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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-10-2012, 11:41 PM Thread Starter
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Question Shepherd too afraid of everything

I have a rescued German Shepherd female. I am the second owner since she was rescued from the shelter in February. I have some concerns with her behavior. She is a very lovable girl to my wife and I but she is afraid of anything else that moves. Today while my wife and I were playing she peed out of fear. My wife and I were just tickling each other. I have never seen a German Shepherd dog act this way. She is afraid of everything. I found out that the shelter had found her and I can tell that she has been beaten, but what do I do to help Maddie through this and to get over her fear?
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 08:03 AM
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Give her lots of love but chances are that she will always be bashful. I had a timid female "Sheeba". I got her from a breeder with intentions to breed her but she turned out bashful and also had the nervous peeing and was smallish. Of course I did not breed her but I kept & loved her anyway.
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 08:16 AM
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Thanks for rescuing Maddie.

We just adopted a very shy 1-year-old female ourselves. The thing I've learned the most in our few months with her is to have PATIENCE. Shy dogs can often be very frustrating, because you can't explain to them that they have nothing to be afraid of, but you have to take things extremely slowly and let the dog move at her own pace.

As you get to know her, find out what makes her feel happy and calm, and start using that reward or experience to make associations with her other fear triggers.

Progress can be slow, but you will start to see improvements gradually, and I think Maddie will start adjusting to you and your home life in time.

I recommend Patricia McConnell's booklet The Cautious Canine and Turid Rugaas' booklet On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.

Best of luck to you. Keep us posted with Maddie's progress!

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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 11:34 AM
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Thanks so much for helping this dog! She deserves all the kindness you can give her for what humans did to her in the past. Fear of the world is a huge burden for a dog to live with, and it's so worth the time and energy to help them shed it. I would bet that you can help her to get past the worst of her fear.

First and foremost, do not "nurture" fear by praising it! By "nurturing" the fear, I mean reassuring the dog by patting it or stroking it when it is cowering or exhibiting signs of fear. It is better to ignore fearful behavior, even though all your kind instincts tell you to cuddle the poor frightened pup. Learn how to use calming body language instead. In addition to the books already recommended, I like Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash.

Praise bravery, and especially praise any demonstrations of curiosity about the outside world.

I've successfully rehabilitated a few rescues who came to me as timid, frightened dogs -- my male, Simon, was the worst, totally shut down (so frightened he pressed himself to the ground, froze and wouldn't look or engage with anything or anyone), terrified of other dogs and people too. When he was pulled by GS rescue from the shelter and got to the house, he had to be dumped out of his crate, as no amount of coaxing, luring or pulling would get him out. When other dogs approached him, he dropped to the ground and shrieked in fear (he had bite marks on his head from his previous owner's other dogs, and had been nearly starved).

Fast forward nine years, and he's a friendly, gregarious, gentle, happy-go-lucky soul who greets humans eagerly as new friends and loves playing at the dog park. So have faith that it possible to transform these psychologically damaged dogs. Just know that it takes a lot of time. Each of them is unique and may require different techniques, but here's what I did to give you some ideas to consider:

1. Once he trusted me enough to play with me, all games we played were about building his confidence. If we played tug, he always won. The first few weeks, I'd even let him tug on a dish rag in my kitchen and praise him for doing it, as it showed courage. (Tugging on the dish rag is obnoxious behavior I would not encourage with any other dog, but with one this timid, he got enthusiastic praise for every bit of bravery he showed in the beginning.)

2. I puppy-played with him on the ground a lot, very gently. During the game, the first few weeks, I sometimes put him on my chest while my back was on the ground, which seemed to really help. (Again, it would be exactly the wrong thing to do with most dogs, but for an ultra-timid dog like him where everything is about rebuilding self-confidence, it helped.) His eyes got wide and you could see the gears turning that I was allowing this and it was okay. To put this in perspective, he was a malnourished yearling--nowhere near his current 90 pounds, but not a wee little puppy either.

3. Novice obedience class is essential--and repeat the class, if necessary. Soon after bringing him home, I took him to his first obedience class -- I think making it an almost instant part of our relationship helped him enormously. He was terrified of other dogs there the first few classes and didn't want to be there, but it was exactly where he needed to be. He quickly realized that he could trust me to keep him safely around other dogs.

Through the class, he eventually understood the world was becoming predictable, and he knew exactly the right thing to do in every situation I presented him with, since the training exercises set him up to succeed every step of the way. Nine years later, I still vividly remember the class day that the "light bulb" went on his head about that--he switched from being afraid of being there to thinking it was a very cool place to be, and something profoundly wonderful started happening with his self-confidence after that. He turned a major corner about month into that course. (I used lots of treats and praise to train him. Painless, non-jerking leash "leash wiggles" to communicate were okay, but I avoided corrections that would undermine his trust in me.)

Your dog desperately needs a positive-method training course (clickers or treats) with a trainer who has patient, nurturing energy. Being around other people and dogs is part of what she needs, so a class environment would be good.

By the end of the course, Simon could do a long (3-minute down-stay) with other dogs and strangers walking all around him to distract him, and he wasn't afraid of them, since I was there. Strangers could approach and touch him during the "stand for examination" exercise. He could walk very close to other dogs when we did leash work in formation. All that was a radical improvement in just a few months--and it showed the power of obedience training to help timid dogs.

4. Frequent, supervised "play care." It's expensive, and not available everywhere, but I had a doggy day care facility owned by a trainer and staffed by people with animal behavior backgrounds who helped match him with other dogs that wouldn't overwhelm him...and eventually he could be matched with even the most high-energy dogs. We boarded there too when we traveled. I know many people think this is a foofy service for little dogs, but my GSDs have all loved going to play care, and for Simon, it was "therapy" for a while...and then it became his favorite place in the world.

I moved now across the country and no longer have that place, but with my new shy rescue pup, who is going through the same gradual rehab process, I found a local vet with a great play care program, and a "socialization field" run by a local trainer that's excellent. Investigate what your local socialization options are -- they'll do this dog a world of good, even if it's only once a week.

For me, dog parks are part of the process too, but they come after play care/socialization field work has already made the dog reliable around other unknown dogs. At play care/socialization field, I know the dogs there have been screened and are there because they have owners deeply committed to canine social skills. Dog parks sometimes have unbalanced dogs and weird owners who aren't interested in correcting sketchy canine behavior, so I want my dogs to have good social skills before we go there, so that I can trust them to deal with unsocialized dogs in a healthy way. There are different opinions on that, and it may also depend on how good the dog park culture is in your city. (My current city's dog park culture is terrible.)

5. As confidence grows and your obedience training takes root, eventually you'll be able to take the dog places and introduce it to people. Eat out at a dog friendly restaurant with a patio. Go buy treats or dog food at your local pet supply together and visit with the staff. Sit together and watch the kids play at a local park. It's all part of learning to see the world as interesting and wonderful, and doing it all with you. Pack your pocket with favorite treats and share them generously on these trips, and effusively praise the behavior you want. (Advise strangers and kids to approach slowly and gently, and ask them to let you introduce them, if it helps your dog accept them.)

I wish you all the best in your journey to help Maddie!
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 11:37 AM
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I'll second Magwart's suggestion of offering calming behavior and praising confidence, but I'll add a counterpoint: Patricia McConnell herself does not believe that comforting a dog when the dog is afraid actually reinforces fear. I'd encourage you to read her article on that point, here:

You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms TheOtherEndoftheLeash

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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doggerel View Post
I'll second Magwart's suggestion of offering calming behavior and praising confidence, but I'll add a counterpoint: Patricia McConnell herself does not believe that comforting a dog when the dog is afraid actually reinforces fear
I love her work, but don't know that the thunder stuff can be extrapolated to expressions of fear to people and dogs. Maybe it can. She had an interesting follow up to the post you linked to here, making a very good distinction between fear and behavior, and acknowledged that it might be possible to reinforce unwanted behavior related to fear.

My concern is that I've seen a few times with dogs that get lots of praise by cowering in new situations (esp. little dogs taken onto owner's the lap to remove them from the new situation, at the first sign of insecurity), and they then sometimes continue exhibiting the same behavior whenever they want praise and attention. Acting this way makes good stuff happen, if I keep doing this behavior...good stuff will keep happening....

I do think there is a very valid distinction to be made between fear and fear-related behavior though. And I'm all for going and sit quietly in the bathroom with our whole pack with one thunderphobic dog who hides in the bathtub...if we just hang out and talk quietly among ourselves while the thunderphobic one watches from across the room, the other dogs seem to have a magical effect in bringing down the anxiety level, just by being there, and drawing the thunderphobic one out of the tub to join our conversation. Coming out of the bathtub on his own during thunder = brave ("yay! I'm so happy to see you, my courageous friend! here's a treat!"). He may still be afraid of the thunder, but he's behaving bravely by joining his pack for normal interaction while it's going on and living with it without freaking out, so that gets tons of praise...
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 01:13 PM
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Good point and good distinction! Thanks.

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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-11-2012, 02:12 PM
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Thanks for helping this girl.

Nervous peeing is not abnormal, and it should go away on its own if you do not make a big deal about it.

The fearfulness is what is concerning. The pup has no confidence. So the pup has to get confidence in you and your wife. As she builds the bond of trust with you and your wife, she will start to be less concerned about outside people as well. Until she builds a bond of trust, pushing her into socialization experiences will only make things worse.

The way to build her confidence is positive training with a lot of praise and treats if she likes them. Normally a dog who is seriously afraid will be too afraid to eat a treat. If she is eating the treats, that doesn't mean that she isn't afraid, but that is isn't as bad as it can be. You can work with a dog who will eat a treat. A dog too spazzed to eat a treat is beyond their threshold and a behaviorist may be in order.

I second obedience training. Lots of praise, lots of treats. If they suggest a prong or shock collar, decline. A soft dog rarely needs one, and it can make things worse. Avoid having to correct her in training. Set her up to succeed and praise her for it.

After your first 6-8 week session of basic obedience, sign her up for a second set of classes and at the same time add an evening a week of agility training, puppy agility if she is still a puppy. No corrections in agility and lots of praise and treats. This should be FUN for her and for you, and the full body workout as well as the praise and obstacles really seems to build confidence in dogs.

Just living with you and being with you, and gaining months will help her. I would not try to socialize her to strangers for 6 months. Just take her to obedience classes, and take her to agility classes and if someone asks to pet your dog, say," No, she needs space." If they don't ask or insist, body block them and be firm. The puppy needs to realize you will protect her. Lots of dogs are never socialized until they are older, and it can be done older. I think it is important, vital, that your pup has confidence in the two of you before being expected to take on strangers.

In six months, your dog will have 3-4 obedience sessions behind her and some agility training, and hopefully you will learn what makes her tick a lot better, and she will have trust in you, and then, taking her out once or twice a week to get her used to strange people, strange dogs, etc, she will have a better foundation and she will be much less likely to act fearful or aggressive.

Continue training, maybe consider going for a Canine Good Citizen. If you are comfortable and relaxed and keep the leash loose, she will likely feel less afraid. At any point if you feel concerned about a situation remove yourself and her from it, without backing up and acting fearful. Also when people come up to you, if your dog draws back and cowers, and the person backs up, then the person just reinforced your dogs' fearful response. Much better to have the person ignore the dog and continue to talk to you. After a few minutes the person can move on. No praise to the dog. But if the dog starts to come forward for a sniff, then light praise.

Some dogs are very handler sensitive. These dogs do not do well if you bark commands at them. Speak in a level, neutral tone. Do not ask your dog to sit, tell her. But do not bark staccato commands at her.

Come at this from the point of view that your girl wants to please you. If she does something that is upsetting or frustrating it is not because she is defiant, etc. You need to teach her what to do and what not to do, but try to do so without harsh corrections. A quick, eh! and a redirect is usually more than enough with a softie.

Good luck with her.

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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-12-2012, 02:17 PM
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There is a site that you can join that deals with 'shy' k-9s. That should be a great help to you as well. Does anybody have a link to that site?

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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 07-12-2012, 02:31 PM
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Here's a link to the Shy K9s Yahoo group: shy-k9s : shy-k9s

I also recommend the Fearful Dogs website and blog: www.fearfuldogs.com

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