This British Bulldog is only seven months old and is scared of everything. He’s also very brave. Facing fears takes a lot of courage. When I came to the door his flying all over me and humping was fuelled not only by friendliness but also by anxiety, I’m sure. There was so much panting, drinking, jumping and stressing that I eventually offered him a Stagbar to chew. He went at it like his life depended upon it, and gradually he calmed down a bit.
It was hard to know where to start because Reggie wasn’t really interested in any food – not even in cheese. Possibly he was too fired up and probably due to how he currently receives his food, it has little value to him.
The list of things he is scared of could fill a page. The most difficult thing is that he is so worried outside that he has to be forced out into the garden. Consequently he pees in his crate – on newspaper – not because he wants to but because he has no choice. An example of his strange ways is that when he goes to someone else’s house – and this is quite frequent – he will go to one spot and freeze for the whole time he’s there. Even the presence of another dog makes no difference.
It seems that his parents were stable and relaxed, but Reggie was an anxious puppy from the moment they got him home. Despite being loved dearly and the couple doing everything they can to make him happy, he spends much of his life feeling unsafe. He has a pen which is his haven, but even there he will spook if there are shadows on the wall or if he hears something bang upstairs or a vehicle outside. Ironically, the one place he feels safe and happy is in the woods, where he may meet and play with other dogs and sniff and run about happily. Getting him there, though, is an operation in itself and it has to happen daily because he can’t relax sufficiently to poo anywhere else.
When his harness is brought out he runs and hides (I suggest they put this on earlier now and leave it on). He very slowly creeps to the front door, ‘grumbling and begrudgingly’ and they then lift or push him out. He still needs pushing or pulling until he nears the parked car where he makes a rush for the open car door and for safety. At the other end he is very scared of getting out of the car because he will hear traffic. He then makes another dash for safety – the safety of those woods. Whenever they try to take him for a short walk around the block, it is a matter dragging him. As soon as they turn for home, he is pulling like a train to get back.
Because of his refusal to go out – or often to move at all – there is a lot of cajoling and enticing, and I feel this puts added pressure on him in a way. There is anxiety because he may not eat so his meals contain the tastiest of stuff and there is more cajoling. We really do need food and fun to start working on his fears, but at present food has no value. Keeping his meals basic and the tastiest food not available at any other time unless associated with desensitising work is the way to go.
We are starting on a ‘Plan A’. It will take time because he has probably been like this all his short life.
Reggie needs to spend more short spells in his pen – his ‘den’ where he feels the safest – each time he gets too aroused and needs rescuing from himself. This place should be associated with good stuff – with a special box of things to chew and do. In order that he goes in willingly, they will do a training game of ‘in and out of the pen’ using high value rewards. Because he ignores them when they call him (what’s in it for him, after all?), they will do lots of short ‘come’ games using food or fun as incentives. When they want him off the sofa they have to drag or push him, so they will now do ‘up and off’ games. Slowly he should become a bit more motivated and willing – and trusting also as he becomes allowed to make his own choices without any force being used.
Most importantly, they will do doorway games. He is terrified of moving doors and of going through certain doors, particularly the door into the garden. They can play ‘out and In’ games with easy indoor open doorways first, moving on to more difficult doors, gradually building into the process doors moving, opening and closing and so on. Then there is desensitisation to all sorts of sounds and objects in different places to work on. A big task. All family and friends must be taught not to stir him up unnecessarily or reward hyper behaviour with attention so that his basic arousal levels can be kept as low as possible which will help him to cope.
I am really hoping the confidence he will be slowly gathering will snowball, leading to a breakthrough. It could however take many months even for Reggie to actually ask to go out into the garden, let alone to be happily walking down the road, oblivious of traffic.
One month has gone by and I have just called in to see Reggie. I found quite a different dog. He greeted me much more calmly, more interested in sniffing than jumping up or humping me. He did have his over-excited moments later on, but was happy to go to his pen for a short while. He is now going willingly outside into the garden apart from times he wants to play the lady up – he is a teenager after all – but it’s not due to fear, and although he may run in again if there is a loud noise from somewhere, he is coping with a lot more.
The front door holds no fear fo him anymore and in fact he was beside me at the door as I was leaving and a car drove past – Reggie didn’t react at all. His wariness of traffic in general has improved although there is still a long way to go, and we have adjusted the plan for further progress. Another great bit of progress – because he now is okay going into the garden there is no more toileting in his pen! They take him for walks in places where there are no cars, and are still working on getting him from and back to the car with more desensitisation work with any other cars that may be passing at the time.
I can see an eventual rosy future for Reggie and his walks due to the patience and dedication of his owners.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie, 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).