Poor puppy

happy brown puppyI have the opportunity to talk to many people about their fearful dogs. One thing almost all of them have in common is that they waited too long to get help for themselves and their dog. I’m not pointing a finger of blame at them, I understand the delay. Most of the dogs we’ve lived with have been adaptable, resilient and tolerant. Some have been shy at first but they quickly have ‘come around’. Others have retained some level of fearfulness but it wasn’t enough to impact our lives significantly.

It’s helpful to have a picture of what an emotionally healthy dog looks like. An emotionally healthy dog starts off looking like an emotionally healthy puppy. Puppies should be curious, they should be attracted to people and other dogs, they may startle and move away from something but so long as they are not hurt or scared again by it, should investigate it. Puppies follow people around, they greet other dogs, they pounce on toys and chew computer cables. Puppies lick your face and nibble your shoe laces.

Red flags should go up if a puppy repeatedly moves away or hides from people. An emotionally healthy puppy may display some timidness or wariness when in a new location with new people but this shouldn’t last long. Hours of this type of behavior is a warning sign, days of it should have alarm bells ringing. Don’t mistake aggressiveness based in fear for puppy bravado.

If you have any inkling that somethings isn’t ‘right’ with a puppy, run don’t walk to your nearest reward based trainer. The sooner a dog with fear based behavior challenges is handled properly the better their chance of learning skills to feel comfortable and safe in their world.

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6 comments so far

  1. Frances on

    Such good advice – and I would add that it is important to choose your trainer carefully, and be ready to take things slowly. Poppy was not really fearful as a pup, but she was rather shy, with the potential for it to get worse. I was fortunate to have the advice of a really good trainer/behaviourist, and with her help steered Poppy through repeated fear periods to the happy adult she is now. But I am always aware of how it could have gone the other way, and she could have had her fears confirmed rather than worked through. In fact, you have reminded me that there are a couple of issues around impulse control and separation I still need to work on … but it will be so much easier thanks to the solid grounding she got as a puppy.

  2. Julie Norcia on

    Julie on March12,2012. Hi I never blogged before but I have a fear/aggressive dog that I have been working with since he was 9 weeks old. I was looking for addition resources to help me continue to work on his fear of people in our home and other dogs and I found your website. I have to agree with you 100% on really tuning into how your puppy reacts to the world around him/her. The puppy you discribed is my Max. I knew there was something wrong when we brought him home and he was literally afraid of everything. He wasn’t the normal curious, friendly, happy puppy. I even had to help him learn to eat. I started him in puppy classes as soon as I could. He was about 10 weeks. He was afraid of the other dogs he didn’t know how to interact with them. After 6 months of puppy classes we hired a behavorist to help and worked with her for about a year.
    He still was aggressive and afraid of dogs and more issues than I can count. I found another behaviorist that really helped and we finally made progress. He is on meds now which really help with his anxiety/fear along with continued behavior training. The quicker you get help for your puppy/dog the better the chance of helping your dog change his fear based behavior and be a happier dog. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of patience and sometimes several behaviorists, but Mr. Max is sooo much better today at the age of 21/2.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for commenting Julie and it’s great to hear that you are seeing progress with your dog. Good that you were finally able to find someone who could help you both.

  3. Erin on

    This is so true. When we got our puppy he was ten weeks old, plopped into our arms straight off of a transport truck. He seemed to like us. Brought him home and right off the bat I noticed he wasn’t quite right. He was a normal puppy in many ways, playful, got into everything, and was full of energy but I’d never met a puppy who didn’t fall all over himself trying to meet people. Tucker would hide behind us, dodge hands, and avoid new people. It took him days to fully warm up to my bothers and uncle. I figured he was just timid and needed socialization. In our first week we brought him to the park and a nice couple spent a good hour trying to get him to warm up to them, trying to give him treats (which he was too nervous to accept), trying to lure him out from hiding beneath our chair, it didn’t work. I guess I spent a long time in denial. He’s a puppy, I can just socialize him out of it! The problem was of course that he couldn’t be socialized because he wouldn’t greet people. It was just failed attempt after failed attempt. By four months old he began with aggressive behavior towards people we passed on walks and I still thought that with time and socialization he would learn not to fear people, but instead my attempts to force socialization just made him worse. I was clueless as to how to deal with a fearful puppy, I’d never known someone who had a fearful puppy. I knew for puppies socialization was the most important thing in the world, but had no idea how to do it with a pup like mine. We should have gotten help way back then, maybe we wouldn’t have so much work to do now. At 2 years old he is finally starting to show significant improvements. We’re lucky in that his fear is limited to strangers, he loves other dogs and is fine with people he knows and with new situations. It’s still something we struggle with though, fear and aggression are never easy, but I have learned a lot more from Tucker than I think I ever could from a “normal” dog.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Trial by fire for you it sounds like. A pup by 10 weeks of age should have already had lots of positive interactions with people. A good breeder or rescuer would have done this, especially since they had the pup for the extra couple of weeks past when many pups have already moved on to broader horizons and more social exposure. Your experience can act as a lesson for others. If at 10 weeks of age a pup shows social shyness with people or dogs they need low stress, high value interactions to change how they feel. Bad experiences can have extra impact, and create a response that is harder to change.

      We do learn the most from our most challenging dogs. Both you and Tucker can keep learning though, and that’s a good thing. Best to you all.


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