Opening Doors For Sunny

sunnytennis2When Sunny first came to live with me I figured it was just a matter of short time before he’d realize that he had landed in paradise. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he’d be a happy normal dog. Apparently I had set my sights a bit high at that point.

I have always had goals for Sunny and while the big picture goal, comfort with all humanity, is still a bit lofty, we continue to meet other goals. Here are some of the goals I’ve had and continue to have for him:

*He would look at me and wag his tail-This took months but it happened and now I can make Sunny wag with a few words, even waving to him. It never fails to make me smile.

*Be able to come inside on his own-This took over a year and he is still sometimes reluctant and hesitant about it but I no longer have to go out in the dark of night to guide him in. We did lots of practice in & out, plus some incompatible behavior stuff with Sunny having to come inside to target my hand in order to get me to out and throw the tennis ball.

*Get in and out of the car on his own-Got it! Love this, now I can let him out in places, he can have a bit of a leg stretch and get back in the car easily. This took over two years.

*Go up and down the stairs in the house-Got it! He slinks up at night to sleep on the floor next to the bed, then slinks back down when my husband gets up.

*Come when I call him-He’s got a decent recall which took over a year and a half to nail, it’s still hard for him to come to me if something is scaring him, for that he has a ‘wait’ and I can approach him and get him on leash.

*Not be afraid of my husband-Still working on this one. Sunny has learned that when my husband comes home he ‘might’ go out and throw frisbees and is ready to head out and play. Sunny can’t get close to my husband and often does not even go after the frisbee but he’s having positive experiences with him and that’s what we need. Neutral is just not good enough for Sunny.

*Not be afraid of other members of humanity-Sunny is better with women (not unusual for a fearful dog) and after a short time, in comfortable locations, is often able to target a hand and take a treat. But out in the world people are scary unless they happen to have a frisbee in their hands. He does not rush up and greet anyone and even when approaching me he offers lots of body curves, lowered head and a grin, very sweet.

Recently I was sitting on the back stoop, my treat bag full of good stuff and all my dogs gathered around for hand-outs. This is the door which I use to go in and out of the house most often. It is not a door that Sunny can get himself to come in on his own. Sunny was looking on with interest, showing some concern over the dog crate that was nearby, but was willing to come and target my hand while I sat on the bottom step. All the pieces were there for a ‘teachable moment’, the attitude of the other dogs was upbeat and they were focused on the dried liver which appeared when they stared hard enough, sat down, or offered their paw.

I began to slide myself up step by step, getting Sunny to target my hand and drawing him up toward the door with me. We took a break after he got to door level but on his return he was comfortable enough to join me on the top step immediately. The door was latched open and the scene was set for him to follow the other dogs as they passed by him and went into the house. And he did. Another first for Sunny, three and a half years in the making!

In the scheme of life with Sunny, having him be able to come in this door is only slightly more convenient for me. I was happy to have him able to come in ANY door, but it shows that he is learning and gaining more skills. I pick and choose which behaviors I am going to spend time working on with Sunny, since the possibilities are endless, it’s nice to have obvious milestones like this to remind me that change happens, slowly perhaps, but it happens.

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13 comments so far

  1. Lizzie on

    It is extremely interesting for me to read about Sunny’s progress and I can make direct comparison’s with Gracie’s behaviour.

    Would you say that Sunny is obsessional and complusive? I find that Gracie is, ie she has certain ‘routes’ that she will take when doing things, like getting in the car for example. She cannot jump straight into the car but has to approach the rear from the side of the car. She will only walk on my left hand side, no matter what, which makes turning right very difficult sometimes. And yes doors, she will go through some doors but not all. These are but a few examples of her behaviour.

    Do you find that this is peculiar to these fearful types of dog?

  2. fearfuldogs on

    I don’t think that Sunny has OCD but it doesn’t mean that a dog couldn’t.

    I think that Sunny repeats behaviors that work for him, make him feel comfortable, or he just happens to have repeated them enough that they’re habit. He also used to have a preference for which side of me he walked on, the left (tough for agility but great for obedience ;-) but I’ve worked on that while we’re out in the woods and he’s comfortable, inviting him to take a treat from me on the right side gradually adding a few steps before he gets the treat. He seems to be becoming bi-lateral ;-)

    A couple of other thoughts. Dogs don’t generalize information easily so one door is not every door. It makes sense that a fearful dog will not be able to repeat behaviors in new places or different places, even non-fearful dogs can be challenged by this and they’re playing with a full deck, one would hope ;-) It’s the frustration of living with a fearful dog and why, I think, many owners resort to using force with their dogs (fearful or not), “HE KNOWS HOW TO GET IN A CAR!” “HE KNOWS HOW TO COME WHEN I CALL HIM!” “grrrrr….I must not be alpha enough to make him do it!”

    I’m sure there are figures out there that indicate how many repetitions of a behavior a dog must perform before they ‘get it’, and I’d also bet that it differs for every dog. For scared dogs anything that changes a situation may mean that one has to start from zero again when working on the behavior. But hopefully the progress happens faster.

    Dogs are also subject to superstitious beliefs. They think that because something was associated with an outcome that whatever that something was, must be repeated in order to get the same outcome.

    I find that Sunny’s ability to stray from his habitual routines has improved. But add something stressful and he’s right back to behaving the way he used to.

    It is interesting isn’t it?

  3. Lizzie on

    Yes it’s absolutely fascinating, and I can say that it all makes perfect sense to me the way that you describe it.

    Especially repeating behaviours in different places. Gracie will do things in one room that she won’t do in another. Also at different times of the day, for example she seems more relaxed, for her, at bedtime than in the morning. She also has a ritualistic pattern when she greets me using her nose to sniff me, A LOT, especially around my face and head. If I wear different clothes, or have been out to the hairdressers say, she seems unsure that it’s me when I return, until I change back into familiar clothes and she scents me again.

    She really is like a feral dog still in lots of ways, but I love her for who she is.

    I have a long way to go with Gracie :o

  4. fearfuldogs on

    And I wish you both many years ahead for the journey.

  5. Samantha on

    That’s great to hear. You are such a patient and kind person to do all of the work you do for Sunny. He’s SO lucky he found you.

    We had a milestone at the door, too. I’m trying to expand Marge’s “List of People That Can Get Through the Front Door Without Me Growling.” It’s been a LONG time since we’ve had anyone than the usual 5 or 6 come through, so now that, with the help of a massive jackpot session, a new person was able to, it really makes me feel good. This person should be coming back a few times, so hopefully it will give us time to desensitize her to a more ‘normal’ front door experience.

  6. fearfuldogs on

    Congratulations on seeing positive changes in your dog’s behavior. The marvelous thing about using CC/DS is that the changes you see are ‘stickier’ than ‘making’ a dog stop doing something you don’t like. But it is the case that few pet owners are prepared for the time and energy working with dogs like this involved. And that’s not a criticism of them, it’s time consuming.

    Your dog is pretty too ;)

  7. Kris on

    My specific problem is that he won’t take treats! We’ve tried all sorts – he loves chicken, but he won’t even take that when he’s nervous. Even if I put his harness on in the house, but not the leash and offer him a treat for coming to me, he won’t eat cause he’s already so scared about going out. It’s so hard to make positive associations with him because he is so shut down when he’s scared.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I hear you! Finding the place (both physical & emotional) where your dog is not so scared that they can accept treats can be challenging. Some thoughts-try putting the harness on and taking it off without having it mean going out. Don’t worry about asking him to come to you, just give the treats. Also, not sure what outside means for you but many folks take their dogs out early or late when it’s quieter. There’s not much reason to keep a scared dog outside longer than necessary. It can seem an excruciatingly slow process but you have to think about how you can break the process down into pieces and DS/CC each of them. Check out the shyk9s group on yahoo, lots of folks there with similar challenges.

      • Kris on

        Thanks for addressing my question!! I definitely cater his walks to his temperament, but he hates going out anytime and I feel like he’s not getting enough exercise, so I end up practically dragging him out. (I would never really drag him) I have cautious canine and your ebook, I will definitely try the harness idea.

  8. fearfuldogs on

    Exercise should be a good thing, not a bad thing. The benefits may not outweigh the costs of stressing your dog. Training is good exercise, playing with your dog at home in a safe space is exercise. I would probably try to find other ways to exercise your dog’s mind and body until being outdoors was not so terrifying. Just my opinion.

  9. Kris on

    Thank you. It may only be your opinion, but it makes a huge difference when you are a new dog owner and you feel like everything you do is wrong or feel guilty about what you do or don’t do for your dog. It really helps to know that it’s fine for him to not go out if it scares him. So, thank you. He does love going to hike in the canyons and I do that with him at every opportunity!

  10. fearfuldogs on

    There’s a very practical reason for this and that is that the repetition of a stressful activity in itself is not likely to make it any easier or more pleasant for the dog. But if you break the pattern of feeling stressed on a routine basis it may become easier to begin to lay down new patterns, especially if you take it slow and remember the importance of counter conditioning.

  11. Lizzie on

    I can fully empathise with you Kris. My Lab Gracie is just as scared when in the ‘outside world’, as she is totally afraid of people, and dogs. For her dogs mean people especially the ones that are not under their owners control and rush up expecting Gracie to socialize with them! Big mistake.

    I feel exactly the same as you about lack of exercise, as Gracie is a big dog who loves food and treats, (the only way I’ve been able to teach her anything) but Debbie suggested that I stop taking her out as it was counter productive, so now I simply take her out of my garden gate to a piece of grass across the road, and as soon as she’s done a pee/pooh I bring her back home, well she drags me back more like!
    I too had trouble getting the harness on at first, also Gracie was too scared to take treats at all, anywhere but it’s just a matter of time and patience with these dogs.

    Little by little she has come to accept this short outing, and seems to look forward now to going out, even if it is just for 5 minutes. I have been doing this for weeks, and she hasn’t put on extra weight, yet. Of course I’ve had to modify her food intake to allow for the lack of exercise, but it’s all the treats you know ;) She has become more relaxed about going out but as yet I haven’t tried to take her to a different place, I’m just enjoying seeing her out there when she’s not under stress and looking much more confident.
    I’m lucky with her because I can take her out in the car as she just loves going for a ride. I have no idea why she isn’t scared of the car, as she’s scared of most everything else! So she gets a ride most days.
    Gracie has been with me for 7 months now and is becoming happier and more comfortable around the house but still has great fears to overcome outside.

    I wish you luck with your dog.


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