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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi again everybody....feel like I've been posting on here a lot.

I had an incident last night that surprised me and now has me pretty worried about the future. So....the 3-year-old GSD I adopted 5 weeks ago got spayed on Tuesday, and unfortunately I had a meeting Wednesday night that I couldn't get out of. Willow (the dog) had shown quite a bit of anxiety going back into her crate since the spay so I was unsure about leaving her in there for my 5-hour meeting, so I decided to ask a friend of mine (who regularly dogsits for people) come over and just be with her while I was gone. I figured it'd be better for Willow. (To be clear, Willow came crate-trained and has been fine left in the crate for 7+ hour workdays so far.)

WRONG-O. I knew Willow was suspicious of people--she's never bitten anyone but has been pretty shy around strangers. When I'm around it's usually not so bad--she'll sit by people, let them pet her, seem pretty relaxed. Sometimes on walks she'll be fine with people I meet who talk to me; other times she barks and lunges at people and I don't know why. But the vets said she was super sweet while she was there, acting shy but certainly not panicking about me not being around.

Before I had my friend come over for the night, she came by for 30 minutes midday while I was home, and Willow was fine with her (shy but not overly so). I walked Willow around 2:30pm and even gave her a Benadryl (with vet OK) to try to calm her down a little before my friend got there. So at 4:45pm, I left her in her crate, and my friend came over at 5:30pm and stayed until about 9:30pm when I got home.

Basically what she told me was that Willow barked from the crate as my friend arrived, and when she let her out of the crate, Willow ran to the front door, then started panic-peeing all over the house from the front door to the sunroom at the back of the house, where she then wouldn't budge. My poor friend had to clean up a LOT of pee. Willow wouldn't take any treats from her, wouldn't respond to her, wouldn't go back in her crate. So my friend, who like I said dogsits a lot, didn't push her but let her stay in the back as long as she wanted while she cleaned up.

She said eventually Willow ended up in the bathroom and was sleeping on the rug (she's never done this before). My friend had to pee eventually and said Willow let her (didn't run away when she came to pee), but still never approached. As soon as I got home she appeared from the hallway and ran right to me. My friend stayed another 10 minutes or so, and again Willow would let her pet her (albeit very suspiciously) and took treats from her hand.

So. So now I'm in a pickle. How the **** do I handle this? I am going out of the country for 8 days in March, so I have a lot of time to prepare for whatever I'm going to do with this dog while I'm gone. Do I stick with my dogsitter friend (who has offered to housesit for me while I'm gone), and just use the intervening months to try to get Willow to trust her, little by little? How?

Would boarding be better for her?

Do you think she'd be better if I left her at a friend's house who has other dogs (which another friend has offered to do)? (She is good with other dogs, LOVES playing with them.) Do you think she reacted this way because it was a stranger in her house, but she'd be less panicked if she were the stranger in a new land (like she was at the vet clinic)?

She NEVER was like this with me when I adopted her. She pretty much stuck to my side the moment I took her, but then, she didn't have much of a choice and probably could tell--it was either trust me immediately or be in full panic mode as she watched her previous owner disappear.

Also wondering just how much the recent spay had to do with this debacle---that she was in pain and it just made the insecurity/panic worse.

Regardless I feel like a huge failure with her, like I let her down, and she probably would've been just fine in her crate if I'd left her there all evening. I feel like she has PTSD now from my perfectly harmless friend. And I sooooo wish she didn't have this problem with strangers and I don't really know what to do to help her.
 

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She NEVER was like this with me when I adopted her.
Except...she was...

She pretty much stuck to my side the moment I took her, but then, she didn't have much of a choice and probably could tell--it was either trust me immediately or be in full panic mode as she watched her previous owner disappear.
If she's been glued to you the entire time, that's fear and anxiety. All of that barking, acting shy, peeing, cowering...she is utterly and completely terrified. All of that is fear-based behavior. If she happened to get aggressive and bite someone, you can bet your bottom dollar it's because she was panicked and scared.

Maybe the spay escalated her threshold and anxiety, but it sounds like she's carrying on the same song and dance.

For what it's worth, I doubt she has PTSD from your friend. She may well have PTSD from her previous life or she was poorly bred.

Do you know her backstory?


Regarding what you should do next. I think you need a trainer that specializes either in German Shepherds or in anxious/fearful dogs.
 

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Did you say there was a place with other dogs? I'd do a short trial there and see how it goes. If she can tag along with some normal dogs when you are not there it might really help
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
I meant that she never hid from me; she would come right to me when I called her. She never showed any fear of ME, like she is showing with other people. I guess I thought that meant her fear wasn't that bad. And when she reacts to strangers on walks, it's like...a quarter of the time. I've been trying to use treats to get her used to seeing strangers. One of the first days I had her, she sat outside with me on a busy sidewalk while I had coffee with a friend and seemed perfectly content to lie there and watch people passing by mere inches in front of her face. Those first few days she didn't react to anyone on walks, just looked at them with some suspicion and watched me for my reaction (and I always made sure to ignore/be calm so she didn't pick up any anxiety from me). The barking/lunging developed after a few weeks. Almost like she's getting MORE scared the longer she stays with me, or I dunno, more reliant on me to make things go away.



As for finding a trainer....I live in a small town and my options are pretty limited. And...I don't have a big budget for one-on-one training.



I was kinda hoping to desensitize her gradually, show her that people come over or pass by on walks and it's not the end of the world. I got a special for 2-for-1 sessions with a trainer and she told me to take her for walks with treats and a clicker, and click and treat before she gets triggered by things. It seems to work sometimes; Willow looks at another dog, looks at a person, I click and treat, and she doesn't react. Other times I guess I click too late, after she's triggered by something.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Did you say there was a place with other dogs? I'd do a short trial there and see how it goes. If she can tag along with some normal dogs when you are not there it might really help

I can try that. I did take her to the dog park (I got there first, and only 2 dogs showed up while we were there) like the 5th day I had her, and she was completely fine--played with other dogs, even approached other people without too much fear. Again, it's like her fear's getting worse.


I'm really hoping a big part of this is the spay and once we can get back to our regular routine, she'll be better. These last few days have just been a big departure from our previous routine. And I've only had her for 5 weeks....


EDIT: I already made a reservation for her for March at this boarding facility: http://www.bigskydogranch.com/ Came highly recommended.
 

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I was kinda hoping to desensitize her gradually, show her that people come over or pass by on walks and it's not the end of the world. I got a special for 2-for-1 sessions with a trainer and she told me to take her for walks with treats and a clicker, and click and treat before she gets triggered by things. It seems to work sometimes; Willow looks at another dog, looks at a person, I click and treat, and she doesn't react. Other times I guess I click too late, after she's triggered by something.
Hmm... Okay, I understand a little better.

Well you're on the right track with desensitization wherein the goal is for people, dogs, and other scary things to become seen as boring.

Timing with a clicker is hard, just as timing with a correction is hard. You have to get the subtle shift in attention right on time. That is so difficult without someone watching your timing and helping you get the cue right.

How about adding in something for her to do in response to the stimuli. Instead of just getting a treat, she's required to look at you first. Something like:

1. Look at the stranger.
2. Look at you.
3. Click + treat.

That might make it easier to get the timing right and clear up what you want. Rewarding her for looking at you is a bigger, easier cue for you to see. Plus it stops her reaction a bit. She's too busy thinking about looking at you.

Maybe also try having guests completely ignore her until she lays down and is calm. Also try ignoring her yourself until she lays down and is calm. Pet her only when she's calm in the house. She needs to learn how to self-soothe and regain control over her emotions.
 

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I think that if she enjoys playing with other dogs and gets along with them, the boarding/doggy day care will be easier for her than having a stranger stay in the house with her. We board our dog at a place like the one you posted, and every once in a while he goes for daycare. I never dared to hire a dogsitter or dogwalker because there is a chance that my dog will not be friendly and will scare them (i.e. bark, growl, bodyblock) if I'm not there.

My dog relaxed a lot on walks when I stopped letting strangers pet him. He used to growl and lunge at men who ran towards us, but now I can't remember the last time (2 summers ago, maybe?). I've also gotten better about avoiding potential triggers, I think.

For passing other dogs, I also had to work on my timing a lot! One big mistake I made was that if he was too worked up and didn't take the treat, I gave it to him after he had calmed down again. But apparently I was rewarding him for his freakouts!

One thing I realized I do, is if my dog is interested/wary/on guard about something (for instance, tonight it was kids who were screaming at the playground) I don't hurry him along. I let him look, sniff, listen, check it out. When he's satisfied, then we move on. Being able to "resolve" and figure out a situation for themselves, seems to be calming.

It could just be everything...new owner, time at home alone, the spay...piling up? Hopefully her anxiety will settle down as she feels better and gets used to her new person / environment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Yeah....I know I'm impatient and am likely expecting too much too soon. And my losing patience with her from time to time is not helping, probably just making it take longer for her to trust me. So I need to work on that.

We went for a walk this afternoon and we purposely walked by some problem dogs (she only reacts to dogs when they're barking at her from behind a fence...if they're calm behind the fence, or being walked by other people and not reacting, she's fine). I tried really hard to keep her focused on me instead of them (with treats), and it took a couple tries but we successfully walked past them without her reacting. So...we'll keep at it. And I'll have to do the same with strangers. It seems the ones she reacts to are the ones who look at her or talk to her.

I'm going to have a pair of house guests Saturday night so...we'll see how that goes. They are dog people (I asked them not to bring their dogs this time, while she's recovering from her spay) so I'm planning on telling them to just completely ignore her when they arrive and when they do anything really. And I may move her crate out of the living room so she can hide in there if she wants to get away.

I have a feeling the disruption might mess with her crate training; since the spay she's been more vocal whenever I've had to leave her in the crate. Before, she seemed 100% fine whenever I'd leave her in there, but since the spay she barks and whines pretty loud when I leave. I think she still eventually settles down (I had to go for 4 hours this morning, and when I got home she looked like she'd been sleeping and she'd also cleaned out the Kong I'd left with her). But me leaving with my two friends to go do stuff....I kinda have a feeling she's going to freak out more. Maybe I should have them leave first, and then I stay with her for a few more minutes, then crate her and leave?
 

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Just my two cents, which isn’t often worth that much, you’re going too fast too soon. I’d rethink taking that trip and having friends stay for the weekend with a dog that is giving you all the signs that she is uncomfortable in her surroundings, and that she has no trust or bond at this point.

Sometimes we have to temporarily restructure our lives to suit a new dog. You seem to be pretty social, and GSD’s don’t tend to be social breeds. They are not the quickest to form a bond from one owner to another. I’d slow my roll and stop introducing so many new things so quickly. In a month she went from an owner she knew and a home she knew, to a completely new owner and environment, had a major surgery, was left in the care of a friend at your home who she didn’t know (a brief visit isn’t going to imprint on a insecure dog), causing more anxiousness and insecurity. Now you want to have friends stay for the weekend with her after a bad experience with a different friend, while still recovering from a surgery and a new home environment, and then you’re going to send her off to a boarder for a vacation. It sounds like you expect her to seamlessly meld to your lifestyle, and are not happy that she hasn’t. I could be wrong about this, just an outsiders perspective. Some dogs take more work than others. Some have steadier nerves to handle multiple changes, but your girl is giving all the signs that she is not comfortable, and needs a change in handling to get to that secure place where she can bond.
 

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Sorry, just realized your vacation is in March. Everything else still applies, except for rescheduling your vacation. That timeframe should give her plenty of time to settle and bond. The weekend with friends over I would rethink if it’s this weekend, or any weekend before she settles and bonds.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Yeah, hopefully by March she'll be better. I really really don't want to reschedule that vacation; I know I'm gonna need it and I bought the tickets before I got the dog (otherwise I probably would've waited).

As for this weekend...she has done pretty well with other house guests who just stayed for a few hours. Especially if I tell them to ignore her, it really doesn't take her long to approach and then be friendly. My friends this weekend wanted to stay two nights; I asked them if they could just stay Saturday night instead and they were very understanding. Honestly they're probably not going to be home much, they're coming here for an event so we'll be doing that event and then coming home to sleep. And the trainer I used said it'd be a good exercise for us to go on group walks together, should help her build trust in other people. So maybe we'll go for a short walk together after they get here?

How do I know when Willow is settled/bonded? I honestly thought we were pretty close to that before her spay; she had really turned a corner, seemed less anxious in general and more comfortable lying around and enjoying life. She was still leash reactive sometimes. Yeah the spay and my stupid decision Wednesday night didn't do her any favors, and now it's hard because I can't take her for off-leash runs (which she LOVES) or play with her in the yard until she's healed.

I am worried about Saturday night. If all else fails I'll see if I can have a back-up place for my friends to stay in case Willow just freaks the heck out. They're coming in from out of town for this event so I don't want to tell them not to come.
 

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Honestly, the bonding process and timing varies greatly. Some that are super confident and have strong nerves/solid temperament will generally handle the change over much quicker than a shy/weak nerved dog. I’ve had some come in that were ready to rock and roll the next day, and some that took a year to build up trust and bonds. It really depends on their genetics, their previous environment, and the handling of them when the change over occurs.

I don’t know how to really explain how you know when a dog is bonded. It’s just something that’s always occurred naturally in the training, playing, and loving of the dog. You can definitely see and feel the difference, I just don’t know the words to explain the difference. Maybe someone better versed in this can give you the words I lack.

And crap happens, don’t beat yourself up over the Wednesday incident. Some things are unavoidable when it comes to work and dog needs conflicting your schedule. Just don’t dwell on it. You learned a valuable lessons that your dog wasn’t as settled and confident as you thought she was. It’s not like you ruined the dog over this incident, just work hard to avoid any in the future.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Just thought I'd update about this weekend. My house guests just left.

Things went pretty well, I guess....started off a little rocky. I had my friends sit out on the lawn while I let Willow outside, and I told them to just ignore her and not look at her. She barked at them a few times, but I kept throwing treats around and it didn't take long for her to walk up to them, sniff them, etc. She was still suspicious of them for a while, and when they stood up to get their stuff out of their car she barked at them again. She also kinda nipped at my friend Julie when she started walking away (she'd done that to a stranger this morning who insisted on walking up to us--didn't like the lady petting her, but didn't actually nip at her until she walked away).

We all went inside, and there was some grumbling and uncertainty for a few minutes. My friends put their stuff in the basement (where Willow is too scared to go), then came back up and sat on the couch. Willow was cbecking them out, kept coming back to me for reassurance, didn't growl a whole lot. Eventually she was taking treats from them both. She was especially wary of Danny but eventually chilled out and lay at their feet for a bit while we chatted.

Every time Danny had to get up to go to the bathroom she'd watch him and then growl when he came back, but he kept ignoring her and just going about his business and she seemed OK. Again, not like...100% comfortable, but not panicky or aggressive...just cautious.

We went for a walk together this afternoon. At first Willow and I were in front, and she hated Danny and Julie being behind us, so they walked ahead. Willow nipped at Danny as he walked ahead of her (didn't actually touch him, just again did that thing where she'd snap as he walked away). By the end of the short 15-minute walk she seemed really comfortable.

I know it was stressful for her because we kept going out to do stuff and every time I'd put her in her crate while we were gone. She doesn't usually whine or bark, but she did every time we left while they were here. I tried to make things seem as normal as possible---feeding her at normal times, taking her for walks at normal times, giving her her Kong when we left. I asked Julie and Danny to leave first and then give me a few minutes to try to let Willow settle down before crating her but it didn't seem to make it easier. I hate hearing her whine/bark when I leave but she still seemed like she was fine by the time I got home (ate all the food I'd left for her, wasn't panting or anything). So it seems she always settles down eventually.

So....things went better than I'd hoped. They're gone now and hopefully this will be the last really stressful thing for a while. Willow's still recovering from her spay so we'll gradually get back to walking around and getting desensitized to strangers, hopefully. Julie and Danny own two dogs, one of which is kinda like Willow (an aloof Kangal dog), and they said I was doing a good job and also said Willow was super smart and will hopefully turn out to be a great companion. (But then at one of the events last night, my other friends' obese German shepherd Lily was walking around the crowds, letting everybody pet her, having a grand old time, and I admit I was super jealous!)

Anyway. Thanks for the advice everyone. Right now my plan for travel will still be to board her for my March trip, unless I can be 100% confident she'll be OK with certain people who might come over and housesit. Honestly...it really sucks knowing that leaving for vacations or overnight travel isn't going to be as easy as just having someone come over and take care of her, and boarding's $$$$. But maybe things will get better....maybe I can leave her at someone else's house....time will tell.
 
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