Hi all. I have a 2.5 year old Australian Shepherd. She came from a backyard breeder (before I knew anything about puppy mills and irresponsible breeders.) We got her when she was about 6 months old. She was spayed after her first heat cycle.
We left her with a relative whilst we were vacationing and during her stay she was chased/tormented by a wild toddler and ended up growling. She was verbally scolded and that is all I know of the incident. Ever since then, she's been afraid of my kids and acts anxious, growls/raises her lip. When we brought her home and she first started growling DH and I also scolded her, and sent her out of the room. However, after realizing the problem was not getting better, we started doing some research and discovered positive training.
We've tried giving her high value treats when the kids are around. I also started pulling out her tennis balls to play anytime she starts acting anxious. A game of fetch seems to help a bit and she's okay with the treats until they're gone and then she goes back to averting eyes, lowering ears, lots of lip licking etc. It seems like when I bring food in to reward her for being calm around the kids as soon as the food is gone she's worse than before I gave her food.
She has a thundershirt and we've tried a DAP collar but neither seem to make any difference in her anxiety's with my kids, though the thundershirt does seem to help her stay calm when they're not around.
She's much less fearful of the kids when she's outside and doesn't typically act nearly as anxious. I can tell the sound of little feet on hardwood floors makes her nervous so we've worked extensively with my 3.5 year old teaching her to walk in the house. She also knows not to hug her and to only pet when mom or dad are there. I also have a 1 year old who is obviously not capable of impulse control or following directions. The dog actually gets along much better with my youngest though he is still learning dog manners.The dog and the children are never together unsupervised.
While she is often anxious or nervous, there are other times when she's perfectly fine with my kids. The other morning I called her up on my daughter's bed and she crawled right up to her, put her head in my daughter's lap and started licking her. She was relaxed the entire time.
She seems much more nervous in the evenings than the daytime. She also has issues resource guarding when it comes to her food. I feel like she's always on edge, afraid someone is going to take her food. I no longer feed her from a bowl. She eats from my hand or from the ground outside after exercising. I usually put a little food on the ground and make her sit and then shake or spin around, then lie down and leave it and then after 10 seconds or so I have her get it. I do this several times a feeding secession so she has to look at me before she gets more food.
She knows many commands which I taught her using a clicker. Sit, lie down, come, stay (she usually stays) leave it, back up, release, spin. She plays frisbee and ball and gets quite a bit of exercise daily.
I know finding a behaviorist will be suggested but there are no R+ trainers within several hours from me and no behaviorists withing 4+hours.
I have considered rehoming her, though it is not ideal. I reached out to 3 shelters that are foster based shelters and nobody ever returned my calls/emails. I am not comfortable surrendering her to a shelter where she'd be caged until adopted. I would really love to help her overcome her fears, but I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong or how to help. Any suggestions?