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I have owned my shelter dog for a little over a year. She's estimated between 3-5 years. Her history is pretty forthright. Apparently she lived in the backyard with a houdini Boxer. She used to follow the Boxer out of the fence and roam. She was picked up by animal control multiple times. Eventually her owner signed her over to the shelter. He told them he could barely afford to feed her, much less fix his fence or keep paying to get her out.

She's more frightened by men than women. She's very attached to me. Too much, perhaps, as she is very clingy. When we go out she will hide behind me and crouch her body down in a submissive pose. She's also always putting her paw on me. I don't believe it's done in dominance, which is what has been suggested to me before. She doesn't like you moving things around. In fact, even putting dishes away sends her into the other room looking for a place to hide. She's also thunderphobic.

My way of dealing with this so far has been to ignore it. I've tried to make her see people were good, by having people approach without focusing on her. When she took interest in them I'd have them hand her a treat. That didn't work. She has NO interest in food, or toys. Like some shelter dogs, she doesn't know how to play.

My current tactic is just to ask people to ignore her. Don't pet her, don't talk to her,etc. Just pretend she isn't there and go about our business. It helps to the extent that she doesn't run the other way. She just goes behind me and hides.

What can I do? She isn't interested in food. Not interested in toys. I'm not looking for a miracle, but I'm still a dog newbie and would love some more insight.
 

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Welcome to the board. When you get a chance pop up to the intro section and post a new to the board there.

With the stangers is it in your house or out in public?

There are dogs that need constant reassurace, not coddling but every little thing they do good they get a good response from you. I happen to use "Good" as my marker word, some people use yes and some people use clicker. So to build the confidence in this dog you need to start at home with your marker word, when every the dog gives you the correct response, mark it with your word.

Dogs learn by repitition, it imprints in the memory. So you have a lot of junk in there from the previous owner so it will take a lot of repititions on thing to get the correct response all the time.

Sound sensitivity sounds like another one of your problems. some of this can be made better by working for another response, but not pushing the dog past it's threshold. Let's start with putting the dishes away. Skip a meal so your dog is really hungry, feed your dog ans start putting the dishes away or have the best yummies in the world instead of regular food, call you dog give a treat, pick up a dish set it down give you dog a treat. Keep progressing from there. Put a dish away, dog still there then it is jackpot lots of treats. This treaches the dog that putting dishes away is a pleasant experience.

Thunderstorms are a bit harder, because you have the noise plus a static filled air that dogs feel way more than humans. You might want to try some different progducts to calm you dog down and it will also help at other times. Some products are comfort Zone (availabe at Petsmart or different places online), Rescue Remedy or Melatonin (available where they sell human supplements).

Val
 

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Welcome to the board!!

Ahhhh -- this sounds so familiar!!

First, I guarantee that treats are an integral part of what you're going to need to do with her. Although she may not be motivated by the treats, she will begin to associate them as a reward for doing the right thing (along with the marker, as suggested above. I use "YES!"). You also need to experiment at home with what treat she responds to -- try pieces of hot dogs, cheese (especially Swiss cheese), chicken, brauschweiger, etc. I had one dog who was only motivated by macaroni and cheese, for example. This will be her very special treat for doing something that you know is hard for her -- being brave with people, not running from the dishwasher, etc.

When she is "brave" and approaches a stranger (or at least doesn't cower), say "YES!" or "GOOD!" or click (whatever your marker is), give her a treat and have a mini-celebration. IT'S OKAY IF SHE DOESN'T TAKE THE TREAT! Some of my dogs have initially been so stressed in public situations that they won't take the treat, but there is something about giving the treat anyway that seems to eventually get through to them.

At this point, too, don't overload her. Avoid places that have a ton of people wanting to pet her. As she gets comfortable meeting one new person (like walking along a sidewalk in a quiet residential neighborhood), then gradually introduce her into situations that have more people.

There are mixed reviews on whether you should have the strangers give her a treat or not. At this point, with as shy as she seems to be, I think I would advise that you be the sole dispenser of treats for her progress. Perhaps as she becomes more confident, she will be ready to take treats from strangers, but I don't think it would be very beneficial for her right now.

I agree with asking people to ignore her, but you should be aware of her and ready to reinforce when she's stepping outside her comfort zone and being a brave girl. Watch for the baby steps and don't expect the huge leaps. For example, if you're talking with someone and she as much as sticks her nose out to take a whiff of the other person, she should be rewarded for that. When she gets comfortable sniffing other people, don't reward for that (or reward only intermittently) and reward for the next baby step -- maybe taking a step toward the new person. The key is walking that fine line between not letting her live in her comfort zone and stressing her too much, so always watch for signals that she's getting too stressed out and may need to take a break.

For the storm phobia, make certain she has at least one "safe place" to go to. Many dogs choose their crate, some prefer a closet, some under the bed, some in the bathtub, etc. My last foster, a 90 lb boy, chose to go underneath a small end table that was between the end of the sofa and the wall. This should be a place that is small and closed in (if you have a wire crate, consider getting a cover for it or cover it in blankets). Some just pace and pant. The best thing you can do when it storms is ignore her, but tell her she's a good girl if she goes to her safe place. Don't coddle her or try to shush her because it just makes it worse.
 

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Wow, sounds like my dog!! She is almost 4, very clingy to me, VERY clingy. She also doesn't like men. If a man makes a quick move, she will hide behind me or try to hide her face. She is somewhat food motivated (for me), but will typically not take treats from men that are strangers. She also has almost zero interest in toys or other things that typically motivate dogs. She is somewhat scared of things that are out of place. It's odd b/c the landlord will come over and mow the lawn with his huge tractor and she doesn't bat an eye, but a few weeks ago I had set an empty soda box on the table and as she walked past it she flipped out.

These are some things that have been working for us:

1) Routine, consistency. She knows what is going to happen and when. She always potties at the same times in the same spot with the same person. Walks are the same route. Food is the same thing at a certain time of the day. She knows that when I get ready for bed, she goes to her dog bed in our room. She knows that after we go out for morning potty, we go into the basement and feed the cats.

2) Ignoring. We do the ignore thing as well. When I see her react nervously or try to hide behind me, I won't even look at her, and I will usually move toward or interact with whatever object or person she is afraid of. I do not want to coddle her fears and I do not want to show her that by showing fear, we will leave the fearful object or person. Lately, she has been being fearful a LOT less and when she does, if I make another pass, she will approach/sniff/stand her ground the second time. THIS is acknowledged and rewarded.

3) Fear doesn't win. This goes along with the above. Fearful or nervous reactions get NO reaction out of me. If she gets a nervous look b/c my husband makes a quick movement, he will take a few steps back, but not leave. If she ducks away from a parked bicycle, we'll step back so she can regain her composure, but we're not going to run away. My reaction to her nervousness is to take a step back and start over. My reaction to her indifference or curiosity is praise and reward.

4) Limited interaction. Lately, she has had no incidents of any sort of fearful or nervous reactions to people in public. However, I've noticed in the past that the longer we linger, the more opportunities there are for the stranger or strange object to make some noise or movement that scares her. Therefore, I have a time limit of about 10 seconds for interacting with strange things. Sometimes the stranger wants to talk and if the interaction lasts longer than a few seconds, I will back up so the dog sits next to me, no longer right next to the man, and finish the conversation. If the man is just passing, we say "hi", I let the dog sniff, and that's it. I want the DOG to approach the person and I want every interaction to end on a positive or neutral note. (At this point, I do not have strangers give her treats b/c they don't always know how to "read" the dog and know when a reward is appropriate).

5) Acting like a dog. This is kinda dumb, but since my dog is so clingy and takes her cues from me, I approach my husband with her and we take treats from him when we approach. Sometimes I think it helps just for us both to get down at her level and not always be hovering over her. She's a short GSD (21") and DH is 6'4", athletically built. When he lays on his stomach to do his readings, I put treats all over his body. Then I get on my hands and knees and we go up to him so she can sniff him all over and eat the treats. It's really silly, but after this she will sit next to him and get pet by him.


Our progress has been slow, but there IS progress and that's what matters. At the agility trial this weekend, she walked right up to one of the vendors, sat, and focused on him very eagerly, and took all his treats!! I think it was a combination of her being very hungry and him being very dog savvy, but I actually had to pull her away from him and I laughed when he said he was impressed with her level of interaction with strangers. That was a HUGE milestone for us.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Wisc. Tiger- Thank you, I will check out the welcome to board. It's with strangers both inside and outside the home. The marker word makes a lot of sense. I will begin implementing that. Thank you for your input.

Susan F- Currently when I take her places it's usually to the park which is pretty empty. I'll also take her to places like Wal-Mart, but I'll take her after hours when it's not very crowded and walk away from the main clumps of vehicles. Should I continue this or cease for now and work up her bravery at home first?

Her safe place is our closet
Thanks for replying.

Lieje- Wow, our girls do sound a lot a like. I've noticed routine definitely helps her. I'm the first to admit as a young 20 something that I am not always the best with routine on a time line, I do keep the same "chores" every day though. So she knows when we get up, that it's out to potty, in for breakfast,etc.

I share the same mind set with you about fear not winning. She's very hard to gauge because some days she'll tuck her body and go running at the smallest thing. Then some days she'll allow a stranger (her biggest feat) to approach without retreating.

So far I've really tried to lead by example I guess. I ignore her nervousness and just go about my business. Obviously, it's not working 100% so here I am. I am also looking into finding a good trainer in the area to meet with. Thanks for sharing. I would of nothing but smiles at her behavior towards the vendor. You just have to love those moments.

Here is my girl. Not the best pictures, but alas, cameras make her nervous!



 

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Is she an only dog? Do you have friends with non-aggressive dogs who are friendly and pretty well balanced (the dogs-I guess the people too-ha!)?

I'll be back later-I can't do a full response right now.

http://www.goof.com/~kim/shy-k9s-faq.html has some good information.

I don't ignore fear-I acknowledge it. I use unconditional positive regard as the basis of working with a fearful dog, starting where they are at.

I really enjoy them though when I do get to hang out with a normal dog doing dog stuff, it is kind of fun!
 

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Hi there!

Thanks for rescuing this special girl! I have experience with several fearful personal dogs and fosters. My last gsd, Basu, was fearful from past abuse and neglect and my current dog, Kai, is fearful from genetics and imprinting. It manifests in different ways and I work(ed) with them in different ways.

I am with Jean, I do NOT ignore or make them face their fears. I am all about positive reinforcement and understanding their thresholds. I watch Kai like a hawk and when he is over his threshold (which I can tell by his body language) I remove him from the situation, object, dog, person or whatever in a very positive way, refocusing his attention on me and giving him some sort of happy command or reward. I also allow him to hide behind me and often comfort him with T-Touch or other kinds of touch that he finds reassuring. I am actually working on training him to go behind me when he is fearful because I want him to depend on me to protect him and not feel like he should take things into his own paws, so to speak. I do this because as Basu gained confidence through training, etc., he became fear aggressive and started trying to back people off with his voice and his teeth and body. This is VERY common in fearful dogs and something I'm trying to work through with Kai. As you will see if you join the list below, many people have gone from their shy dog hiding in the closet or crate or whatever when company comes over to their shy dog flying through the air, teeth barred and hackles up, when company comes over. Basu actually bit someone in the butt because I did not understand how to deal with his fear issues. Once that happened I realized I had to do things differently and luckily the person wasn't hurt but this is very, very common.

Here are some resources I've found helpful:

1). The shy dogs group on yahoo. http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/shy-k9s/

This list is a WONDERFUL resource and has more than its fair share of people on there with shy gsds. There are also professional trainers who participate on the list. The collective wisdom is incredibly helpful--there are people on there with dogs with a wide range of fear issues who are incredibly generous with helpful advice.

........
Books: Check Dogwise.com to find these books and more:

1.) If you haven't already, I would read Patricia McConnell's book, "The Other End of the Leash." She also has a short book called, "The Cautious Canine" which deals with shy dogs.

2.) Jean Donaldson's books are also wonderful for understanding dogs. I especially recommend, "The Culture Clash."

3.) There are some really helpful books on dealing with fearful dogs. Here is the most comprehensive: "Help for Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears," by Nicole Wilde. It's really a must read because it covers everything including understanding your own behavior, counter-conditioning, clicker training, positive reinforcement, herbs or drugs, T-Touch massage, etc, etc.

4.) Another book I really like is, "Click to Calm" by Emma Parsons. It is designed to use with dog aggressive dogs but I find her training methods very useful for lots of different situations. There is also a yahoo group for people who are counter-conditioning using clicker training: http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/Click_To_Calm_List/

5.) "Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training" by Karen Pryor is also very informative and a fun read. Karen Pryor invented clicker training. I also LOVE Pat Miller's books. She is the queen of positive training in my humble opinion.

6.) Turid Rugas's book "Calming Signals" is also very helpful since you really need to learn to read your dog and respond appropriately. Actually, I see there is a more recent book called, "On Talking Terms with Dogs; Calming Signals."

7.)I have also heard good things about, "Help for your shy dog."

Hope this helps--I've emailed it to myself so I can get the new editions!
 

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<span style="color: #000099">My girl WAS like yours...but has come a remarkably long way in just over a year. I also prescribe to the methods that Jean and Ruth have stated above. </span>
 

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To add to what everyone else has suggested, I recommend obedience classes with a trainer who uses positive (clicker) training. You won't get anywhere with adversives if your dog is anything like Risa. If you give Ris a hard correction she will shut down. Even with something as simple as raising your voice.

I tell you, though, once they get the hang of classes, they really start to show some confidence! They learn that their actions can cause good things to happen. "I sit. I get a treat! Whoo pee!" Initially, classes are going to be scary and stressful so make sure you let the trainer know that you have a fearful dog. And keep you expectations low. Don't expect her to perform a beautiful sit the first day in this strange environment. It will take time but it's amazing to see the changes.

Ris came to me with no obedience whatsoever. She was afraid of random objects, people, other dogs, strange places, thunderstorms, etc. It's been a year and she's doing so much better. Sometimes strange objects still scare her but usually she investigates them after her initial reaction. Some people can pet her right away but she shys away from most when they reach for her. She likes meeting new dogs when she's off leash but she is leash-reactive. Ris is a bit apprehensive in new places but it doesn't take too long for her to adjust. Thunderstorms are still scary but she doesn't pant and pace as much as she used to. We still have a lot to work on and some days it seems like every time I get her better with one thing another new thing to work on shows up!! Just be patient. Some day you'll look back and not recognize the dog she was.
 

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I second the recommendation for Culture Clash. I got this book and in some chapters, she gives specific advice and exercises to do with dogs that are shy or have low confidence. My dog now LOVES to play tag and fetch!!

A few others have mentioned the threshold. I forgot to talk about this, but when I see the dog beginning to show ANY reaction of fear or being nervous, we always step back and redirect. If she actually tries to cower and hide or run behind me, then I remove her, but I try my absolute darnedest to redirect her before that threshold is reached. Kenya really gets her kicks out of doing simple obedience. So, say we are together and DH is approaching. The second she begins to divert her eyes (she shows nervousness by avoiding all eye contact and being submissive), I say "It's OK!...Sit!" Then she will sit and focus on me. The approaching man is no longer an issue, the dog is praised and rewarded for the sit, and the threshold was not met. I do not mean by "ignoring" fear that I stand there and force her at people and strange objects. What I mean is, if she glances away from a strange object, I'm not going to get down on my knees and hug her and say "oooo baby it's OK!". I want her to see that when I see something odd, I take a step back and move on. There's no reason to acknowledge it beyond that b/c to coddle her fears would be to say "yes, there IS something that you should be afraid of." and that's not what we want. I have found that if I stay calm and indifferent myself, she's far more likely to ignore or even be curious of the new thing rather than be fearful of it. If it really IS something scary, then we won't deal with that until we've worked up to it. Right now we are building her confidence by meeting other dogs and people in controlled environments (like training classes) and using different methods to develop and reward play.
 

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I think the important thing is to figure out how your dog works and then figure out how you can best support and encourage her. There is certainly no one right way to deal with a fearful dog.

I personally think the proper course of action depends on your dog's threshold and reaction to things that frighten her/him. For some dogs you can step back, redirect and then try again but with others you need to just leave and forget about it for another several months or year or whatever, until they're ready.

I know the consensus on here is not to coddle and that's what I thought too until I noticed what worked individually for my dogs. Sometimes I would literally sit on Basu to calm him down or I would wrap my arms around him or stroke his face. Some dogs need this kind of touch and reassurance to be able to get through new situations. I work hard at not reacting to the stimulus that is upsetting them but it has not been my experience that acknowledging their fear makes it worse.

It also depends on the source of their issues. With Basu it was abuse--he was not at all a nervy dog but had been abused and neglected for 4.5 years and assumed everyone was going to hurt him. It took some of my dog people friends more than 6 months before Basu would even sniff them, much less take a treat or let them pet him. His first response was flight and then, later, as he gained confidence, his response was fight. If he couldn't get away to a safe space then he would create one around his body.

If Basu had gotten loose in that agility ring even a year after i had adopted him he would not have run around looking for me, he would have run around looking for the door. If he couldn't find it or people had tried to catch him he would have jumped and snarled at them to back off. If he got out he would have run until found something to hide under and then he wouldn't have come out no matter what the incentive. I can't tell you how many times I crawled through dense (and usually prickly) underbrush to pull him out because a loud noise went off somewhere in the distance or his ptsd was triggered by something. For the first year that we had him (and after obedience classes and lots of positive socialization) he would drag me across the street (with a prong collar on him) if anyone so much as came within 20 feet of us when we were walking down the sidewalk. Initially he would flee if anyone even looked at him.
 

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I agree-find what works, and don't be afraid to try different approaches to do so. Without leaving the dog hanging of course-no wait, I need to try what they say on page 34...as the dog salivates a gallon.


With Bella it's bravado on my part-if I know what's going on things are great. We tried a Rally class and she fell apart because I am not left/right oriented or coordinated. She got really upset because her leader was suddenly lost. Tonight at the vet I was doing other stuff w/confidence and she just layed down.

A trainer at agility once gave me a talking to for reassuring, petting, talking to Mariele. She's like a person with a head injury-would you just ignore what scared them because it didn't scare you? No-you would look at it through their frame of reference and deal with it that way.

Anna needs a combo of both and very careful observation of her behavior because her signals are both obvious and not!

But wait-there's more! However, I won't list all the dogs and their issues and what I do with them-it just is a puzzle to figure out what works, what works well, and eventually an acceptance of what it is you are dealing with.

With all of them it helps to have a helper dog that is more confident, and to do that whole jollies thing, which sounds totally loony-I embarrass myself yelling helloooo, helllooooooooo to total strangers, and pulling the dogs back from the greeting til they just can't take it anymore and have to go up to someone...

One thing I will not do is flood a dog-I really like the deeply ingrained results of systematic desensitization.

Congrats on all your progress! There is no finish line with dogs!
 

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I agree with the above on flooding. It has not worked for my dog. I believe this is what the previous owners did (unknowingly and unintentionally) and that's part of the reason she is now with us. German Shepherds are too smart, too active (mentally), and too reactive for that!
 

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Let me second (or third or whatever) the advice about reading your dog. As a novice, I found Brenda Aloff's Canine Body Language a wonderful resource. Wolf can tell a story with his mouth without uttering a sound.

If you fixate on your dog like a new love-hanging on every gesture, you'll see under what circumstances he relaxes or tenses You can try something, like a long stroke along the spine-and see what feedback you get. At least with my dear Wolf, there is always feedback. I don't know if it's a GSD thing or not, but really he wants you to understand.

Good luck and let us know how things work out. Mary Jane
 

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We have a very thunderstorm phobic dog. We have found that Bach's Rescue Remedy helps some and Melatonan which can be purchased at any health food store works very well in claiming her down.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I wanted to update this. I realized I never got around to it. I read all of the replies though and wanted to thank every one. We still haven't made it to an obedience class, but that is on the to do list.

I took bits and pieces of advice from every one and tested, tried, reworked, fiddled with, and bent it into something that has been successful for us. She's really come out of her shell, and is more than happy to work for food. Figuring out her food motivation was key.

She is still uneasy about me moving things around in the house. When I clean, she'll pace. So, she gets a stuffed kong and goes into her crate. I don't shut her in there, but just being in it comforts her enough she'll relax. Even with me running the vaccuum by her!

We're not 100% yet, but it's been an awesome transition thus far. It was like finding a key and unlocking something in her. She's really turned into an attentive, gentle, and focused dog. She has great leash manners, listens well to basic commands, and is finding her niche. I foresee a CGC and perhaps a career in obedience in our future.

Like I said, we're still not 100%, but we're working on it.
 
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