fearful the dog is to start with.

To Archie, the world out of his house is generally unsafe. When his panic and stress get simply too much, he screams. Fortunately he is fine with dogs he knows in environments he considers ‘safe’.

With time and patience he should ultimately be able to better cope with the world of people and traffic.

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 Archie. 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 much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. 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 Help page).

The Importance of Early Socialisation

Miniature Schnauzer Bertie is starting to get used to meWhen Miniature Schnauzer Bertie, now fourteen months old, was picked up at the breeder at eight weeks old, he was shaking with fear. This is not a good start. Already he should have been handled and played with by various different people, adults and children, he should have been introduced to household things like vacuum cleaners and maybe even taken for a brief ride in a car. He should have spent time in the the house and time outside so that he learns to tell the difference for toileting purposes.

There is a critical time in a puppy’s development for introducing new things, and experiences both good and bad can have a lasting effect. Ideally there should be a variety of experiences – all good ones.

A consequence is that, through fear, Bertie will nip people – especially the couple’s grandchildren. He may suddenly fly at them from across the room. He barks and growls when people come in the house.  He is scared of everyday items and unknown things. He is very protective and on guard which can be a big burden brought about by insecurity. Looking at his picture it’s hard to believe, but day times are spent in quite a highly aroused state – often looking for trouble! A stable, calm dog will probably sleep about seventeen hours a day.

Bertie now needs to learn that he is not the centre of the universe along with the responsibilities that carries, and to become more confident in general. He is a well-loved little dog whose owners are already doing many of the ‘right things’.  A puppy that is already scared of people at eight weeks is going to be harder work. I have already experience of this with my own German Shepherd, Milly, who was born in a puppy farm and had no real human contact until she was twelve weeks old when her first owner bought her.

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