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My little 9 lb 4 yr old rescue, a chinese crested/ jack russell terrier mix, is very attached to me. He follows me around in our apartment. He loves my boyfriend only a little less than me, but no one else. He is terrified of all other dogs and wants nothing to do with anyone and either ignores or skitters away from everyone.
When we first moved in together over a year ago, he didn't like the noises in the hallway and barked at every sound. He calmed down and then Halloween happened. Kids/ knocking / noises threats! He has not really recovered and still barks and growls at most noises unless I'm sitting right next to him on the couch. This is the only time when he can relax and go to sleep. If I'm sitting at the table, he sits under my chair, growling low in his throat constantly. He takes a breath and starts over again. Never stops. Sometimes he does it all night long in his little bed next to my side of the bed. If I'm cooking in the kitchen, he sits on the floor behind my feet and growls at noises. If I try to pick him up and comfort him, he hates being picked up.

We have tried being stern with him, yelling NO! but it's almost like he can't help it. He looks at us helplessly, with his ears back, and keeps growling. Sometimes it escalates into a bark but often it's a weird yip - like he's doing it in spite of his own intentions. It's like the Chinese Crested in him is overruled by the jack russell.... Anyone have any tips to stop the constant guarding / growling?

 

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Hi! I recommend starting with Nicole Wilde's Help for Your Fearful Dog, which is fairly comprehensive and covers a lot of very practical things (from supplements to training to understanding fear).

What your (very cute!) guy is doing is motivated by fear, and it sounds like his fear has gotten substantially worse over time. Scolding a dog for being afraid is counterproductive -- at best, it does not stop fear, and at worst, it may make the dog feel significantly less safe. So I would start by completely ending all yelling/scolding/correction efforts.

Mild noise-related fears are often fairly easy to resolve through counter-conditioning (the site Care for Reactive Dogs describes counter-conditioning in more depth, as does the Nicole Wilde book). My dog also has a tendency to bark at outside noises that concern her -- trucks, skateboards, other people, other dogs. For the first 6-8 weeks that we had her, I'd deliver an awesome treat immediately after any outside noise, which taught her that instead of noises being something to fear, they actually predict something AMAZING. That's counter-conditioning in a nutshell, but I encourage you to understand it in better depth before trying it out...it takes a lot of time, and has to be done right to have an effect.

However, not all fears are easily resolved. For example, my dog doesn't bark at noises from skateboards, trucks, or people anymore (she rarely even bothers to wake up), but other dogs barking still make her sit up in alarm...clearly, that noise generates a much stronger emotional reaction for her, and requires much more intensive treatment.

That you describe your dog as existing in a near-constant state of alarm/alert/growling suggests to me that his fears have generalized to a truly concerning point. When fear continues to get worse, to the point where it is having a serious effect on quality of life, I strongly recommend consulting with a behavior professional (a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behavior consultant, at least if you're in the US). Clearly, this isn't getting better on its own, and a professional should be able to help you figure out what steps you might be able to take to turn things in a better direction.

Good luck for you and your sweet guy.
 

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No more yelling, that is just going to make it worse. It'll make him more anxious because you are upset, and in turn that will make him more on edge and fearful which will make him bark more. In his head it's likely to be this thought process... "I hear noise, and I'm afraid, I'll bark and try and scare whatever it is away. Oh no! Now my person is mad at me because of the noise. I hear noise again, it's further away so I'll bark now and try and scare it away before my person hears it and becomes mad at me."

My boy is also fearful of strange people, and will bark at noise he hears outside the apartment and he'll bark if he sees someone 100 yards away outside a window. He'll also bark if he sees a stranger when I walk him. I do counter conditioning with him to teach him that noise and seeing strange people get him yummy treats and cause good things to happen to him. Sometimes just going to see what he's spotted outside the window, talking soothingly to him, and petting him while we watch the people walk till they are out of sight of the window is enough to get him to calm down. The later works because he's barking to try and get me to come see, calling in his "pack" so to speak.

For your dog I'd take him to the vet and see if they can prescribe Fluoxetine, or Proxac. Here's a thread that's discussing the use of those drugs and how they've helped different members dogs http://www.dogforum.com/dog-health/fluoxetine-257457/

I'd also start working with him on his reaction to noise by having your boyfriend go out in the hall and make noise. He'd make a noise and as soon as he does so start feeding you're boy a couple very high value treats. At the start have your bf start at the farthest point that your dog reacts so if it's 5 apartments from your apartment state there. Do it five or 6 times in a row, a couple times a day, till he's looking happy when he hears a noise at that point then come a couple steps closer to the door and begin again. Make sure to also give him some really good treats every time you hear a random noise outside your apartment. Also make sure to vary the noise your bf makes or your boy will learn to be alright with one type of noise but not other types.

As bad as he sounds though I really think some anti anxiety medicine is going to be the place to start. I can sympathize though, my dog also has a thunder and fireworks phobia he had finally recovered from the storms we had back in May and was able to not react to random banging or heavy rain then the Christmas Parade fireworks display happened and he's once again fearful of random banging at night.

In addition to the CARE site that SnackRat linked to check out www.fearfuldogs.com
 

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Thanks!

Thank you for all your great advice!

I hope I didn't give the impression that he is miserable because he gets LOTS of love and Stacy's pita chips and we play fetch with his guys all the time. He gets lots of love and even though it took me about a year for him to let me touch him anywhere but the top of his head, he will now let me rub his belly and scratch his "shanks" which he loves. Part of it is he is a very vocal dog - he actually growls at me when he wants what I'm eating.

But he is a fearful dog and I do need to do something about it. Thank you for your advice!
 
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