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Hello, we just adopted a new dog, Blondie, a 9-11 month old, 40-50 lb mutt, with a little German Shepherd in her. This is not our first rodeo, we had a rescue dog before and lost her to bone cancer last year at the age of 10. But I had forgotten how hard it is in the first few months! Blondie very anxious at first but immediately attached to us which is great. She's also starting to get guard dog behavior which means that she sees this as her home. That said, we have a lot of training to do.

In my first walks with Blondie, she is pulling the leash like crazy, particularly when she gets distracted or spooked (which of course happens frequently). I did have a minute or two of zen with her on last night's walk, however, which gives me hope that we can train her to behave better on the leash.

Anyway, I've been watching videos and perusing pages about this topic (including the sticky note in the forum)--it seems to me that doing this right will require us to start very gradually, training her on minimal non-walks for the first week or so. The problem is that she has a ton of energy, and I feel that the exercise would help calm her down. But I don't want to reinforce bad habits or counteract the first steps of leash training.

Any advice here on what to do? Thanks!
 

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Is there anywhere you could play ball or similar with her off leash, like an enclosed yard?

If not, tiring her by making her use her brain is incredibly effective at wearing dogs out. Scentwork, training tricks etc. are all great.

Have you seen this video too?

 

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Thanks for the fast and helpful response Joanne!

We do have a nice yard and she enjoys it. Initially she took to fetching tennis balls immediately, but after a day she created a little den behind some trees in the yard and she now deposits everything there, so fetch is not so fun anymore. She doesn't seem to be in a playful mode lately, which is probably because she is still adjusting to the move (we got her on Sunday). But my daughter seems to have taught her to sit already, so we probably can come up with some good tasks for her.

Thanks also for the video, very helpful!
 

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Kikopup has loads of training videos if you are looking for more ideas.

To be honest, the stress of the move might still be affecting her ability to learn, the stress hormone cortisol stays in the human body for up to 72 hours, studies in dogs are less conclusive; but because it is cumulative every stressful experience tops it back up. Think of a slowly draining bathtub where every now and then, someone tips in a bucket of water - eventually it overflows. So a few days just chilling might be helpful too.
 

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This is very helpful, thanks. So it sounds like the main advice is to not worry about exercising her with walks until the training advances far enough, right?
 

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Just an update. On the positive side, Blondie is making progress with sit, and house training. She is very closely attached to us. However, it is very hard to manage her energy level. Walking is out of the question, because she is so reactive right now. We are in the midst of a heat wave, so she does not want to go outside to play fetch. We have tried frozen kongs, but she gets through them pretty quickly (perhaps we are not putting enough filling in) and in general, with toys, she has limited interest. When she is in a high energy (probably anxious) state, she is bitey (in a gentle way) with us and will chew on paper like crazy but has no interest in normal chew toys. She will eat treats or greenies but she plows through them fast and then we are back at square one. We give her a lot of attention, but it is taxing and it has made it difficult to work, take care of basic household chores, or relax. We are currently trying to hook up with a dog trainer, but would welcome any advice on how to go through this difficult period.
 

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She is especially reactive to sounds, such as doing the dishes, a washer, sound of a truck outside. When she hears those sounds coming from outside, she barks and wants to run all over the house. When she hears something inside her energy level goes way up and it's hard to describe but it's an anxious energy.

Another more practical example: last night, we needed to take her outside to relieve herself but she wouldn't do it. My wife eventually figured out that she might be scared of the air conditioner outside. So we turned off the A/C and she was fine to go out after that. Even with eating she will only eat a little at a time and then stop, usually because some slight noise has spooked her.
 

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Poor girl. So, desensitising her to the noises would be your goal. But there is a delicate balance between desensitising to something, and sensitising - increasing sensitivity. For example (and I'm using a different subject just to illustrate the point) if you wanted to desensitise a dog to having her paws touched you would try to encourage her to let you touch them for gradually increasing lengths of time. But if you overcook it, she might throw a wobbly fit because you push her that little bit too far. A friend compares it to a colleague who constantly clicks their pen - it's fine up to a point but at some stage you just have to snatch it and snap it.

I hope that makes sense to illustrate the point.

So for noises, you might start with recordings of them being very quiet, and reward her for being calm while they play, then gradually increasing volume. Or for things like a microwave ping, have her in another room and reward when it happens, gradually getting her closer. You may have heard of people using this technique for dogs who are afraid of fireworks.

Two things come to mind, in no particular order of priority.

One is that she might be over sensitive right now because she has a lot of cortisol in her system. Like I said in an earlier reply, it's the stress hormone and as each little stressful episode happens it builds up faster than it drains away. So if each noise has a stress factor of, say, 2 and her limit is 10 she would generally be able to cope. But if she has a lot of stressful events amounting to a 9, a 2 might push her over the edge. She could cope on a normal day, but not on top of several other things. In humans, it can take up to 72 hours for cortisol to drain down, studies on dogs are less clear. I just realised I'm not sure when she actually came to you but that would have spiked her cortisol so all these triggers stacking up are keeping it elevated. So, again, if she can have some totally stress free days to let her cortisol come right down she will very likely find it a lot easier to cope.

But of course, I realise it will be almost impossible to eliminate all noise, so the other thing is that you might find a pheromone product helps. These are products that come in a spray (for blankets etc., not for directly on to the dog), a collar and a diffuser. They replicate the hormone a bitch has after having puppies and have a calming effect on dogs. Or, if you can get scullcap and valerian, that's a herbal remedy that also has a calming effect. It might take something like that to take the edge off her sensitivity so you can work with her, because dogs (or humans for that matter) can't learn while they are stressed.

Does the rescue that you got her from offer any support? I ask because of the balance between desensitising her and sensitising her, it might be helpful to have another pair of eyes.
 

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Thank you Joanne, this is super helpful. Yes I can imagine her cortisol levels are pretty high. I like these ideas, thank you for the suggestions!

Poor girl. So, desensitising her to the noises would be your goal. But there is a delicate balance between desensitising to something, and sensitising - increasing sensitivity. For example (and I'm using a different subject just to illustrate the point) if you wanted to desensitise a dog to having her paws touched you would try to encourage her to let you touch them for gradually increasing lengths of time. But if you overcook it, she might throw a wobbly fit because you push her that little bit too far. A friend compares it to a colleague who constantly clicks their pen - it's fine up to a point but at some stage you just have to snatch it and snap it.

I hope that makes sense to illustrate the point.

So for noises, you might start with recordings of them being very quiet, and reward her for being calm while they play, then gradually increasing volume. Or for things like a microwave ping, have her in another room and reward when it happens, gradually getting her closer. You may have heard of people using this technique for dogs who are afraid of fireworks.

Two things come to mind, in no particular order of priority.

One is that she might be over sensitive right now because she has a lot of cortisol in her system. Like I said in an earlier reply, it's the stress hormone and as each little stressful episode happens it builds up faster than it drains away. So if each noise has a stress factor of, say, 2 and her limit is 10 she would generally be able to cope. But if she has a lot of stressful events amounting to a 9, a 2 might push her over the edge. She could cope on a normal day, but not on top of several other things. In humans, it can take up to 72 hours for cortisol to drain down, studies on dogs are less clear. I just realised I'm not sure when she actually came to you but that would have spiked her cortisol so all these triggers stacking up are keeping it elevated. So, again, if she can have some totally stress free days to let her cortisol come right down she will very likely find it a lot easier to cope.

But of course, I realise it will be almost impossible to eliminate all noise, so the other thing is that you might find a pheromone product helps. These are products that come in a spray (for blankets etc., not for directly on to the dog), a collar and a diffuser. They replicate the hormone a bitch has after having puppies and have a calming effect on dogs. Or, if you can get scullcap and valerian, that's a herbal remedy that also has a calming effect. It might take something like that to take the edge off her sensitivity so you can work with her, because dogs (or humans for that matter) can't learn while they are stressed.

Does the rescue that you got her from offer any support? I ask because of the balance between desensitising her and sensitising her, it might be helpful to have another pair of eyes.
 
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