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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've been reading this forum a lot lately, and I think calming signals are especially interesting and insightful.

Reading about the signals has brought something to my attention, though, and I'd love to get perspectives on this. It seems like he always has and often still does toss out calming signals constantly.

He yawns a LOT. An hour can't go by without him yawning. Even if we aren't doing anything but sitting on the couch. When he yawns, most of the time, he makes a loud yelp noise (similar to what people do - we used to think he learned it from his dad, who is a loud yawner). Sometimes his yawn is so heavy that his head shakes a bit.

He shakes his body a lot too (kind of like dogs do when they're wet) - basically anytime he gets up from sitting, and a lot just walking around the house.

His ears are pinned back A LOT, especially if we are saying "hi" to him and coming to pet him, and they don't naturally rest like that. (He's not huge on being pet, so we try to give him his space, though.) Also, if we try to pet him, he sometimes turns his head to the side, away from the hand, and looks sideways.

He gets concerned a lot at various things (anything unfamiliar, really, or sudden movements), doing that thing where he's panting in a relaxed way and suddenly his mouth shuts and lips get tight and his eyes wide.

He's very vocal and whines a ton. We joke that he "talks."

Is he just a stressed, anxious, neurotic pup? :ponder:

He came to us at 5+ months and was feral before that. (People tend to think he was abused because of how he cowers from people, but we've come to honestly believe that he just lived out in the wild with his three other littermates until someone found them and turned them in to the shelter.)

If it also helps, we think he's a border collie/lab/pointer mix (almost certain about BC given certain behaviors and physical markings and hair placement and expressions). Also, his personality can best be described as introspective and intense. He stares at everything in a very intense and observant way, trying to figure everything out, and it seems like he is able to capture the smallest details very well. We contrast this to our new pup, Bon, who's very carefree and just kind of wiggles about, not paying much attention to anything, at least not seeming to.

Is there any way to help him and dogs like him become more relaxed?
 

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Sometimes yawning is just yawning-he's tired and falling asleep in some of these cases, not actually stressed and trying to calm down. Shaking right after getting up could be a comfort thing-sort of like stretching if you've sat in the same place for too long.

Sounds like he is stressed when you're petting him though-counter conditioning will help. Feed a treat, pet. Treat, pet, repeat. He's probably a nervous guy in general and has not built any confidence-which makes unfamiliar things that much scarier.

Depending on his whine, you might want to see what he wants. It could be he's whining for play time or attention, or is bored. How much exercise/training time does he get? The fact that you added he was BC sort of sets off flags that he might NOT be getting enough exercise and training time, since they tend to be a higher maintenance breed than others for requiring that time spent with them.

Summary: Read up on counter conditioning and LAT. You pretty much can't go wrong with these :) It takes a lot of time and is definitely not an overnight fix but I see my dog improving, who is similar to yours in the nervous/hard stare body language, and although it's slow going sometimes it does get better.
 

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calming signals still aren't fully understood, though what we do know is very helpful! some things to keep in mind:

-sometimes dogs will use calming signals to calm themselves. so if he is excited about something (food, a toy, a visitor, a noise etc) he may "shake it off" afterwards, and it doesn't necessarily mean that he is stressed in a bad way.
-dogs use calming signals to announce to others that they aren't a threat, so he may turn his head, lip-lick, or yawn or something like that, when he is near you. my dogs will still do these things when we are intimate (close proximity/petting etc, is very friendly behavior for a dog, thus "intimate"). i test them, to see if they are stressed by me, by stopping what i was doing... if they want more petting, they will often lean into me, or push their heads toward my hand, but still lip lick/turn away. turning your face away, when in close proximity is also considered good doggy manners.
-you can use calming signals too. when you pet him, try yawning/lip licking as you do it. and always position yourself a bit sideways from him. keep the pets short, and don't block him into anything. get down on his level. humans aren't often aware of how much they seem to "loom" over their dogs. try sitting quietly on the floor and feeding him a few treats, while you reach out and gently pat/scratch his shoulder. when the treats are gone, stop petting, sit still, and see if he stays near or goes away.
-you can c/t when you see he is doing a calming signal of some kind, and capture it, then use it to help him calm himself! i use "take a bow" which i captured, but i let it morph into a deep stretch, and i often ask clover for the behavior when he has become over-the-top aroused at anything. it isn't a miracle cure or anything, but it definitely makes a difference.
-build his confidence. focus on ways that you can set him up to succeed every day, AND look for things that you like that he is doing, so that you can reward them, and get him to do it more. keep interactions short and positive, always giving him a way out. there are lots of great games to help with this, 2 of my favorites are "101 things to do with a box" and "tug with rules"
-nose work can be a great stress reliever for an anxious dog! there is a thread/sticky on it somewhere here, look into that :)


i think you are probably spot on with the lack of interaction being the cause of his cowering. too often people think their dog had something bad happen to it, to cause that sort of behavior, but the reality is that simply not having any experience/very limited experiences can lead to that. for a dog who didn't get much interaction with humans, it can be extremely confusing to try and figure it all out!



Dog | Forum | Rocks!
 

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"101 things to do with a box"
This is THE game that thought my 2 year old rescue BC how to use his brain and build confidence. My BC never rested, and was always reeling to go, leading to a very frustrated dog.
Using Kikopup's techniques and teaching him how to use his brain has changed my once hyperactive dog into a playful buddy that knows when its time for play and when its time to take a break.
In the beginning I had to ninja my way to him to catch him of guard and capture the behavior. After that he faked sleeping to catch me by surprise (clever dog)..
But now, after some time of 'relaxed state capturing' he opens his eyes after a nap and there's magical food out of nowhere "wow, relaxing is brilliant!".

You seem to be on the right path.
But do try the box game, I highly recommend it.
Any box will do but one that they can fit in is the most fun. The first steps are the hardest and he might not 'get' it the 1st time 'round but hang in there and I'm sure you'll notice a difference. I even found MYSELF getting better at it, ignoring the pleas for help (that look of 'you do it for me') and encouraging individual thinking instead. Lots of praise for even the smallest inch towards the box will start you off nicely.

Also I must ad that for some reason my dog was actually afraid of boxes for some reason (must've had a bad experience in his past), now he freely jumps in and out, nudges it furiously and even stores his toys in it.

Physical but also mental exercise are key. Hang in there, its worth it.
 

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This is THE game that thought my 2 year old rescue BC how to use his brain and build confidence. My BC never rested, and was always reeling to go, leading to a very frustrated dog.
Using Kikopup's techniques and teaching him how to use his brain has changed my once hyperactive dog into a playful buddy that knows when its time for play and when its time to take a break.
In the beginning I had to ninja my way to him to catch him of guard and capture the behavior. After that he faked sleeping to catch me by surprise (clever dog)..
But now, after some time of 'relaxed state capturing' he opens his eyes after a nap and there's magical food out of nowhere "wow, relaxing is brilliant!".

You seem to be on the right path.
But do try the box game, I highly recommend it.
Any box will do but one that they can fit in is the most fun. The first steps are the hardest and he might not 'get' it the 1st time 'round but hang in there and I'm sure you'll notice a difference. I even found MYSELF getting better at it, ignoring the pleas for help (that look of 'you do it for me') and encouraging individual thinking instead. Lots of praise for even the smallest inch towards the box will start you off nicely.

Also I must ad that for some reason my dog was actually afraid of boxes for some reason (must've had a bad experience in his past), now he freely jumps in and out, nudges it furiously and even stores his toys in it.

Physical but also mental exercise are key. Hang in there, its worth it.
this game worked really well for my dog too! he was a wreck ;)


just an fyi though, being afraid of a novel object doesn't indicate that the dog had a bad experience with one, it is actually indicative of a dog that had too few good experiences (ie socialization ;)) especially during some of the key developmental stages.

i totally agree that mental exercise is totally key! makes all the difference!



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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
It's good to know that many of the signals don't indicate that he is constantly upset or stressed. I'm really looking forward to learning more about him by what he throws out at us.

I had never heard of 101 things to do with a box before - I am going to try this today. It looks like a "game" that Goose is going to absolutely love, love, love! :D
 

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Well its good to hear it might just be inexperience and not an actual traumatic event.

back to goose, it can take a long time before they settle in and relax completely (in my case it was months). Reading about his case made me realize my BC doesn't do the head turn and the 'whale eye' anymore. Looks like these changes in behavior are subtle enough that they can be overlooked.
It also sounds like he's quite intelligent so he should pick things up quite quick. You could try some light nosework to get him to familiarize with the environment. I put the dog in the other room and hide some kibble or treats around the house. When I let him out I tell him to go find the treats and off he goes. at first I put them in plain sight basically but now I need to hide them really good or he'll be at my side instantly, waiting for round two.

That's about all I can think of without listing all the games I play with my BC.

Oh one more thing, move slowly and relaxed around him, it takes some practice for some people (my girlfriend is horrible at it, she races around the house making him nervous all the time).
 
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