Building Confidence Around People: timid dogs 2

Last week I started with this:

Dogs are like people: they’re born with a leaning towards confidence or timidity (or any number of other things), and then their experiences layer over the top of that to decide how they will be later in life.

Also, much like people, young dogs often go through a fearful phase. I’ve seen it hit most often between six and eight months, but can happen before or after that as well. How you deal with timidity, in either a young dog or a rescue, can make a big difference in how they feel about the world, about trusting you, and their confidence levels.

One of the scariest things is, to many owners’ surprise, strangers. Whether your dog is an adolescent going through a phase, or a rescue overcoming previous trauma (emotional or physical), there’s some basic things you can do to help them dramatically.

The basic steps are these:

  1. Stop them from fleeing.
  2. Protect them from the “monster.”
  3. Gently reward bravery.

There’s two ways in which timidity shows itself: flight or fight. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re dealing with timidity/confidence with people issues, and not fear aggression. Regardless of whether your dog falls into the flight or fight category, the basic steps are the same. How much we correct and where, however, differs. So, two case studies! (You know how I love my case studies!) This week we’ll look at Max, a fleer, and next week we’ll look at Tildi, a fighter.

It’s now “next week” and time to look at how to work with a fighter!

Tildi: Fight

There’s a big difference between fear aggression and timidity. Fear aggression has already escalated to a dog that’s lunging forward with clear threat; timidity-fight is going to be a dog that barks from a distance, or is just starting to try and scare a monster away with little pushes or hops forward.

Tildi is only six months old, and she’s in this latter category. If she were with a big group of dogs and she barked at something in alarm, they would first check out what she was barking at. If they saw it was nothing dangerous and she, upon seeing their disinterest, stopped barking, they would reward her with grooming and play. If she ignored their disinterest and continued barking, they would often either move on and abandon her (at least until she decided to catch up!), or they would nip at her until she was quiet, and then reward her. In this way, young dogs can learn what they should and should not be alarmed about.

There are — well, many — theories about what to do in Tildi’s situation (barking from a distance), but one major one. The major one says you should do the same thing you’d do in a flight case, but start from a greater distance and move closer slowly. I think this is great in theory, but in practicality it’s almost impossible. You can’t control if people on your walk are moving toward you, and it’s very difficult to set up enough strangers coming to your house and staying for a long enough time to train in this manner. So, this is what I do instead.

Step one: stop them from fleeing. This really isn’t much different; we put Tildi on a leash to keep her from running away and avoiding the problem.

Step two: protect them from the “monster.” In Tildi’s case, she was protecting herself from the monster by barking at them and trying to scare them away. (This can rapidly become fear aggression, especially if it works.) So first we had to tell her that she’s no longer allowed to try and scare them away. If she starts barking at someone, we can pull her away on her leash, squirt her with a squirt bottle, or bump her away with our knee/shin/side-of-our-foot. In Tildi’s case, bumping worked best. We had to face her and bump her about twenty feet back initially, but as she started to “get it” that became dramatically less. (Once dogs realize you’re more persistent than they are, they start giving up quicker. Usually you can do this in one fifteen minute session with someone acting as the provocateur.) If you use a leash to pull your dog away, remember you must loosen the leash for them to learn anything. If they’re still pulling on the leash to get closer, they haven’t learned to stop barking/hopping/intimidating!

Once we can get a dog to stop barking, then we can protect them from the monster. In Tildi’s case, this meant giving her treats when she hung back quietly, and praising her when she decided to leave when she was frightened rather than barking when she was frightened.

The downside of this step (and the reason many people don’t like it), is that while we’ve eradicated the bad behavior (barking/hopping/etc), we haven’t created a single lick of confidence, and your dog might be slightly more fearful because they now associate people with getting squirted/bumped/etc. Now, however, we can start protecting. Now Tildi’s owner can say, “Yes, Jenna, come in! No, you may NOT touch Tildi.” From here, we can build the trust that Tildi’s mom will protect her, and from there, we build up Tildi’s confidence just as we did with “flight” dogs. (See last week.) In my experience, the downside isn’t enough to prolong the timidity around people. In fact, because dogs who are willing to try and chase off a monster usually have more confidence than dogs who aren’t, these dogs still seem to come around very rapidly, much faster than “flight” dogs.

Step three: gently reward bravery. In a fight dog, this starts with, “You didn’t bark this time! So wonderful and brave!” and then continues to, “you stayed closer!” “You tried to sniff!” “You took a treat!” and so on. From here, it’s once again the same as a “flight” dog!

There is a final step you can take, if your dog is pretty good around people, but you’d like them to be better. I mentioned it briefly, but it deserves it’s own note. Once your dog is willing to take treats and sometimes be petted, you can have strangers ask your dog to sit, shake, high five, or anything else you like. (Anything that involves laying down is hard for these dogs, as it puts them in an even more vulnerable position. Hard things should be avoided, as they create more stress.) This gets your dog happily engaging with strangers, thinking about something other than whether or not the stranger is a monster, and doing fun bonding stuff.

One last note: if you’re apparently afraid to touch a stranger, why should your dog feel safe getting petted? Start shaking hands and, where appropriate, giving hugs. You can model brave behavior for your dog, and that will help, too!

Jenna

Building Confidence Around People: Timid dogs 1

Dogs are like people: they’re born with a leaning towards confidence or timidity (or any number of other things), and then their experiences layer over the top of that to decide how they will be later in life.

Also, much like people, young dogs often go through a fearful phase. I’ve seen it hit most often between six and eight months, but can happen before or after that as well. How you deal with timidity, in either a young dog or a rescue, can make a big difference in how they feel about the world, about trusting you, and their confidence levels.

One of the scariest things is, to many owners’ surprise, strangers. Whether your dog is an adolescent going through a phase, or a rescue overcoming previous trauma (emotional or physical), there’s some basic things you can do to help them dramatically.

The basic steps are these:

  1. Stop them from fleeing.
  2. Protect them from the “monster.”
  3. Gently reward bravery.

There’s two ways in which timidity shows itself: flight or fight. Now, I’m going to assume that you’re dealing with timidity/confidence with people issues, and not fear aggression. Regardless of whether your dog falls into the flight or fight category, the basic steps are the same. How much we correct and where, however, differs. So, two case studies! (You know how I love my case studies!) This week we’ll look at Max, a fleer, and next week we’ll look at Tildi, a fighter.

Max: Flight

Step one: stop him from fleeing. Max was timid of people, not because of any prior abuse, but simply because he’s a very timid creature without much inborn confidence. His “mother,” wisely, got on top of this as soon as she saw it might be a problem. The first thing we did was to put him on a leash, so he couldn’t run away completely. Some running is great; flight is always better than fight! But dogs are notorious for running from a problem and, therefore, never learning that it’s not a problem after all! We wanted to limit how far he could run, so we put him on a leash so he couldn’t leave the room.

Step two: protect him from the “monster.” While he might be on a leash, we don’t want him feeling cornered or pressured. If Max wants to run away to the end of his leash and hide from the stranger in the room, that’s completely fine. By simply being in the room and catching the stranger’s scent and seeing that the stranger isn’t eating him, he’s learning that there’s nothing to fear.

In fact, our job is to make sure no one touches, talks to, or otherwise pressures him! The more they pretend he’s not there, the more likely he is to feel safe enough to check them out. The more we keep him safe, the more chances he’ll take. As he sees that we protect him and never put him in a situation that ends badly, he’ll begin to believe he can trust us. If he trusts us and knows we’ll help him out and support his choice to escape, then he can take risks — like sniffing the monster or taking a treat — because he knows that if something happens, we’ll step in to help him. We need this basis of trust to build confidence from! (Note: if your dog ends up in a situation that ends badly, don’t panic! It’ll be a little setback, but just move on from it. Your dog will move on, too.)

Here is one of the places were many, many people go wrong: they try to encourage, and even push, a young or timid dog into a stranger’s hands to see that petting is nice. Oftentimes, even if your dog eventually sees it’s okay, the experience will still be tinged with stress and anxiety. They may remember the stress and anxiety, rather than the end result of petting! Thus, the following are reinforced in their mind: They cannot trust you, because you pushed them at the monster and they had no choice, and their fears were correct — it was difficult and frightening.

If, instead, we tell our dogs, “You don’t have to be petted or deal with this human; you just can’t run away entirely,” then they get the chance to see that nothing bad happens, they’re supported, and the stress levels stay low.

Step three: Gently reward bravery. We don’t want Max to feel pushed into engaging, so we give him time to decide on his own. Bravery is always measured against his standard. At first, it was simply going to the end of his leash and being calm enough to sit, instead of stand. We told him how wonderful and brave he was, and gave him treats. Then, it was sitting behind his mom instead of at the end of his leash. Again, we told him how brave he was. Soon he was sniffing peoples’ feet (head down = not sure they want to engage, so we told people not to touch him yet) and then taking treats from people (life started to get better!) and very quickly thereafter, petting. We did not encourage further bravery, just rewarded what he was willing to give us.

Now, in Max’s specific case, while he grew much better with people outside the house, there was one person inside the house that still frightened him. We invited that person in, and did a little extra with step two. After just letting them sit in the same room for a while, when Max relaxed we had his mom (holding his leash) sit beside the “monster,” bringing him closer as well. When he relaxed about that, we had his mom and the monster walk around, with Max trailing behind them. When he became comfortable doing that, the monster took the leash and, without looking or acknowledging Max, walked around trailing Max behind him. When Max finally relaxed again, the monster started giving him treats… and Max finally realized it wasn’t a monster after all! Sometimes, extra steps are necessary. Those steps can include the ones above, or a “monster” asking a dog to sit and rewarding with a treat (which gets the dog to engage in a more positive manner), or you making a happy fuss over the “monster” yourself, so your dog sees how much you like it and aren’t afraid of it, and many other techniques. You take it at the dog’s pace, and remember that it isn’t always linear progress!

Next week: Fight!

Jenna

Case file: Lexie, fear aggression

A few months back I had a dog with fairly severe fear aggression stay with me. I started out just taking videos for her mom, but decided they’d be good for the blog, too! Some of the narration starts out very quiet, as I was trying not to distract the dogs. Most of the time, I get louder. Sorry about that!

Lexie is a four-year-old yellow lab who was attacked by a jack Russel at about a year of age. Her fear aggression started after that, and got worse over time until her owner reached the point of crossing the street to avoid other dogs. Lexie would approach another dog submissively, and then when she got close, attack with panicked intent. While Lexie and her mom still have a lot of work to do, we’re making progress!

Lexie had stayed with me once before, last year, so she had some memory of Cash and Lily. However, I had Brady there as well, so she stayed in her crate the first night for about three hours. When she came out, I kept Brady on leash (to keep him away from Lexie), or kept Lexie on leash (to keep her near me). The first video picks up the next morning, after more leash and crate time to get used to each other.

If you just want to see a heart-warming change, watch the first and last videos. More dogs were added as the week went on; no dogs were harmed in the making of this film!

 

Credits:

Narrator: Jenna
Lexie: lab, “fearful pup”
Cash: king shepherd, “dad”
Lily: pit bull, “grandma”
Brady: golden retriever, “happy brother”
Frances: Australian shepherd, “timid sister”
Obi: pit bull x boxer, “fearless bff”

Case files: Beau, separation anxiety and chewing

I got the following email, and thought it might be helpful for others! So, with the person’s permission…

My sister got us in touch, this way:

“Hey Jenna!

I’ve copied H on this email as she is the one needing help.
She owns a pit bull named Beau whose story is almost identical to Lily’s. Lots of shelters, new homes and people giving him back because he has separation anxiety and chews everything up when left alone.
H and D (her husband), want to work with Beau to try and get him to stop chewing, but are looking for advice and tips on how to proceed.
Are you able to offer up any advice?”
I sent:

“First, crate training is a MUST. There’s a bunch of entries on how here: https://jennasfeathersandfur.wordpress.com/tag/crate-training/

Second, does he chew things up when you aren’t home? Because if not, then start crate training, take him walking daily (the less energy he has the less anxious he’ll be), and wait about six months. It takes time for dogs to settle in; with separation anxiety and destructive behaviors, the big key things are to crate him when you’re not home, and then burn off the energy, and let time heal his emotional wounds! There’s a few other things you can do, too, if you want to email me back with some details. (Does he have crate trauma? Does he destroy things when you’re home? How old is he? How long have you had him?)”

And from H:

“[W]e think Beau’s about 2 or 3 years old.  He seems ok in a crate. We’ve only had him for about 2 weeks. He gets super upset when we leave and he starts chewing on wood, mostly door frames and doors haha.. So it’s not the easiest fix.
He gets lots of exercise! Between me and David, he probably runs about 3 miles every day! 🙂
We got him a crate today and he seems to be doing really well so far! First we put him in there when we were home and gave him his toys in there to get him comfortable, and we give him a little treat whenever he goes in the crate and lays down by himself. Hopefully he keeps doing well with the crate.  If you have any other tips for crate training, let me know!
Thanks again!
H”
Response:

“Hi, Haley!

This all sounds fantastic! If he’s that comfortable in his crate, start leaving him in there. (He might say, “Forget it! I’m not going in anymore!” Tell him he has to, feed him in there with the door open to keep it a good place, etc. I often put a dog’s breakfast in their crate just before I have to leave for work, so that they go in to eat, I close the door, and there’s no argument!) Continue to make sure he has toys in his crate so he doesn’t get bored.

That’s the first big step. If he can’t be supervised, crate him. If you’re gone, crate him. Chewing for anxiety reasons has two big aspects to tackle:

First, it becomes a habit. We need to break the habit! That’s what the crate is for: so that he can’t do it. It’s breaking the habit, and teaching him what he should chew on: his toys and bones, which are in the crate! Now, to continue breaking the habit, when you see him SNIFFING the type of thing he would normally chew, give him a scolding and chase him away from it. (A squirt bottle works wonders for this.) This way he learns that wood things are off-limits, and because he’s crated when you’re gone he won’t learn “they’re off limits… until everyone leaves!”

Second: the anxiety. As we break the habit, we also work on the anxiety. He’s getting plenty of exercise: make sure he’s also learning down-time. He’s old enough now that he should be relaxing at night, so if he isn’t — if he paces, checks halls and doors, constantly asks to play, harasses you for attention — then he hasn’t learned how to relax. Put him on a leash with his bed nearby, and tell him he has to stay close. No wandering off. Put a couple of toys he likes within reach. We’re teaching him to stay put; eventually he’ll start getting bored, lay down, and chew on his toys. Soft, soothing pets are fine, then, but otherwise just let him be so he can figure it out. Teaching him to calm down will also help him alleviate his anxiety.

If he’s having trouble calming down after a few days, or if his anxiety is simply bad enough, consider Rescue Remedy. You can get it at Target, Whole Foods, pet stores, and a dozen other places! It’s expensive, but will last forever. A drop or two a day often helps. (Any form — for humans or dogs — is fine.)

Finally, when he is looking stressed out, don’t soothe him. You can praise him — “Good job! I’m so proud of you for staying calmer tonight!” or chide him, “Silly dog, there’s nothing wrong,” but don’t tell him, “Oh, honey, it’s okay.” When we do that our body language collapses, and what we’re really communicating is, “I can’t handle this, either!”

Phew! That’s our two-pronged attacked. Keep crating him when you leave until the anxiety is gone; it will likely take about six months. By that time, the habit should be broken, too! “

The result:
“Thanks again for all the help! He certainly doesn’t need much help calming down.. He is the laziest dog I have ever seen! That’s why we were so surprised at his anxiety problems. The crate has seriously worked wonders. I think it helps him feel safe too, so he really mellows out whenever he’s in there. Your tips were all so helpful! He totally obeys the “go in your crate” command now, and sometimes even walks on there when he sees my grabbing my purse and keys! He’s learning to love it! He’s an awesome dog, he just needed some rules. :)”
HOORAY, H and D! They’re well on their way to having an awesome dog, despite his trauma at being handed around. It looks like he’s found his forever home!
Jenna