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Discussion Starter #1
background: We got Maya 2-1/2 months ago (~2 years old), rescued from an animal hoarder who had several similar mini-poodle/bichon mixes. Before adoption, she was in the rescue
organization’s kennel for six weeks. The main goal of the rescue org was to socialize these dogs who had been severely neglected but not abused (we were told). In many respects, Maya made great progress with us (got house-trained and bonded with me after 3 weeks). However, it was always clear she was fearful: not interested in treats, intermittently refusing to eat or drink for over 24 hours, often would only eat if food was inside her crate, had to be coaxed to leave her crate, cowering. At some point, she started taking treats from me but not from my husband. She is very comfortable with me: will take naps with me, will take treats from me except when she’s stressed. Still a little skittish here and there, but pretty good! She spends most of her time in her crate where she is most comfortable, although occasionally she will sit on the couch by herself. If my husband comes into the room wherever she is, she will quickly scoot to another bed under my desk or leave the room. The main problem we have is that she is very uneasy around my husband. She tenses up when he approaches her. If I’m holding her, I know that her heart rate increases. My husband has stopped trying to put her leash on because she would systematically spot pee which seems to be a nervous reaction.

But she shines when she is out on a walk, which we do twice a day. Outside, my husband can hold the leash and run and play with her and she is fine. He can pick her up and hold her and she is completely relaxed, legs dangling. She takes treats willingly from him only while he is holding her as long as we are outside, but as soon as we return home her behavior towards him completely changes.

A few of the things my husband has tried doing: speaking in a softer voice, higher in pitch; being careful not to make sudden moves or noises in her presence; not looking directly at her; wearing light-colored clothing.

What can we do to relieve this anxiety that she has in general, and especially toward my husband?
 

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Well, having the crate as a safe place is a good idea. I would advise when she's in there not to interact with her at all so she knows that she is totally safe there.

This sounds to me like the dog has had a bad experience and may be somewhat traumatized. Depending on how bad her anxiety is, you could discuss with the vet if she should be put on medication for a while to take the edge off. That might make getting over it easier for the dog (and for you).

Meanwhile, your husband shouldn't approach the dog or try to interact with her when she's feeling afraid of him. Let her come to him. Don't be pushy about it because you can't "push" your way out of this. The dog has to relax and learn that the threat is no longer present.

Counter conditioning (google that) takes time and more patience than you think you have. The idea is to break it up into tiny baby steps and reward for behaviours you want to see. For example, if she's in the room and your husband comes in and she scoots away 2 seconds slower than usual, then this is a baby step worth rewarding. A tip related to this is to crouch when you're addressing the dog. She's tiny and if you go down to her level you will be less threatening to her.

Make sure your husband (in fact, both of you) have a supply of treats on hand, even in the house (or especially in the house) for when the dog does something you want to see. If she won't come all the way up to him to get it and toss it on the ground and let the dog pick it up on her own time. Timing is important. The reward has to come 1-2 seconds after you see the behaviour you wanted.

When you're outside make sure your husband interacts positively with the dog. Try to avoid corrections for behaviours you don't want to see. Just ignore all that stuff, and reward her when she's getting it right. Being part poodle I would assume that she'll get the message fairly quickly. The emotional stuff will follow.

Eventually this will start to reprogram the dog to be less anxious by supplanting the bad memory with better ones. Again, don't be pushy.

To get a head start on this it might be advisable to get a pro to see your dog and give you some additional tips. Try to find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement and has experience in counter conditioning.

I hope this helps.
 

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A good friend had a very anxious hound dog that would not let anyone but the owner near him, and even off-leash at a park would never go more than just a few feet away from the owner. CBD changed him into a confident and playful dog in just 3 days! So that might be worth a try. Edurapet Plus also had the same effect on his dog, for a lot less money, so if that's a concern ot is worth a try.

Meanwhile, your husband shouldn't approach the dog or try to interact with her when she's feeling afraid of him. Let her come to him. Don't be pushy about it because you can't "push" your way out of this. The dog has to relax and learn that the threat is no longer present.
This one can't be stated enough! In my experience you have to let the dog decide, without prompting. Until then just coexist but never focus on the dog. And never grab at her!

I just worked with 2 fearful dogs, a Siberian husky and a Pitbull. The Siberian was so fearful he'd absolutely panic if anyone other than his owner touched him. He wouldn't pass by a person in a hallway, or get close enough to be grabbed - both outside and in the house.

The Pitbull was not so fearful, he just wouldn't allow anyone to touch or pet him. The owner said she'd only ever seen him allow her, her husband, and the foster lady they got him from touch him, he'd bark and growl at anyone else.

At any rate, very different ways of showing fear. The Siberian Husky took 2 full weeks, but once he decided I was okay we could even wrestle and play! The Pitbull took 4 months, and since he was an older dog and much more serious there was no playing, but he'd come over for pets whenever I'd see him!

The key is not giving in to the urge to touch them prematurely. They have to choose to interact. Just one grab reverses all progress.

If you can hold out you'll both win! Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks dogslife and BigBlackDog for your responses. We appreciate the support and are using your suggestions. We are looking into CBD. That would be great if she has a good response to CBD.

She is a really sweet dog. The main things we are working on are:
  • getting her to come out of her crate more (we know she feels more secure in there)
  • getting her accustomed to taking treats more readily. She likes tiny pieces of hotdogs, but there's a 50/50 chance of whether she will take it or not depending on the situation. If she's stressed or anxious, or if her focus is elsewhere, she has absolutely no interest in treats. She won't even look at them. Maybe there's something more irresistible that we will try. It seems like coaxing would work a lot better with a more dependable treat-taker!

We will push on!
 

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Dogs that are stressed won't take treats, it's part of the fight or flight stress response. But -
It seems like coaxing would work a lot better with a more dependable treat-taker
Please don't try to coax her - if you do, you put her in a conflicted situation where she wants the treat (or whatever) but has to approach scary person to get it. As others said, leave her to come to you in her own time. It's good she has a safe place.

Rather than give her treats, try tossing them away from you so she doesn't have to approach you. I know that sounds odd but it let's her start to associate you and your husband with good things without having to push herself beyond her comfort zone.

After a number of days of doing that, put one of the treats on the floor, about 18 inches from your feet. See what she does. If she darts in, takes the treat, and goes off, then she isn't ready yet for this stage. So, as with anything in dog training, go back to the previous step for a bit longer.

When she takes the treat from the floor and eats it there, do that for a few days. Still no eye contact.

Once she has been taking the treat from the floor happily for a number of days, offer one from your hand, but again see how she reacts. Any lack if confidence (taking it and stepping back) again is a sign she isn't ready, so back up a step for longer. And still no eye contact.

Once she is comfortable taking treats from your hand (and I mean really comfortable) you can try petting her, but using the five second rule.

Stroke her for five seconds (some dogs prefer you avoid the head) then stop. Only if she initiates further contact by nudging you or similar, continue for another five seconds then stop again. Continue only for as long as she keeps asking. That gives her control and in turn that will build her confidence around you because she knows she can make it stop at any time.

Expect this to take weeks, or even months depending on the dog. But don't be tempted to rush it, take it at her pace.
 

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Let her decide on her own. Coaxing is trying to force your timeline on her. Just have patience and let her decide when it's time; she will. And then it'll be over.
 

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Thanks dogslife and BigBlackDog for your responses. We appreciate the support and are using your suggestions. We are looking into CBD. That would be great if she has a good response to CBD.

She is a really sweet dog. The main things we are working on are:
  • getting her to come out of her crate more (we know she feels more secure in there)
  • getting her accustomed to taking treats more readily. She likes tiny pieces of hotdogs, but there's a 50/50 chance of whether she will take it or not depending on the situation. If she's stressed or anxious, or if her focus is elsewhere, she has absolutely no interest in treats. She won't even look at them. Maybe there's something more irresistible that we will try. It seems like coaxing would work a lot better with a more dependable treat-taker!

We will push on!
Positive reinforcement doesn't always have to come in the form of treats. If she's not taking hotdogs then she probably won't take anything. This is just a stress reaction. The reinforcement can come in the form of a verbal stimulus, "good GIRL" so at least at some level the brain is registering that you're happy with her.

Something that might help your dog relax and become more receptive to treats is to use a treat puzzle. You can buy those at a pet store but I make my own "games". One example is a small 1-2 litre bucket with a lid on it. I take a long strip of cloth that I cut off of an old bed sheet and wrap treats in it. I then put the cloth in the container and leave a corner of it sticking out of a hole I made in the lid. I don't give it to the dog, just leave it laying around. In the course of things he'll find it and then go about figuring out how to get the treats out of the bucket. This stimulates the mind (problem solving) but since it's a game that doesn't require human interaction your dog might respond well to that.

Another game I play with my dog is to hide treats around the house and then give him one as a sort of "start signal" and then say "zoek", which is Dutch for "seek". He'll run around the house looking for the treats I've hidden until I say "klaar" (finished). This can be great fun for the dog and it's amusing as hell to watch.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
hi - I'd like to provide an update to my post about Maya from two months ago. She has come a long way in her 4-1/2 months with us. I'm very appreciative of all of the comments and suggestions received here. There was so much to learn about a fearful dog that we were not aware of.

When I first wrote, Maya spent her days holed up in her crate, her safe space. At some point she started to venture out a little bit at a time, kind of dipping her toe in to test the water. We started to feed her in the room where her crate was because she really wasn't comfortable eating in the kitchen and it was clearly stressful to her. Then at some point she was fine walking around the house.

Maya has bonded with me in a big way and is completely comfortable with me and follows me around the house and is often at my feet. She no longer spends her days in her crate and for the most part she only sleeps there at night. She is toilet trained and lets me know when she needs to go out. She naps with me daily and we sit together on the couch regularly. When I'm at my desk, she is always in a bed at my feet. A couple weeks ago we started giving Maya CBD twice a day and that seems to have settled her anxiety a bit.

My husband is a different story. She is getting much more comfortable with him and actually gets a little playful with him in the off-leash park. She doesn't appear to feel threatened by him off leash. He still doesn't approach her directly and avoids looking at her except in the park. Maya knows our patterns and when it's time to go for a walk she will look for him and stare at him because she knows it's time for a walk and she's ready to go. She loves walks. He is now in charge of feeding Maya and when Maya is hungry, she knows that meals come from him and will hang around waiting for him. This seems to be a good connection and is working well. He started putting little treats in her bowl in between meals. Initially she was very fearful, but now looks forward to seeing a little piece of something good in her bowl. Todd doesn't directly approach her but it's clear to Maya where the treat is coming from and she will hang out in the kitchen when we are eating, clearly hoping for another treat. He has backed off giving her too many treats fearing that a pattern will form that isn't good, but is giving them randomly just to keep what seems to be a good connection going.

Grooming continues to be an issue. I am still trying to desensitize her to the sound of the electric clipper. We're hoping the CBD oil will help with this but it definitely will mean increasing the dose on a day I want to be more assertive about working on it.

So we are definitely in a new stage. There's hope!

If anyone has suggestions about grooming or how to improve my husbands relationship with Maya, please feel free to post! It feels like we are on a good path and that Maya just needs more time, but anything to expedite things would be good. Thanks again!
 

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Sounds like you are making great progress!
While the CBD oil can help to reduce/manage her stress levels, be careful that you are not trying to move too fast with the grooming process (or anything else you are working on), or you could cause a set back in the progress she has made, with a fearful dog it is extremely important to work with them at their pace. I learned quickly with my fearful dog (who had a history of abuse) that if he felt 'pressured' he would regress, back away, both physically and emotionally, I learned that it was very important that they 'decide' if/when they are able to move forward or not. We can't 'make' them trust, we have to earn it!

Fearful dogs tend to have a more difficult time learning trust men, and in all honesty, until there is a clear trusting relationship between your pup and your husband, I don't think he can 'reward' her too much. The goal is to help to achieve a positive association between them and if food treats work, continue to use them liberally. Something he may consider trying, (which worked wonderfully for me and my fearful dog), is sitting on the floor with something yummy/tasty (cream cheese, peanut butter, canned dog food) smeared on the palm of his hand, held out for her to choose to come and lick it off. He is not to look at her, or attempt to touch her, just hold his hand out and let her lick it clean. Gradually, as she is able to manage, he can move his hand closer to his body encouraging her to move closer. Once she is comfortable within petting distance, then he can try briefly, gently petting/scratching under the chin/neck area - most dogs find that area 'safer' to accept touch than the tops of their heads.
Working with a fearful dog takes patience, and more patience, there is no 'time line', some adjust fairly quickly, others take months (my fearful dog took a whole year to become comfortable with human touch) to learn to trust and to 'believe' that only good stuff will happen for them.
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
update on Maya,

She continues to get used to being part of our family. I'm am very bonded with her and she spends her day with me.

Some of the improvements:

- My husband is the only one that feeds Maya. She is aware of it and waits for him at meal time.

- My husband gives little treats throughout the day either in Maya's bowl or on walks. She frequently approaches, him interpreted as, "can I have another treat?" She won't come in the kitchen while the food is prepared but then comes by and eats once my husband sits down. She's still fearful of him approaching her directly. He occasionally gets a nose-nudge when I'm around.

- When giving treats on walk, the distance between Maya and where my husband drops the treat has decreased over time. Initially she wouldn't eat the treat at all.


- She goes and gets my husband when it's time for a walk and if he's not ready she will hang out in his vicinity and look at him basically telling him that it's time!

All good. Slow but good.

Today we tried to get her groomed. Not so good. The groomer was able to shave some of the matting off of her back, but said that she was just too animated to do more safely. Maya was nervous but seems to have recovered from the visit without any after effects. The groomer said she did not bite but did scratch her arms a lot. The grooming was canceled because it was not completed.

We now have an appointment at the same place with a more experienced groomer who talked to the first groomer and understands the situation. It's for an express grooming, i.e., faster and groomer only tends to her.

We've stopped using CBD because we weren't sure we saw much effect. But we will use it the day of the grooming.

Right now, grooming is our biggest concern. If the experienced groomer can't do it, we're not sure what we'll do.

That's the latest!

Thanks for reading :)
 

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If her coat is really bad, it might be worth speaking to your vet about prescribing something to calm her just while her coat is attended to.

It really depends on the balance of how bad the coat is, how experienced the groomer is and how distressed she is.

If you do decide to do that, once her coat is gone it would be much easier to make ongoing grooming a positive experience for her by doing it very gently with lots of reward.

If it is badly matted it will be causing her pain too, so you may find her demeanour changes if it is removed.
 

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If her coat is matted, it is causing her pain. think: someone grabs a small chunk of your hair and twists it. Now think feeling that all over your body. Matted dogs are very often ill-tempered because they are in such irritation and pain all over their skin. And of course they don't want to be groomed, because they don't understand that it will help them.

If necessary, have her sedated, but get the mats off her even if it means shaving her down to her skin. When her coat grows in again, no doubt you will be keeping it combed and brushed so it never gets matted again, and her temperament may have improved drastically.

But.....when you start brushing her, she may be afraid of the brush or anxious about it, so start before she even needs brushing, when her coat is still very short. Show her the brush, and then give her a very nice treat like chicken. Do this a few times a day for a few days, then let her sniff the brush and treat. then touch the brush just lightly to one paw, and treat. build up slowly until she associates the brush with treats and will let you run the brush down her back and sides. Go slowly! By the time her coat is grown out enough that it needs to be brushed you may have a dog who comes running when you show her the brush. Best of luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
If her coat is really bad, it might be worth speaking to your vet about prescribing something to calm her just while her coat is attended to.

It really depends on the balance of how bad the coat is, how experienced the groomer is and how distressed she is.

If you do decide to do that, once her coat is gone it would be much easier to make ongoing grooming a positive experience for her by doing it very gently with lots of reward.

If it is badly matted it will be causing her pain too, so you may find her demeanour changes if it is removed.
we'll see how it goes - they won't take dogs that are medicated. The new groomer appointment is with somebody that has experience with dogs like this and they talked with the first groomer that wasn't comfortable continuing the groomer, so they are willing to try. The first groomer took her back and sides very short but couldn't do legs, head, underside or nails. It's too matted to brush, but I don't think she's in any pain. It's not that long. She's just a dog that has had a rough background and is fearful of a lot of things. She loves meeting and interacting with other dogs on walks. Completely intrigued with other dogs even if they are across the street.
 

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It went great with the new groomer. She trimmed off everything, what she referred to as "bald". I think the mats were worse than we thought. We don't recognize her with hair so short, but happy that this was taken care of, including her long nails. So now we know somebody that can handle her which is a big relief. We will continue to go to the same person regularly.

Maya was very scared going to the groomer because she was just there recently and was not thrilled about it. She was petrified. The upside is that while we were waiting, Maya let my husband comfort her and pick her up. And, she took treats from his hand for the first time. Something about this experience caused her to be just a little bit less fearful of my husband and she continues to take treats from his hand, carefully! It's a journey!
 

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Try to keep her coat regularly groomed between sessions too, it will help her and the groomer.

Squeezy cheese in a tube is great - one person can gently squeeze out just enough to keep her licking the tube, while the other person gently grooms. Do short sessions so it isn't stressful for her, and ask the groomer about the best kind of brush to use. A bristle brush might not get deep enough into her coat; to prevent matting you need to get to the roots.
 
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