Dogs with Anxiety - Can you train it out of them? - Long - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-28-2011, 06:33 PM Thread Starter
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Question Dogs with Anxiety - Can you train it out of them? - Long

So this is my story to date: Willow is a rescue (parents unknown to me) and is about 19 months old now but I have had her since she was a pup. She has been to numerous classes throughout her life, puppy, basic, advanced, CGC, etc, etc. She is a very good dog in class and around the house, however, when she gets outside she is what I call hyperaware and I just realized a little fearful and anxious. Because of this when she is out on walks she barks at other dogs that are on leash and behind fences.
The school we attended used corrections and when she was about 8 months old we started using a prong. While the prong worked to help her heel a bit better it never worked to “correct” the behavior or the barking.

About six weeks ago I consulted with a private trainer about Willow and she did an evaluation on her. She is a trainer that is mostly positive but she can and will use different methods depending on the issue to be solved. She told me about the slight anxiety that she was seeing so she put us on a positive training program. We have started working with a Thundershirt (pressure wrap to relieve anxiety) when Willow is out and she showed me some exercises from the book Control Unleashed which we have been working on and practicing for a few weeks. According to the trainer, using these methods should boost Willows confidence and trust in me as the handler.

So, to get to the point of my post, I have been wondering lately if this is going to be how she is for the rest of her life? I am soliciting other people's success or current stories and/or any other training methods that might work. With the training we are doing, do you think it is possible to get to a point where we can take a walk down the street and her not bark at other dogs walking down the street? Is it possible to "train" anxiety out of a dog?

Please know that if this is an issue her whole life I will deal with it. This is in no way a post saying I am giving up.

Candie
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Dallas - ACD mix, 11 yrs
Willow - GSD, 5 yrs, CGC
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post #2 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 06:54 AM
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congrats to you for seeking help and continueing with training and exposure with Willow.......

i understand completely what your going through as i have a dog similar........to answer your question i don't think you can ever train anxiety and fear out of a dog, its always going to be lurking there..........however, you can certainly gain confidence through training and exposure........applying good leadership and trust your dog can look to you for support in uncomfotable situations........alot of focus work, and learning how to read your dog, things that trigger reactions etc..........its can take time to put together the right program that works for the individual....a good trainer/behviorist should be able to provide guidence in that area......alot of it is up to the owner, it takes alot of time and dedication to work through these issues....

i find these fearful dogs are super sensative and pick up So much from the handlers actions...........our body lauguage, our thoughts and mental state (and dogs can pick up on our emotional state) etc............Alot of it is catching the behavior before it escalates, this takes careful studying of your dogs signals....

i also think you have to be careful what kind of corrections you give depending on the situation.........for a stronger correction i will usually give a nudge and a "no" i don't use prong corrections because it makes the situation worse.........these are all things you need to figure out for each indicidual...

there are alot of different and new training tecniques now, alot of trainers are using the CAT method which can work for some.......

best of luck, its can be frustrating but rewarding when you start seeing improvements.........

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post #3 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 07:56 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the response. To clarify, we are no longer using a prong or corrections. We are currently using a flat collar and I am considering a harness. The new trainer gave me "homework" with a list of books to read so I read in one of them that any pressure on the neck can increase their reactions so I am going to ask her about that when we meet next. I have also been reading Calming Signals and a big picture book on dog body language which has helped me to pick up on her signals better and pull her back into her comfort zone.

I have been out practicing with other dogs/handlers and we start at a distance of about 50-60 yards and then we work closer, currently can get to about 30 feet with no issues. Then we may move to some parallel walking with about 30 ft distance between the 2 dog/handlers. We do several variations of us moving closer to the other pair and always making sure that Willow is comfortable. When we reach the point of her vocalizing then we move back and try again. Once we do some more practice session then we will meet back with the trainer and try to work our way all the way up to the other dog.

Alot of this practicing is treat/reward for looking at the other dog and then looking back at me and during out last practice session during our parallel walking she was mostly looking at me and ignoring the other dog so I took that as a good sign.

Candie
And my Girls.....
Dallas - ACD mix, 11 yrs
Willow - GSD, 5 yrs, CGC
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post #4 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 08:04 AM
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It sounds like you are doing a good job of working on this. Elisabeth (with Stark) uses a harness for Stark's reactivity and really likes the results she is getting from it. She has a couple of posts talking about it.

To answer your questions in the OP, it is definitely possible to get to the point where you are walking down the street and she doesn't bark at other dogs but IMO the anxiety will always be there (just under the surface) to some degree. You can change the conditioned response to the anxiety so that instead of barking, she looks to you for reassurance but she will likely always be a bit anxious.

I had a reactive foster that would make quite a scene when he saw dogs walking down the street. He's a big 80lb guy so it's pretty scary for most people but he is not aggressive at all and if he actually went face to face with another dog, he was really good with them. While he was in my care, I got him to the point where we could walk through a crowd of dogs at an event and he wouldn't react unless another dog barked at him first. He was even used as the "friendly" dog for the CGC test all day once and he did wonderfully.
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post #5 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 08:20 AM
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Along with what the others have posted, diet may play a part into anxiety. A raw diet with limited carbs/sugars will give the dog proper nutrition without the unneeded additives.

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post #6 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 09:20 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Jamie. I really just want to be able to walk down the street without the neighbors thinking I have a vicious attack dog and my hope is to be able to get her out on hiking trails, parks and stuff without overwhelming her! Like your foster she is actually very sweet to other dogs on the occasions she is allowed to meet them.

Jane: I will research diet some more. She is currently on a holistic kibble. If you looked in my pantry and fridge and observed the bareness you would know that grocery shopping and proper meal planning is not my thing but if it helps I would be willing to give it a shot, however that might be a last resort.

Candie
And my Girls.....
Dallas - ACD mix, 11 yrs
Willow - GSD, 5 yrs, CGC
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post #7 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 09:44 AM
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I've noticed a BIG increase in Pimg's confidence (which is what I consider the opposite of nervousness) from doing agility. Not that I am saying agility is the answer to a nervous dog- but some "job" in general might help. I don't know if you are doing anything like this...

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post #8 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 09:47 AM
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thats how my zero is right now. the trainer i have know for a few years says he needs a confident boost as well, so when we go for walks he wears a back pack full of water bottles. it makes him feel important and thats his job is to carry them for me. i carry y clicker and treats everywhere! constantly re-enforcing "watch me" so when he starts barking at a dog i can get his attention, when he sees dogs and doesnt bark i click and treat him. and when hes tired, like completly pooped is when he doesnt care who is walking on the other side of the street. but im still working with him. he still 90% barks at new dogs he sees.

"And they call it...puppy looooovvveeee"
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post #9 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 09:58 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wildo View Post
I've noticed a BIG increase in Pimg's confidence (which is what I consider the opposite of nervousness) from doing agility. Not that I am saying agility is the answer to a nervous dog- but some "job" in general might help. I don't know if you are doing anything like this...
I have considered agility and even called the place on the southside but I am not sure Willow is in a place were she can roam off leash around other dogs. She would hightail it straight to the first playmate she could find (I know I am not exciting enough for her ).

I have also heard of using the backpack. I will talk to my trainer about this one as well as the harness and get her thoughts.

Candie
And my Girls.....
Dallas - ACD mix, 11 yrs
Willow - GSD, 5 yrs, CGC
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post #10 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-29-2011, 11:25 AM
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Yeah- I think a backpack is a great idea! Like I said, I wasn't suggesting agility as the end all- be all fix; just a job in general. The backpack might serve this purpose well. Not sure if Willow will feel the pack with the thundershirt on though. I've never seen a thundershirt. I'm sure your trainer can instruct you on that. Good luck!

(BTW- by this summer, we will have more/less a full set of quality agility equipment in my back yard. You're welcome to come over and try it out if you like... open invitation, so no worries either way. [NW Indy])

Willy
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