Dog Forum banner

1 - 7 of 7 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
7 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello, this will be a longer post so here os the quick TL;DR version: rescue dog with unknown past is often afraid while on walks. I'm looking for advice on how to help her overcome some of her anxiety and enjoy herself.

The longer version: she is not a puppy, but as mentioned, a rescue dog we adopted from a reputable breed-specific rescue in our area. She is a lab mix, about 50lb. She has come leaps and bounds from the way she was when she first came home: she used to be terrified of us, of noises, of objects, of anything. Had no idea what a toy was for. She was afraid of the house and hid a lot. Compare that to now: she's a happy dog who loves her toys, takes them out one by one to show us and run and play. Bouncy, happy girl. She loves her people, and while she is afraid of strangers, she has a growing handful of people that she likes and is comfortable around. (Various family members and friends.) Sweet dog who listens well. She is known to be really afraid of children. She won't let kids near her (she barks and hides, I've never seen her bite or show aggression.) She also seems to be afraid of bicycles.

So, her behavior on walks: she always seems excited to go out, but once we cross the street she wants nothing more than to run home. I live across from a public park and we usually walk through it, but sometimes we go through the neighborhood down various streets. She will be walking along fine and then randomly stop, get a blank expression (almost like she is thinking/assessing the situation) and then will literally turn tail and run. No matter where we are, new route or not, she knows the direction of home and wants to get back there. She is afraid of the afore mentioned kids and bikes, but also of flags, garage doors, and slow-moving cars. She loves other dogs and seems to trust their handlers pretty easily, or at least disregards them, but couples walking without dogs are suspicious to her. (Once we saw a dog running alongside their owner on a bicycle and I swear my dog has never been more confused in her life, haha. She must have thought the other dog was nuts.)

She doesn't usually stop to sniff at things like other dogs. She'll pee on things to mark them but rarely wants to get off the sidewalk. If she's super anxious she will pee or poo while walking, not even stop to get on the grass. I know she knows she's supposed to go on the grass, because when she's calm she will move off the sidewalk first. She doesn't wag her tail. Even when calm, the tail just hangs - not between her legs, just no happy movements.

Also, I have her on a gentle leader. When she decides to run home, she will just bolt. On a regular collar she chokes, and on a harness she really digs in and pulls and I have a hard time stopping her. She hates how the gentle leader makes her nose itchy, but it's the only thing that turns her back in the "right" direction without unnecessary pain. But if you have another suggestion, feel free to comment. I have a nylon leash with two handles, one for heeling and the other for letting her run long. She does listen to me, she will sit and wait before crossing a road, but if she ever got loose I know she'd book it for home regardless of traffic, so it's important that I hang onto her.

So, advice welcome! I just want her to have a good time and an enriched life. It's hard to tell if keeping her in the house is a kindness or not. Thanks!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
257 Posts
I just feel bad. I wish she could enjoy being out and about. Here's what I do now: I do not look at whatever she is being fearful of, and I don't coo at her or anything. I'll act like wherever we're going is exciting and that often gets her moving forward again. If there are a lot of people or kids around, she heels and sticks pretty close to me and we don't detour or avoid anyone. I just essentially try to carry on as normal, if that makes sense. I don't want her reading apprehension from me.
Take a moment to consider this: if you were afraid of say - snakes - and you were walking where they would randomly appear, sometimes close by, sometimes a little further away, how would you feel if the person you were with ignored your fears and said 'just keep going'. don't bother trying avoid them, just keep on moving through them? You might keep moving because you had no choice, and get closer to the person you are with (to feel a bit safer) but that isn't going to make you feel any differently about snakes - is it?

Take a long some high value treats, and feed those treats when she notices strange people, or something that makes her feel unsafe, (look up 'counter conditioning') make the effort to walk her where you are less likely to encounter those scary things, (for now) but feed her those treats when you do. Detour away from those things you know she is afraid of, (you don't teach a child to swim by throwing them in the water) the distance will help her feel safer, and gain confidence in you, that you will keep her safe and minimize the risk of her becoming overwhelmed and feeling the need to 'get louder' (bark, snap) out of fear.

Take some time to learn about 'stress signals' in dogs - they speak primarily with their bodies and they tell us a LOT about how they are feeling in any situation.


She is sticking close to you because she is afraid of what is happening around her, she is asking you to keep her safe - don't ignore her and pretend all is okay - it is not 'okay' in her eyes. She needs to you to understand that she is afraid and needs your help to learn that everything is okay, and it takes time and positive associations for that to happen.

It sounds like your pup has not had much exposure (socialization) to the real world, take it slow, work at her pace, keep her at a safe (for her) distance from the scary stuff - she will let you know when she is ready for more, ready for busier places and feeling less worried about those things that worry her now.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
I do tell her good girl when we walk past the scary thing, I just don't constantly chatter at her if that makes sense. Does it not reinforce the fear behavior if I lead her away or allow her to run blindly away from what she's scared of? For people, sure, I can tell how close to get to them before it triggers her flight response (i.e., crossing to the other side of the street, or today I walked her around the playground with kids instead of through it) but I don't know what to do in the case of a random flag flapping in the wind or someone turns the corner on a bike and I don't have time to react. It's spring so lots of people out randomly now and she's been getting more anxious, not less, after the winter of calm walks with few scary people. She bolts entirely, so right now I don't know how to approach the situation. My background is in horses, and we work a lot with desensitization, so, actively putting them in scary situations and removing the scary thing when they calm down (negative reinforcement).

For the counter conditioning, she will not take treats, high value or not, because she is too anxious. Is there something I could do to work on that? Maybe sit at the park until she is relaxed enough to accept a treat and then leave?
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
4,156 Posts
Does it not reinforce the fear behavior if I lead her away or allow her to run blindly away from what she's scared of?
No, it will show her that you are listening to her, and respecting her feelings. That will build her confidence as she realises you won't force her to deal with things she can't cope with. Baby steps. When you learned to drive, you weren't put in a high performance supercar on a fast, busy motorway for your first lesson. You start easy and build up to these things as your skill and competence grows. Try to think of it like that for your dog.

For the counter conditioning, she will not take treats, high value or not, because she is too anxious. Is there something I could do to work on that?
Yes, if she is already anxious, it is too late - to stick with the driving analogies it is like trying to steer your car after you have driven over the cliff edge. Start further away where she is aware of the trigger but not yet anxious.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
257 Posts
My background is in horses, and we work a lot with desensitization, so, actively putting them in scary situations and removing the scary thing when they calm down (negative reinforcement).
In dog training this called 'flooding' - and the outcome is rarely a good one for the dog.

 

·
Registered
Joined
·
199 Posts
It sounds like you may be used to putting horses in scary situations as a part of a training method. Perhaps because of that you've been pushing the dog harder than would be productive. As Joanne says, once the dog stops taking treats, she is too anxious. I've tried "waiting until the dog calms down and then rewarding her with a treat," but my dog has never calmed down in a situation that made her so anxious that she refused treats. When you are at that point, it's WAY too scary for doggo! You need to dial it all the way back and recalibrate. I'm thinking that you need to find a point where the dog obeys commands but is just a tiny bit anxious because of whatever scary thing. So then you give her lots of high value treats.
 
1 - 7 of 7 Posts
Top