About The Blogger

My name is Debbie Jacobs and I live in southern Vermont USA with a husband, a cocker spaniel, a border collie and my scared dog border collie mix Sunny. Sunny was the inspiration and catalyst behind the creation of the FearfulDogs.com website. When he came to me he was so fearful that he could not move out of the corner of our living room for weeks. It has taken months and years of effort and training to get him to where he is today. I suspect that I will never stop playing with him to help him feel more comfortable and confident in the world.


Since I got Sunny 11Β  years ago, I have thought of little else besides how to help scared dogs to not be so scared. I do have another life, but it was just not as interesting to me as all this stuff about dogs, how they learn, how to change how they feel, etc. Living with a fearful dog is a big eye opener and anything I thought I knew about dog training was quickly put to the test. I’ve worked with dogs for years, fostering dogs for our local humane society, working with rescue groups in Puerto Rico to rehome stray dogs and running volunteer orientations and trainings for volunteers working with dogs. I have certifications in CPDT-KA and CAP (clicker competency assessment program) and besides using it to train my dogs, occasionally visit my neighbor’s chickens and click for them. I have studied with professional trainers Bob Bailey and Jean Donaldson.

I hope that my Fearfuldogs.com website and this blog help owners and rescuers of fearful dogs get some ideas about the best ways to work and play with their special needs dogs. Thanks for stopping by!

I have also written A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog. It’s the book I wish someone had handed me when a seriously fearful dog came into my life. I am available for seminars and training workshops. I have online webinars available to help people learn more about the most humane and effective ways to help dogs struggle with fear based behavior challenges. I also run the popular and evidence-based Fearful Dog Group on Facebook.


350 comments so far

  1. Debbie Jacobs on



    My ebook, A Guide To Living & Working With A Fearful Dog, is a finalist in the 2008 Dog Writers Association of America’s annual writing competition!

    • Suzanne on

      I am hoping to get some advise on a 5 1/2 month old pup. She is out of a litter that I whelped, raised and sold. She was one of the first chosen out of the litter, but the family had personal probelms and I refunded their deposit.
      I fell in love with her and decided to keep. I work at a dog daycare facility and she has been coming since she was 12 weeks old. Her behavior as been fine. She is very sweet and loves to play.

      In the past few weeks, her behavior has been increasingly insecure. When she is not with me, she hides from the other dogs and people. She is hesitant to let other dogs near her unless I am outside with her. I cannot pinpoint any one thing that has changed in our circumstances.

      Any thoughts or advise?

      • fearfuldogs on

        First thing is to consult with a vet to rule out any medical issues or physical changes that can affect a dog’s behavior.

        There are variations on developmental stages in puppies but here’s a general example of one http://www.diamondsintheruff.com/DevelopmentalStages.html

        What you’ll see is that pups can go through a fear period at around this age. How we deal with it is the same as we’d manage any fear based behaviors. We provide low level exposure to whatever is causing the response and provide high value rewards at the same time. It’s important that a pup gets plenty of physical and mental stimulation so we don’t want to isolate them from the world, but we also don’t want them to continually be scared. Our goal is to help the pup learn that the world is a safe and fun place to be, whatever happens.

        Get your head around triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization and make sure you always have high value rewards, good treats or a toy, so that you can be ready to modify behavior at any time. Resist the temptation to make your dog ‘suck it up and act like a big dog’.

  2. Lizzie on

    Hi, I am in the UK, Scotland to be precise.

    I adopted an ex breeding bitch Labrador from what you call a ‘puppy mill’ in October last year. She was rescued in August 2008, by an Animal Rescue in South Wales actually run by an American lady who has settled in the UK and rescues primarliy the ex breeding dogs.
    Anyway my girl who I named Gracie is the most fearful dog. I have never known a dog to be so scared of everything. She went straight into foster for 10 weeks and I then took her on. So she has been living in a domestic situation now for 6 months. Like Sunny, when Gracie came to live with me she cowered in a corner of the smallest room in my house. She wouldn’t eat, drink, pee, or poop if I was around. Neither did she blink, swallow, pant, stretch, scratch, or move a muscle. For a week she stayed in that corner unless I herded her outside for toileting, then she would run like grease lightening in and out of the door, knocking anything and everything, including my other 2 dogs aside!
    I started to wonder how on earth I would cope with this girl. I therefore scoured the Internet for help on anything to do with fearful dogs, and eventually found your web site and bought the e-book. I have to say that there is very little information on fearful dogs unless aggression is involved. Certainly I have found nothing specific to how to rehabilitate and ex breeder from a puppy mill. And again nothing that has originated from the UK. After reading your book I was encouraged as I it seemed that I had been doing a lot of stuff with Gracie that you had with Sunny. I am not a dog trainer I have never trained a dog other than in social skills and general obedience, although I have lived with dogs most of my life and all have been rescues. I would not have it any other way!
    Well Gracie is making progress in the house but sadly not outside. Her biggest fear is people/noise & children. She is a smart dog but to date I have struggled to teach her very much as she is not calm enough to be able to concentrate. You talk about play a lot and I can see why that’s important but Gracie has no concept of play and if I get too excited around her she justs gets upset on runs back to her safe place in the corner. She has boundless nervous energy and loves to run but I cannot keep up with her (too old),and being off lead is simply out of the question as she would run away from me, and I don’t have an enclosed area where I can take her.To date she still has no recall and will only approach me if it’s feeding time.
    Incidentally I was told that Gracie is 8 years old but I think she is younger maybe around 6, and as far I as know has been in a mill all of her life.
    Last week I finally consulted a trainer/behaviourist who said she had learned helplessness, which I had not heard of before, until I read your blog and that she would never be a normal dog, and at best I all I could do would be to ‘manage’ her problems. She is certainly severely damaged, but totally non aggressive, I could not cope with her otherwise, and a really sweet dog, who now loves to be caressed and stroked and will sit next to me. But again like Sunny she will not have anything to do with my husband and avoids him at all cost!
    She is learning slowly that not all humans are to be feared but I don’t think that she will ever be anything like normal. Still it’s early days and I’m happy so long as she is. Afterall she is in a much much better place now than she ever was!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’m happy that the website and ebook have given you some information to use for your girl. It can be an excruciatingly slow process changing these dogs’ brains and true that there is no guarantee that they can change at all. But they do give us the opportunity to learn more about dog behavior and training than we ever might have thought we’d be interested in πŸ˜‰ While they may never be happy go lucky dogs, it can be possible to figure out how to give them a decent life, if we’re into it, but it’s work, that’s for sure.

      I would sit with Sunny in parking lots where he could hear people, and if he was brave enough- see them, and handed out super good food treats whenever he saw or heard someone. When he felt better about that I would open the windows and eventually the door, all in the name of desensitization and counter conditioning. Perhaps you can modify that process for your girl at home in regard to the world outside. Many folks with these dogs adjust the hours for walking the dog to include the quietest times of day and night.

      I wish you the best of luck with Gracie and hope that the website and blog provide you with ideas and information that will help you with your work with her. My heart goes out to you and dogs like Gracie and remember how it felt to have a terrified dog and not know what to do next.

  3. Blueszz on

    Hi Lizzie,

    first of all I would like to say ‘thank you’ because you give your Labrador a new live.
    Debbie mentioned something about adjusting the times you walk the dog. This is what I had to do in the beginning too. After almost 5 years, the dark is still the time my dog enjoys her walks most but she learned to cope (with my help) outdoors during day light hours.
    It needed a lot of patience from me and took a lot of time, but she progressed a lot.
    The most important thing for mis to see my girl is happy with the live I can offer her. It’s not the live an avarage Malinois’ would thrive on (boring I guess) but for her it’s perfect. I had to adjust my feelings about activities. I wanted her to live the live to the fullest, but she can’t cope with that kind of live. I needed to learn that, what in my opionion is a boring live, makes her happy and that it’s so much more that she had in the past and could cope with in the past.

  4. Dave on

    I am fascinated about what I’ve read in your e-book and now on the blog. We recently adopted Sheba from a Border Collie rescue in Deland Florida and have had her now a little over a month. She was about 18 months old when she was rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee just over 8 months ago and was pregnant at that time. She had a beautiful litter of 3 BC puppies at the shelter and they believe she had a litter once before also.

    I am glad to say that Sheba does not appear to be quite as fearful as Sunny but we have shared much of the same experiences you’ve written about in the e-book an on the web page, both positive and negative. She has already improved in many ways since being with us.

    One problem we’re experiencing is Sheba’s affixation on our 13 pound Westie named Winston. Unfortunately, Sheba does not play with any toys, so poor Winston is her only play thing. While both dogs are getting plenty of exercise each day, we know that Sheba will need to have something more and are taking her to obedience class now and plan on trying agility with her next. At home we’re trying to introduce something for her to play with other than poor Winston but she’s not showing any interest in a tennis ball, Jolly ball, soft Frisbee, or any of Winston’s toys.

    If anyone can share their similar experience(s) we would greatly appreciate some help to shorten the timetable and save Winston some grief.

    • fearfuldogs on

      There are two ways to deal with challenging behaviors, you manage the dog and/or train them. So that would mean making it physically impossible for Sheba to bother poor Winston. This is also important because a dog that learns that it can harass a family dog without consequences (being nipped at or reprimanded by the other dog or ignoring those requests) is likely to go out and assume that all dogs in the world can be interacted with in a similar way. This can be dangerous as we know there are some dogs that would not take kindly to being treated this way, and dogs like Sheba can then be in for a surprise when they are attacked or become aggressive themselves, ‘hey I’m only trying to play!’.

      Here are some thoughts:

      Keep a leash on Sheba so that you can easily interrupt her when she goes at Winston. It’s not done in a mean way, just pick up the leash and put her somewhere else for a few minutes, some people call these ‘time-outs’ and they can have varying degrees of success with a dog. You bring her back in, she goes after Winston and you repeat the process. It may take a number of repetitions for Sheba to connect her behavior with the consequence. It’s training, not punishment. The other thing is to find some kind of reward, food would be easiest that knocks her socks off, and begin to capture, mark and reinforce any behaviors that do not involve bothering Winston when he’s in the room. So for example being in the room with Winston and looking at him gets Sheba a ‘yes!’ or click, and then a treat or she looks at him and looks away or she looks at him and before she moves toward him you mark that. There are dozens of rewardable behaviors that can be reinforced and you’ll need to be observant and mark and reward those behaviors. You might mark and reward 10 behaviors in 30 seconds. You might consider reading a book about clicker training, Click For Joy, for example and whether you use a clicker or not, you employ the same technique and that is reinforcing behaviors you like. It’s challenging because the behavior you’re trying to change is a self-rewarding one, but it can be done.

      This is not just about teaching Sheba not to bother Winston, it’s about helping her develop self & impulse control. She’s not being a bad dog but all dogs, like people, need to learn they can’t do or have anything they want. Have you tried squeaky toys or toys tied on a rope that can be pulled or swung?

  5. Dave on

    We have been keeping her on a leash all the time now which definitely allows us better control in the house but outside in the fenced yard is another thing, even
    with the leash on. We just spent $4700 on the new fence so she can be loose to play and do her business but she only relates to the backyard as her playground and is most excited when she goes out there. In fact she rarely does her business out there with or without Winston being present. We have to take her for a short walk to take care of business.
    I think we will try clicker training since food treats alone are not being effective. I believe she relates to the treats with being lured to people or her cage at the shelter or the obedience class which she doesn’t care for. I even tried a good treat with praise when she did here business outside (she had some
    accidents on the carpet the first two weeks). She accepted the praise alone and would come to me but jumped away when I offered the hot dog as reward.
    Sheba is getting better in the house but the squeaky toys set her off and she nips at Winston. We will try your suggestion and remove her from the room next time she nips at him. I just reintroduced all the other toys and bones and she’s shown interest in a play rope.

  6. fearfuldogs on

    You need to find a primary reinforcer to use with the clicker or other marker word.

    It can happen that food rewards used as lures can destroy their value, for any dog, but especially dog that is very wary to start with.

    You can try to repair this by pairing a super good treat with the tug rope, or petting or whatever makes her feel good. Tug rope, pop treat in mouth, tug rope, pop treat.

    Sometimes it’s the way the treat is offered, if you’re bending over, reaching out, looking directly at the dog, all of these can be creating a negative association with the food reward. You could try tossing a super good treat away from you instead of handing it to her. I’ve also had some success with dogs that weren’t into treats so much but loved trying to catch them. If they missed they didn’t care, they were into the tossing game.

    This website has lots of helpful clicker info.


  7. LynneB on

    I think you should consider taking on Brad Pattison of At the End of My Leash. He uses even more abusive methods than Millan and treats the owners almost as bad as he treats the dogs. One of his favourite techniques is a hit to the nose which he euphemistically calls a “facial correction”

  8. fearfuldogs on

    Ugh, never heard of him. Even positive trainers have ideas about working with fearful dogs that I don’t agree with, but at least they don’t scare or hurt the dog. A fellow who touts his technique as ‘natural dog training’ includes ‘shocks’ to change behaviors. It includes having a dog run to the end of its tether and getting yanked back, that will teach them to come when called! It’s old fashioned, mean and counter productive if you ever want to train your dog to ‘go out’.

    I think that we can all be obliged to challenge training techniques that we disapprove of. If someone can convince me that their method is better than R+, fine, if not I’m sticking with the methods that are based on how dogs actually learn new behaviors and allow them to remain confident, happy and excited to work.

  9. Dave on

    It is clear to me now that fearful dogs such as Sonny and our dog Sheba are to be handled alot differently than most other dogs with typical behavioral issues. I have had to back off certain training techniques that we’ve been shown lately and much of Ceasar Millan’s techniques aren’t applicable. While I have learned a great deal watching his show, we could never use the “backside kick” on Sheba or we would lose all the trust we’ve earned over the past few months since adopting her. Even the constant “corrections” while walking her are destructive to the trust we’ve gained. We were shown the “long leash release and hard yank technique” by a trainer and tried a more humane version and that still set us back weeks. I can’t believe the logic in that technique.
    The most important things I’ve learned from your website (and watching the Dog Whisperer shows) is to relax, have patience, and be consistant. Ceasar’s taught me that exercising the dogs help all the other things we’re trying to accomplish.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your work with your dog. While it is true that training techniques like Cesar Millan’s are not appropriate for fearful dogs, and can actual cause more problems to occur, there is no reason to stop with just fearful dogs. Dogs with fear issues may be more sensitive to techniques than other dogs, but it doesn’t mean that normal dogs don’t also experience an aversive reaction, they may not show it as much as a fearful dog.

      Good for you for seeing what was going on with your dog and stopping that kind of training. Believe it or not, many owners don’t see the degradation in their dog’s behavior and make the association with the way they are handling their dog. They continue until the dog’s behavior becomes so bad they either find a trainer who can help them or the dog is relinquished or killed.

      Because dogs without fear issues with people probably have a longer positive reinforcement history with their owners, and can brush off the occasional yank, poke or kick, it doesn’t mean that it is actually beneficial to the relationship. I can imagine that many ‘normal’ dogs when being yanked or poked wondering ‘WTF!?’ and because their emotional response is not extreme can then think through what is going on and figure out what they need to do to avoid being mishandled in the future.

      If that is how someone wants their dog to learn and how they want to train, there are plenty of trainers out there who will show you how to do it. Trainers who look at how dogs learn new behaviors and understand that dogs will more easily learn by repeating behaviors they get rewarded for, rarely go back to punishment based training.

      It is remarkable to me that people needed to be told that dogs need exercise, but it seems to be the case, and if that was the only message Cesar Millan was putting out there about handling dogs I’d be a member of his fan club.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts his and other punishment based training techniques for any dogs.

  10. LynneB on


    Like most punishment centered trainers he likes to talk about “alpha”, “domination” and “respect” which he gets by leash jerks or strikes to the face.

    Are you familiar with Dr. Sophia Yin? She recently wrote an article for her website and the Huffington Post criticizing the methods employed by Millan. His use of force when encoutering fearful dogs is particularly troubling.



    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Lynne, I am familiar with Dr. Yin, may have read her post can’t recall, will check it out. It’s great that you sent it along for others to read as well.

      CM’s techniques can spell disaster for fearful dogs. When I saw him point out a ‘paw raise’ from a fearful dog (a common appeasement gesture-‘please don’t hurt me!) as an indication that the dog was in a predatory mode, I was completely floored! Ok so dogs raise a paw when stalking something, but this dog had just been overwhelmed into submission and was obviously quite distressed and fearful. How could someone who calls themselves a rehabber of dogs totally confuse the two? The nods of the dogs owners assuming that the info they were receiving was correct had me shaking my head in disbelief. It’s like teaching someone a foreign language but giving them all the wrong definitions of words! My respect for National Geographic went down for supporting and perpetuating this type of misinformation.

  11. […] there are many new and fun avenues in the positive arena to explore. Debbie Jacobs (@fearfuldogs on Twitter) today mentioned that Kelly and Ian Dunbar are devoting this year to how […]

  12. Bernadette on


    We adopted Scout two years ago. A friend found her in a poor, rundown neighborhood in Baltimore City, starved and very scared. She had lost at least half her body weight and was in bad shape physically and emotionally. One vet told us she was likely a bait dog used in a dog-fighting ring. After about a month with our friend we decided to adopt her. She is an amazing dog, happy and loving but only with us (me and my partner Kerry). She is still very fearful of other people and dogs and will bark and lunge at them even if they are fifty feet away. We live in a city neighborhood so walking her is impossible. We have found a “safe place” for her to walk and run a little and we drive about half hour everyday to take her there. We have tried to reduce the stimuli as much as possible. Currently, Scout is on medication, Colmicalm but we feel it not working. It definitely improves her behavior in that she is not panting and pacing as much in the house (and barking at the slightest sound outside) but she is still extremely fearful outside. One vet suggested we switch to Reconcile. Any others who have used meds for their fearful dog? We hate the idea of using meds at all but Scout is so far gone in a high stimulus environment that any training techniques we use indoors won’t work. Any thoughts or opinions on meds? Anyone using Reconcile for their dog? Thanks.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You could switch to Reconcile (prozac) or you could also talk to your vet about using a combination of meds for the dog. Whatever you do follow the vet’s protocol for withdrawing or changing meds. Something to keep in mind is that meds are not likely to ‘cure’ your dog of his reactive behavior, but even if they minimize it slightly it’s worth it, in my opinion. They also take weeks or months before you may see any changes because of them. Why feel bad about using drugs for a dog that is obviously suffering? If your dog needed pain meds would you ‘hate’ to use them? Karen Overall DVM has lots of information regarding the use of behavioral medications for dogs.

      There are a few books you might consider reading-Click To Calm by Emma Parson, Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt, Focus Not Fear by Ali Brown, Feisty Dog by Jean Donaldson.

      One thing that I think of in regard to my fearful dog is that I don’t need or expect him to love being with other people (though I hope one day he is), but I do want him to be safe around them. This means that we work on behaviors that are intended to keep him and other safe, not to get him closer to people. Once a dog learns that when people or other dogs are around they are not going to have to deal with them, they might be able to lighten up and focus on their handler. Over the years I have never made Sunny deal with people, yet over the years he’s gotten more comfortable with them.

      If you are not familiar with the concepts of triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization, the book The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell is very informative and easy to read. Good luck with your dog and oh yes, Sunny has been on prozac for a couple of years.

      • Kendra on

        “There are a few books you might consider reading-Click To Calm by Emma Parson, Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt, Focus Not Fear by Ali Brown, Feisty Dog by Jean Donaldson.”

        Do you recommend “Click to Calm” for non-aggressive, fearful dogs? I am very attracted to the title, but don’t want to order it if it won’t apply to our situation. Our dog is generally happy, but it very reactive to sounds, approaching strangers, and larger dogs. I know I shouldn’t “expect” that she be social to all people and dogs, but she’s close and I think I can get her there with a little more help in body language skills and calming techniques.
        Kendra & Trixie

      • fearfuldogs on

        I’d probably go with The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell and Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde as a start. Click to Calm is worth the read as well. You should also visit ahimsadogtraining.com to learn more about both the ‘look at that’ protocol, popularized by Leslie McDevitt and BAT by Grisha Stewart.

      • Kendra on

        Thanks so much for your quick response! I will be checking into these books and website :o)

  13. Bernadette on

    Thank you so much. We will check out the books you recommend. We would love our dog to be comfortable and a little lighter around others. At the beginning when we first had Scout we really probably expected too much but now we are all about comfort and safety!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Most of us do expect too much too soon from our dogs. Humans seem to be incredibly impatient πŸ˜‰

      But that said, change is always possible so I never stop doing whatever seems to be helping.

  14. Dave on

    While we have seen progress in Sheba’s fear of people we continue to take many steps back when it storms. We are in Central Florida so they are a daily event this time of the year. We were told by a dog trainer to keep her on a leash next to us outside through the beginning of a storm and then inside throughout the duration o the storm. We did not pity her or talk to her or hold her on our lap, just next to us. This has not worked! It only proves to me that these shy and fearful dogs have to be handled differently than a more balanced dog with thunderphobia but the “experts” will not accept it. There were things the trainer help us with but he didn’t change her.

  15. fearfuldogs on

    Besides counter conditioning your dog during storms you can also check out http://www.fearfuldogs.com/stormphobias.html for more ideas.

    You are correct, many trainers do not understand how to work with fearful dogs. Some can make behaviors worse. But finding one that does know how is one of the best finds you’ll ever make!

  16. Dave on

    Unfortunately we learn the hard way but quickly alter our actions and Sheba rebounds after a number of days. I am learning that we need to go with or instincts and let her be, especially during the storms. Now that I’ve chosen to leave her go wherever she wish during the storms, she’s become more loving afterwards.

  17. Tony Poole on

    Hi Debbie-fascinating stuff.Sounds as though you are thoroughly committed to helping others, which doesn’t surprise me.
    My sister Kathleen is in Montpelier and recently told me she’ll be trying to train a dog, Brindl, she just met. I’d love to send her your blog and see if she can’t benefit.Stay well sista.Your travels & travails sound adventurous and life-affirming.Peace,

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for getting in touch Tony, nice to catch up with you in cyber space or any space! I hope that this blog and the fearfuldogs.com website is helpful to your sister, especially if Brindl is a shy or fearful dog. I hope that you and yours are all doing well. Drop me an email or note on Facebook any time!

  18. Ruthy on

    Hi Debbie,
    Thanks! I have 2 rescued border collies, each fearful in their own way(s). BG, my socially fearful guy (and a true love of my life) and I have really come a long way SO FAR and I’m so glad to have learned today about you and Sunny, your site and blog!! Someone from my de facto fearful-dog support group (a neighbor with a fearful rescue BC) told me about you this morning and I’m looking forward to reading and learning. Keep up the good work.
    Ruthy, Portland, OR

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hi Ruthy, thanks for taking the time to read the blog and comment. There is an unfortunately large group of fearful border collie owners out there. I hope that the info in the blog gives you ideas for working with your dogs. If you haven’t yet visited http://www.fearfuldogs.com have a look, you can find links to other resources and videos of Sunny and my border collie Finn. When you win the trust of a shy dog it feels like nothing else in the world. I still feel incredible satisfaction whenever Sunny looks at me and wags his tail. All the best to you and yours. BTW, there’s a great trainer of fearful dogs in your area, if you’re ever looking for one.

      • Ruthy on

        Thanks. I’d love to get that trainer’s name. “The BG” (long story) and I have done a series of 2 classes based on the Control Unleashed principles and they were great, and I’m reading the CU book, have read The Cautious Canine, but we always need more….need to keep going…

  19. Kim on

    THANK GOODNESS I’ve found you! We adopted a husky mix last May when she was (they think) 5 months old. Not sure if had any human contact, but the mother was shot, & the 4 female pups were taken to Animal Control where we got her after a day. “Ice” is afraid of noises, people, (she is also afraid of my husband in certain circumstances…i.e. when he’s in his uniform) & it seems that everytime she makes progress, she also takes 3 steps back!
    She is totally non agressive, she’d rather run than fight, & sometimes she seems to have multiple personalities! In the mornings & evenings, she’s a playful pup, & in between, she’s a neurotic mess! πŸ˜• I am going to try a collar that’s supposed to have a “calming” scent this weekend. I really hope it works.
    Anyhow, thank you for all the information! You’re site is an answer to my prayers!
    Take care & God bless!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’m glad you found me too! Your dog is young enough that with the proper handling you have a better chance of helping change how she feels about being around people. It’s important for you to realize the socialization window closed for your dog. It doesn’t mean it’s locked shut, but that anything you do will be trying to make up for lost opportunities. You want to prevent this dog from becoming aggressive, many dogs when they gain a little confidence and get older stop running and resort to trying to defend themselves. Take it slow. Do not force her to deal with scary things. Learn about and understand triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization.These are the foundation for any work we do with these dogs. You want her to have positive successful experiences around the things she’s afraid of, not keep practicing being afraid. Don’t expect miracles from anything you try, scented collars or meds. The change happens in the brain and takes time. Do some research on behavioral medications that could help jumpstart the process for your dog. Take advantage of her youth and changing brain. If you haven’t already check out http://www.fearfuldogs.com for lots more info.

      Good luck with this dog, sounds liek

  20. Pam Page on

    Dear Debbie,
    Your blog has been so helpful in my struggle to help Annabelle, a GSD I adopted in April after years of abuse and neglect in a home based breeding operation. She was going to be euthanized at the local SPCA because she was so terrified and cowering in her kennel, but I convinced them that I could work with her. Although she is afraid of everything, she’s never shown a hint of aggression, and she is coming along one baby step at a time.
    I just wanted to share the sweetest and most endearing thing about Annabelle. She knows when she is on a leash and can no longer run away when she gets anxious, so instead, when she encounters something terrifying (like a trash can or a balloon tied to a mailbox) she stops, sits down and offers her paw to be comforted. So…I have to stop the walk, kneel down, hold her paw and talk to her until she is ready to proceed past the scary object. She is so brave. Sometimes we have to stop twenty times on a walk, but that’s ok – she keeps on trying.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing your story about Annabelle (I have an Annabelle as well). Try adding some super good rewards to the mix and see how it goes, especially if she’s offering you an appropriate behavior instead of lunging and barking at strangers. Good luck and good for you for helping this girl!

  21. George on

    Debbie thanks for the blog and site. Very helpful information. Last Saturday I transported several dogs from a hording situation in Eastern Oregon to the Portland area. I now am working with a feral female with 8 Puppies 15 days old today at my home. The Mommy, Honey, is a great mom and feeding her brood well. Honey eats well but talk about a very scared young lady, I think she is tops in that field. Today we had a big breakthrough, She took a nap while I was sitting on the floor with her and the pups (the best present ever). The major concern I have right at this time is I don’t want to stress her in the slightest until the puppies are weaned. So there I sit and talk with them all hours a day, I’m retired so get to spend lots of time with them all. I really need her to trust me when weaning time starts, she does allow me to handle the puppies without any fuss, so I guess that’s a big blessing.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good of you to take on this project! It’s great that you have the time to work with mom & pups. Being able to handle the pups is great, now’s the time to make sure that they are confident and experienced dogs so mom’s behavior doesn’t rub off on them too much. Perhaps you can separate her from the pups sometimes and invite other people over to play with the little ones, ensuring that they are happy to see all different kinds of people, without stressing out mom. You should be able to tell whether you are seeing an improvement or not in mom. Being around a person may be stressful to her so be on the lookout for indications that your attentions at this time are moving you in the right direction. But it sounds great and this family sounds lucky to have been found by you.

  22. George on

    Thank you for the puppy suggestion, I have been asking all the neighbors to come and handle the pups, but will as you advised start doing more with them. Honey made a big step forward yesterday afternoon, while sitting on the ground with her, I tossed out a very delicious all beef frank and it landed right between her and the crate with the pups. She walked over picked it up ate it then went to the pups. Normally she waits until I’m not looking to treat herself, I’m proud of her new step. Thanks again

  23. George on

    Just a side note, here’s a link to the hording situation where Honey is from 200 dogs seized. Honey and her kids are pictured in the first three thumbnails

    • fearfuldogs on

      She’s pretty and what a collection of pups! Looks like a little blue merle in there. It sounds like you are doing fantastic with her and you might find that with slow, gentle handling she blooms. Have fun with those pups and try not to end up with too many yourself πŸ˜‰

  24. Lorraine Emerick on

    I adopted an Australian Cattle Dog mix stray in November (year and a half). He was very fearful at first -especially in new places with strangers. He has nipped a few people early on but seems to be getting more secure. He is now friendly when people come to the house (not that there are many visitors). He gets plenty of walks and is the center of attention. He also has a dog friend next door. I have to say his eyes look much softer. Im concerned with my summer lakehouse where friends come. What is the best way to introduce? IS it best to stay there with him alone so he knows its his house? Ive also thought about getting him an outdoor kennel where he can feel secure (for camp only). He knows all his basic commands – could you recommend an obedience trainer in the Albany/Catskill NY area? Thanks- I love your site!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading! Generally speaking scared dogs find it easier to be around people who ignore them. I couldn’t say exactly how you should introduce him, but I ask people to ignore my dog. Do you understand what triggers and thresholds are, and what counter conditioning and desensitization mean? They are the foundation of all the work we do with our scared dogs. You should check the trainer list on the fearfuldogs.com website. I don’t see anyone specifically in your area, but you could call one of the trainers listed in NY and ask if they can recommend someone. Tell them you found them on the site and need a trainer skilled in helping fearful dogs.

  25. Susan McCauley on

    I am so impressed reading all of these comments. It seems that truly gentle humans are being drawn to this blog and with good reason. Debbie, you are a gift! Thank you for this wonderful sharing and guidance.

    • fearfuldogs on

      What a very nice thing to say Susan. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It’s appreciated.

  26. George on

    Debbie, Hi again.

    Just a update on Honey and the puppies, all the puppies are now adopted out to great families. One of them lives just a few houses up the street, so I get to see her often. Honey had big time separation anxiety when I started to adopt out the pups. So I held one back for an additional 2 weeks before the pup left last Saturday. I put several stuffed animals with puppy smells in her kennel along with an old shirt of mine and some Rescue Remedy in her water, therefore the barking and whining wasn’t too bad. Now it’s off to work with her, I still can’t touch her yet, but she does pickup treats I toss as soon as they hit the ground, big continuing step. Yesterday I was just sitting in her kennel reading a great dog book to her and I needed a break when I got up I left the book on the stool I use while sitting with her, went into the house and looked out the window to see what she was doing. Very carefully she went to the stool and picked up the book and took it to her bed then laid down, no chewing or tooth marks on the book just put it with her. I’ve won, it will be just time now, and I have that!

    Thank you for the site.


  27. George on


    Thanks for the link, it is very informative. I just need to be more careful on which book I read to her, the last one was a bit too sad.

    Thanks again

  28. Lizzie on

    Reading the posts from George about Honey makes me think how like Gracie she is. As she was a breeding machine I often think she must have been a very good Mom to all the pups she had otherwise why would the breeder/ farmer have kept her for so long, she will be ten years old this year if my information is correct.

    Gracie does the same thing as Honey did when taking the book that George was reading to her bed. Anything that she values she takes to her safe corner where she sleeps. She has never once damaged anything in my home, she tucks herself under a piece of furniture and could so easily have chewed the legs off it, but she is so gentle and soft.

    I wish I could have read the link you included, about taming the feral dogs, 18 months ago. I would have known better then just how to have gone about gaining Gracie’s trust. Still it was very interesting reading.

    I will have to suggest to my husband that he sits and reads to Gracie in her room! We already play Canine Lullabies to her which do seem to relax her and he loves them, he sings along, it’s quite touching!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I like that site because it stresses the importance of patience and no/low pressure. The recommendation to get into an aggressive dog’s space is a bit worrisome since someone could get bit. People who can one way or another physically intimidate a dog into backing off, often seem to forget that there are people out there working with dogs that may not be as threatening or imposing and a dog may decide to give an attack a try. But otherwise it is a helpful primer on desensitizing a dog to a human’s presence.

  29. Kelly Meyers on

    Hi Shari,
    My name is Kelly and I am a Journalism major at the University of Oregon, in Eugene, OR. For a term project some fellow classmates of mine and I are maintaining a blog about an issue that is relevant both locally to us and at a national level. We chose to do our blog on dog parks. Specifically we will be posting about dog personalities at dog parks and the safety precautions that need to be taken. The topic caught our attention because as well as some of us being dog owners, a dog in our community was killed at a dog park by a larger aggressive dog and currently there are public space issues with the city regarding creating a dog park for small and shy dogs.
    I would love to talk to you about your experiences with Sunny at dog parks, or just around other dogs in general. Also, I was wondering how you got started with your blog and how you have decided to manage you postings.
    I look forward to hopefully hearing back from you!
    Kelly M.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Interesting topic Kelly. I’m happy to share info with you about Sunny and my thoughts on dog parks.


  30. George on

    Hi Debbie again, and I don’t mean to cross post but Lizzie also.

    Updating Honey, Oh so slow in progressing but well worth it. I did something I really didn’t like doing but the results were good. I withheld her food for 24 hours (that was hard on my part, believe me). The second day i went out to sit with her and offered her some very nice steak pieces. She immediately came to me and ate the treat directly next to me. After which I put her back on her regular food and feeding times. The end results are she does now come to me for any treat, if none is given she will lay down within 2 feet of me and take a nap or just lay and watch. One of the neatest or interesting thing that goes on every night now is when I close her up in the kennel for the night with bedding and create coverings within a few minutes she totally rearranges her bedding and coverings by pulling the stuff out of and off of the open create. Then barks for me to come out and straighten it all up again. Fun games we play, but still no touching. Now that the weather is getting a whole lot warmer I am outside in the yard more, so she is always watching the goings on with great interest. She isn’t too excited with my other female, Maggie, when she walks by her kennel but does watch intently when I play or pet Maggie where she can see our play.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like great progress George! Now that Honey is sorting out how her behavior affects outcomes (barking to make you appear & do something) it means she’s thinking and can probably begin to learn more behaviors. Have you tried hand targeting with her yet?

      The way I got Sunny used to me handling him was when we were out on walks, and I could get close enough to him to touch him, usually he was sniffing something, I let my hand lightly touch him as I continued to walk past him. He’d startle, jump away and look at me, but I ignored him, as if I had no idea what his problem was. I did this day after day for weeks and weeks, gradually increasing the pressure of the touch, but always continuing to move away as/after I did it. He stopped jumping away, then he stopped startling at the touch until eventually he completely ignored me. I’d run my hand down the length of his back, scratch his butt a bit, stroke his tail, all the while he’d keep sniffing or chewing whatever he was busy with. Now I can hug and kiss him and he asks for more.

  31. George on

    I had done the that for sometime when I first got her, but forgot about touching lightly when she walks by, thanks for the reminder. I only wish I could walk her, nothing like that is possible as of yet. need to be able to touch her to get a collar and leash on the lady. I do know when I can walk her things will progress at a faster pace, hopefully before the fall weather starts up. Hum I just realized I’m already looking 6 months ahead with her.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Wondering if there is someone, a woman perhaps, who might be able to get a harness with a long line or leash onto her?

  32. Lizzie on

    George, is not alone in his quest for contact with Honey.

    My husband has the same dilema with Gracie. Although she will target him for food now and appears confident enough with that contact, she still will not allow him to touch her, anywhere. She still watches him like a hawk and needs to know exactly where he is. She is particularly afraid of his hand and backs away from it as soon as it comes forward with food or a treat, only when he has dropped it onto her table or the floor and moved his hand away, will she come forward for it.

    We had a brief moment not long ago when she came and sat on the sofa between us and he stroked her back briefly, but she has never repeated it, as you mentioned she might not Debbie.

    With me she had no choice about handling. I know now that I maybe should have approached it more slowly with her, but she at first tolerated me and eventually accepted my touch so much so that she now approaches me for contact with tail wagging and a smiley face, which is wonderful and so humbling every time I run my hands over her body.

    It is a shame that she does not feel the same way about my husband, and frustrating for him.

    Good luck to George with Honey.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Yes this is an especially frustrating situation. In many cases these dogs can come to accept handling from their primary caregiver but others remain scary to them. Depending on how much the other people in the dog’s life are willing to work with them you might be able to build that relationship. But it’s like having a another job! Some people have success with pushing their dog’s comfort level a bit in regard to accepting new handlers, while others might not.

      A dog that did not receive the appropriate socialization when it needed to will always be a dog that did not receive the appropriate socialization when it needed to. It doesn’t mean that it can’t learn and develop new skills, we know they can, but the fear of social contact is a sticky one it seems.

  33. Lizzie on

    Yes and I have an even more ‘challenging’ situation coming up in the future. My son lives in South Carolina and is getting married next year! If Gracie is still not able to cope with people in the months to come I dare say I will not be able to attend his wedding.

    I doubt that any boarding kennel would take her in view of her fear, and apart from that my worry is that she may regress and be worse when I got her home. Likelihood is that she would simply shut down and be a dog in the corner again cowering and frozen to the spot. I can’t even bear to think about it.

    But then how would my son feel if I’m not there for him. His father died last year so there is only me. 😦

    I can’t help feel that I’m missing something with Gracie. She has progressed in all other ways in the last 18 months, but this people phobia has defeated me. Despite all the advise, help and support I’ve had from various experts and your wonderful book and blog I’m no further forward. Basically she is just as scared of people today as she was the day I bought her home, and I’m worried…..

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is frustrating because I think that we still believe that these dogs can be ‘normal’.

      I have to travel for my work and even when Sunny was still a super scared dog with few skills, I had neighbors & pet sitters come in and feed/walk him. Was he scared, most likely, but I explained what they needed to do, and how they should interact, or not, with him, and he survived. If you can find a woman who does this kind of work, or even a neighbor who you trust, it may be worth a try.

      I had them come over so I could show them what to do. I had Sunny’s most favorite treat available. Something that makes this more tolerable for a dog, and what may actually help them develop more resiliency is that the pressure put on them is not constant, it doesn’t go on for days. They have an interaction and then get to chill out from it.

      I kept a line on him so all they needed to do was pick it up and use our cue, ‘let’s go’ to get him to go outside. They walked him on a longline so he could move away from them. As time went on I had them add in other cues that he knew, like ‘wait’ and they gave him a lick of his squeeze cheese.

      I figured the worst that was going to happen was that he might not eat much for a few days, which would not be the end of the world (he probably didn’t eat for long stretches when he was at the hoarder’s) and that he might poop or pee in the house. That sure wouldn’t be a first for this household.

      Once you have established a solid, positive relationship with a dog I think it becomes more likely that if you push their limits, and it doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, they can recover. Early on I had to break up an interaction between Sunny and my old cocker. I thought for sure it would have been too much for Sunny to deal with, I was feeling pretty angry with him at the time, but I did what I had to do, and we both moved on, with no seeming set back in our relationship. And even if there is a set back, they can still recover from it, usually faster then they did in the past.

      I can’t say that this is what will work for Gracie, but I think your son’s feelings are pretty important too!

  34. Lizzie on

    Thanks again Debbie for sharing your thoughts.

    Let me say right away that I don’t allow myself to think that Gracie will ever be ‘normal’. I accept her for who she is and continue to be optimistic that her behaviour will continue to improve the longer she is with me. I have learned to manage her with all the limitations that her fear imposes on my life, and she has progressed and learned things.

    As I read your account of what you did with Sunny I see that one of the things you had your neighbour offer him was squeeze cheese. This would be an impossible feat for Gracie to accept, as one of her biggest fears are hands. This is the one very sticky obstacle between her and my husband.
    Asking a neighbour to help with her is out of the question. I live in a small modern housing development, most if not all of my neighbours are young and go out to work each day. None of them have dogs, and most are disinterested in them. I’m actually thankful for that because it means that it’s very quiet here during the day especially when the children are at school. I live on the very edge of the area and so have a panoramic view of who’s out there, so I can usually judge when it’s quiet enough to take Gracie out.

    Besides all that I have two other elderly dogs. I couldn’t expect even my husband to cope with all three dogs, so kennels are my only option.

    I figure you are quite right when you say that she will recover from a set back and it won’t do any harm to our relationship. I will have to do what I need to, providing I can find a boarding kennel that will take her, and my two OAP’s.
    I have time on my side as well as there are another twelve months to go and who knows by then Gracie may well have turned another corner. I do hope so!

    • fearfuldogs on

      You might check with a local vet clinic or humane society. Sometimes staff will have pet sitting side jobs. I hired the woman who worked with the cats. Cat people are easier to train when it comes to how to handle a scared dog. They know you can’t make a cat like you!

  35. Lizzie on

    Do you know I hadn’t thought of that!

    I will enquire. All the staff at my vets know about Gracie,they have to vacate the place just so I can bring her in πŸ™‚ Come to think of it, they may know of a boarding kennel or other pet sitter.

    Don’t know what I’d do without you Debbie, thanks.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You’re most welcome! The answer is often right in front of us, so close we may not even notice it ourselves.

  36. George on

    Hi again,

    I don’t mean to get involved but couldn’t help thinking about what Lizzie said. If her husband isn’t going to SC to the wedding, she might consider putting the other 2 dogs in the kennel while she is gone and leave Gracie alone with her husband. It may just be what she needs to become closer to him. Gracie may not need to be close to him as long as Lizzie is around, just a thought.

    I tried what an expert suggested I do with Honey, and that was feed Honey only when I was in the kennel with her. When she becomes accustomed to me being in there gradually move the dish closer and closer to me with the goal of her taking food only from my hand. What a wrong move that turned out to be at least in her case. I have come to the conclusion each case is totally different with some common problems. She went into complete withdrawal, as she would not eat at all and cowered shaking terribly. So using my brain, which sometimes I can’t find, I’m doing the exact opposite with good results. Feed her alone to enjoy her food, plus treat her every time I’m around her. Within 1 day she now follows me picking up the treats I drop and no longer shakes. My best guess is she had to fight for or wait for any food she ate while in her past environment therefore I posed a threat to her safety while around her when she was supposed to eat. I, like Lizzie, don’t like think she will not be a normal dog, it may be a pipe dream, but it’s what keeps me trying and trying. People tell me “I’m a very trying person.”

    Thanks again for this site, it has become a great place to post ideas and receive input.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Great idea. I have left Sunny home with my husband over the years and although he remains afraid of him he did develop some skills for dealing with him.

      Sounds like you were flooding your dog with your presence, and that can have the complete opposite effect to what we want.

      Just a thought. Feed her meals the same way you are feeding treats if you have the time. If every calorie comes from you, in a way that she finds positive, than you are creating more good associations. Since food is often the only ace in the hole we have with these dogs it seems a shame to waste a whole bowl of food for only one positive association. Maybe you can split it up into 3 or 4 portions, the more the better.

      Make sense?

  37. Lizzie on

    Grateful thanks to George for his suggestion re Gracie.

    It is amazing how she will go right up and target him for food but other than that she makes sure that he never gets anywhere near her. This is the way she is though with everything. She has to be in her ‘comfort zone’, so whatever we do has to be on her terms. No point stressing her and me out by trying to achieve more than that. Having said that though I can push her boundaries sometimes to try new things and yes she’ll react or resist at first but if she settles down then I’ll persevere, if not I’ll leave it and try again some other time.

    I do agree with George that although fear is fear not all dogs react the same to it and need different handling. Again one of the experts I had see Gracie suggested that I put a long house line on Gracie and let Brian just hold it whilst sitting on the sofa. Well that induced a blind panic in her, she is afaid of being on a leash anyway and is ‘jumpy’ when I handle her outside, but for her to feel trapped with Brian holding the end of it was just too much for her. Needless to say I did not repeat it!

    The plan is for both my husband and myself to attend my son’s wedding in SC. I am hoping against hope that Gracie may be able to cope a little better around people by then, but I think I am deluding myself about that and will have to face the reality of her phobia.

    As mentioned, my other two dogs are old and both have medical conditions. The eldest, 14yrs, has CRF and crippling arthritis but is stable on the medications he is taking. The other, whose name is Fugee, is a little younger, and has ongoing problems with fluid in his abdomen and has been taking antibiotics since last December. The vet has no real idea where the fliud is coming from but he’s being monitored.

    I know that 12 months is some way away and realistically I could lose either or both of my boys, but given their fragility I would have to find an extremely good boarding kennel. Again I will ask my vet for recommendations, in fact we have an appointment today for Fugee!

    I know that Gracie would survive if I left her with Brian, I’m not so sure if he would though!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Oh my, you have your hands full. Here’s a game your husband can try with Gracie if he’s into it. If he’s sitting he tosses treats to Gracie, the goal is to have her choose to eat treats that are closer to him, but NOT to overwhelm her with it, so if often the treats are tossed further away so she can get back to her comfort level distance. If he’s standing up and tossing treats, as/after she’s eating the treat he moves a step back away from her. When this is done slowly and thoughtfully the dog has many opportunities for choosing to move toward someone, who has shown that they will not try to get into their space. Suzanne Clothier calls this exercise treat/retreat.

      We often get so wrapped up in wanting to get the dog close to us that we go too fast or end up scaring the dog in the process. This exercise allows the dog to choose to move toward someone, which may be a bit stressful, but then the stress is relieved either by the person moving away or the dog being tossed a treat further away.

      I understand how challenging it is to try to orchestrate someone else’s relationship with a scared dog. There’s really only so much we can do, especially if we want to remain in the human relationship as well πŸ˜‰

      • Lizzie on

        As always, thanks for your suggestion Debbie.

        We have been doing the ‘tossing treats’ thing for some time now but only with Brian sitting. As soon as he gets up Gracie runs away. So for now it’s not possible to do the treat and retreat.
        Now that you’ve drawn my attention to this I can see that Gracie is only comfortable when Brain is sitting, as this happens at the dining table where she targets him at breakfast and lunch times. I guess she figured out that if he’s static he can’t make too much of a grab for her, not that he’s ever done that, and that’s why she moves backwards as soon as his hand comes down with the food. She did behave in a similar fashion at first with me but soon overcame her fear, as eventually I started to withold the food, until she came forward. I did this also when I started to teach her to sit and down for food. She is so greedy that the treat usually wins her over!
        Of course at first I even had to get her to come into the kitchen! Again I was usually sitting, less of a threat to her.
        I’m happy to say that now when I extend my hand she comes running.

        Gracie appears to have a good ability to work things out for herself. I spoke about this with the behaviourist and wondered if she may be quite intelligent despite her fear because she seems to think before she does things as if she’s weighing everything up before making a move. She said that some breeds can be more prone to fear issues than others, namely GSD’s and Border Collies.
        Labs of course are used maybe more than others for assistance type dogs as they are so people orientated. I have observed Gracie do a new behaviour what seems to be instinctively and then the next time she hesitates and seems to think about it and more often than not will not repeat it. I know that she has the ability to learn but as you so rightly say, a dog that has not been socialised is always going to be a dog that is unsocialised, and so it is with Gracie.

        At home she is a typical pushy, competitive, (for food and my attention) in your face, energetic, eager, smiley and dare I say it, HAPPY Labrador.
        Alas though when we go outside she reverts to a nervous, unsure, fearful, reactive dog that is not like my Gracie at all. I wish that I could help her overcome these feelings but so far it’s not happening.

        Still she has come a long way in 18 months, so for George, keep up the good work with Honey, I’m sure you’ll win her over in the end πŸ™‚

  38. George on

    “Sounds like you were flooding your dog with your presence, and that can have the complete opposite effect to what we want.”

    Never thought about that possibility, maybe your right. She came from a “no human contact” environment to some old man pushing his way into her comfort zone, solitude.

    I am the only one who she receives food from, my wife will toss her treats often but she isn’t her food source. I’ll try the several feeding suggestion, thanks for that one. I do know she wants to be with, otherwise I don’t believe she would be so bold as to take a nap within 2 feet of me as she does now if I’m quite and just sit.

  39. fearfuldogs on

    Thinking about Gracie and her fear when husband stands up. If you can get him to do this it might be worth a try. Reward Gracie for ‘successive approximations’ in your case, your husband going from sitting to standing. It might look like this: husband is sitting->tosses treat, husband makes first move of preparing to stand (putting hands on chair for example) stops->tosses treat, repeat this, then build the standing up behavior slowly, hands on chair, rises up slightly, you toss treat, he sits back down. Repeat each ‘approximation’ of standing so going from sitting to standing is not such a ‘big’ change. You can think about and play around with the progression of this, how treats are delivered (you or he tosses them), etc.

    I know you don’t have access to meds for Lizzie but you might want to look into L-theanine, an amino acid that helps the brain deal with anxiety. VIRBAC sells it for lots of money, with a money back guarantee, or check out health food store for it (I paid less than $15 for a month supply). There is one formulation that is suppose to be ‘better’ than others in regard to the product itself, and it is sold by different brands. Just a thought.

  40. Lizzie on

    OK we’ll give the ‘successive approximations’ a go, thanks.

    Brian is in AZ for the week on vacation, isn’t he the lucky one!

    As for the meds; I did try Gracie on L-theanine last year as a suggestion from Nicole who is another fearful dog owner in the Netherlands, you may remember her posting on your blog. She has a Belgian Shepherd, Malanois. Anyway it didn’t have any impact on Gracie at all, or non that improved her mood/behaviour so after 2 months I stopped it.
    Currently she is on Seratonin that I buy, quite cheaply from a food supplement web site. She’s been on that for quite some time. I haven’t seen and dramatic improvement but I’ll keep her on it for now.

  41. Deanna on

    I found your blog and have been very interested reading it. I have a 2-year old Australian Shepherd who is fearful of strangers and other dogs. Although we have been walking her in our local park since she was 6 months old, she has never really learned to ignore other dogs or people. Then, last year, while I was walking her on a quiet trail, she and I were attacked by two larger dogs that the owners did not have control of. Since then she is even more fearful of people and dogs. I have been using “treat” training to slowly teach her that walking past other people is a good thing, but it is slow going. I do not place her in situations where she is surrounded by people or dogs – we walk secluded trails where we will pass only one or two people during the entire walk. Eventually, I want to take her to the more crowded areas of the park and have her watch people from a far distance so we can work our way toward not fearing other people.

    Anyway…I see that there has been some discussion of giving fearful dogs supplements like L-theanine to calm anxiety. How big of a dose do you give each day – she is around 55 lbs – and how safe is it?? I’d appreciate any advice.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hello and welcome. If you have not yet had a chance to visit the website I created to help folks find humane and effective ways to help their scared dogs please check out http://www.fearfuldogs.com.

      Speak to your vet about all the options available to you to help lower the stress and anxiety your dog is experiencing. They should have information on L-theanine, which is being sold in product by Virbac. Since your dog is afraid of most of the other beings on the planet, and is anticipating being scared by them each time she walks out the door, I’d be seriously considering the use of one of the behavioral medications available to us. I’ve written a few posts on meds, and think that despite the concern that people will misuse meds to ‘control’ their dogs, far too many owners wait too long to provide relief to a fearful dog IMO. Being afraid most of each day for years is no fun, nor is it good for a dog’s overall health, chronic stress is not safe.

      These are of course just my thoughts on it. Meds don’t cure fearfulness, but they can make it easier for a dog to learn new behaviors and change their brain so being happy and fearless becomes easier than being afraid.

  42. George on

    Hi Debbie

    As an update, Honey is coming along albeit slowly, but we are make progress. In getting more and more information and suggestions on gaining her trust I emailed a man who only rescues feral and vicious dogs, one of 4 people I guess in the country, and asked if he cared to share some of the things he uses. Which he did in the form of 3 pages of information, good stuff. If you would be interested in reading it, I could post it here or forward his email for your perusal, whatever you prefer. You have my email address if you wish to read it without it being posted here, just send me an email and I’ll send it to you.


    • fearfuldogs on

      I’d love to see it George. You can email it to me at info@fearfuldogs.com

      Week after next I’m doing a 3.5 day workshop on feral dog capture.

  43. George on

    whoops George not Georeg

  44. dgken on

    George, I would be interested in reading what the man who rescuses vicious dogs sent you. My fearful dog has turned aggressive and I dont know what to do, he just ripped a mans pants and scratched his leg.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Again I would remind you that you need to keep the dog out of situations in which he feels fear. Dogs don’t just learn that something is ok by being exposed to it or punished for reacting to it. Get the book The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell, you can find it here http://www.fearfuldogs.com/books.html as a start. You must understand triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization in order to work with your dog. The main concern for anyone with a fearful dog is that they WILL become aggressive. The way to prevent and stop that is to first not continue to put the dog into situations in which they feel fear. We start with management to prevent the dog from rehearsing inappropriate behaviors, then we work on changing their emotional responses along with teaching them new appropriate behaviors.

  45. dgken on

    The situation where my dog ripped that mans pants and scratched him was the man (a stranger) walked unannounced into my backyard where my husband and I were with our 2 dogs. He was told to stop and go back but didn’t listen, I try not to put my dog into uncontrolled and stressful situations. I will read the book you suggested.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Ugh. Those situations are so frustrating! Getting these dogs past that knee jerk startle reaction when someone suddenly appears is rough. I find that to be true mainly because it means doing a lot of set-ups with people ‘suddenly’ appearing to practice and counter condition. Alternately it also helps to have a really solid ‘wait’ or conditioned reinforcer with a strong history that interrupts the behavior and brings the dog back to you for a primary reinforcer. Or in plain English, the dog hears a click and comes running back to you for a treat.

  46. George on

    Thanks for the advise both here and the other place. Instead of updating you there I decided to update here, as there are others with problems that also need addressing. I talked at length with my vet yesterday regarding Honey. He had several suggestions that I would like to run by you for your thoughts. First he put her on Clomipramine, with reevaluation in 30 days and said I should notice a change in her in 10-14 days. (the side effects need to be monitored daily)but we’ll see. One interesting thought was to let her go into heat, which could be anytime as she stopped nursing in March. She was most likely bred every time she was in heat previously and her hormones could settle down a bit by allowing her to do so. After her heat cycle bring her in to the office, which I can do as she crates fairly easily, and he would anesthetize her, vaccinate, spay , complete CBC to also rule out any other problems and basically return her collared and a bit groggy. That would, without a doubt send her into another orbit I’m sure, but she may forget it soon after her return to normal (whatever normal is)

    Any thoughts would, as usual would be greatly appreciated.



    • Lizzie on

      Debbie, I hope you don’t mind me responding to George.

      George, I’m interested to see that your vet has put Honey on meds. I have been debating ever since I had Gracie whether to have her take Clomipramine. So far I have declined. Much of the reasoning behind this has been any side effects. I don’t want a dog with more problems than she started out with!. I guess I’ve learned to control her environment so much now that most of the time she is not under stress. I would be very interested to know how Honey gets on with the drugs though.

      I maintain the belief that for Gracie the relationship that she has with me is everything to her. It is the trust that she now has in me that helps her to be more confident and also allows her to express her personality in a way that I doubt she ever could before. She can now make choices and so has more control over her life.

      I spend most of my day with her, she comes with me where ever and when ever I can take her, within the confines of her comfort zone that is! It all takes time and patience, as you well know, but what I love about Gracie is her zest for life and her courage to try that little bit every day to get better.

      I hope Honey comes good for you too. πŸ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like a plan. I don’t know how the heat cycle would affect her or what difference it makes, so I’ll defer to your vet’s opinion on that.

      The ‘change’ you may see with clomipramine may be incredibly subtle. Notice anything? Keep in mind that it may require some dosing changes. If you are not happy with the clomipramine there are other drugs that can also be used. Clomipramine in one of the older antidepressants, Prozac, one of the newer, not but not newest. Both of these meds are being sold for veterinary use. Costco’s online pharmacy is a good place to check for generics of both.

      When I take Sunny in for any vet care that will require putting him under I ask that they give him the first round of sedatives while I’m there and that he goes out before they do any further handling of him.

      It is worth reading up on acepromazine so you can share the info with your vet if s/he is not already up to date on its effects on fearful dogs. It is NOT recommended.

      I do not hesitate to be very specific and detailed with my vet regarding how Sunny should be handled when under their care and I’m not there. Many vets and most techs do not fully appreciate the extent of our dog’s fearfulness and although their intentions are good, they often put far too much social pressure on dogs believing that talking to the dog, petting it, even offering it food, will make it feel better. Normal scared dogs may eventually respond to this, really damaged dogs can be freaked out by it. I tell them to avoid eye contact and petting him. He needs a quiet place and should be ignored except for treatments. That’s my dog, you’ll have to figure out what will be best for your dog.

      My vet let me pick Sunny up as soon as possible after his neuter surgery.

  47. George on


    I most likely would decline putting a dog on meds. unless it is basically the only option left to try, along with great advise, especially from DJ in VT and reasoning. Honey will not allow any form of touching period end of story. She will come within 3 feet of me after shaking and head hanging to pickup a treat I drop, then settle in a bit. I believe I need her to break the cycle of “see the old man, shake, pickup a good treat, now maybe the old man will leave me alone” thing. If meds. will help in this effort then she gets them. I’m no expert on any of this, so I’ll bow to Debbie’s assessments on both Honey and Gracie and need for meds.

    Thanks for the good wishes regarding Honey and right back to you regarding Gracie.


    • Lizzie on

      It’s a funny thing why Gracie is happy to be around me but not around my husband, or anyone else for that matter!
      She too will take food from him, not from his hand but off her feeding table or the floor. She is happy to target him for the food but shoots back and forth as he puts it down, it’s quite amusing to watch them!

      She skirts around him when he moves about the house, watching him all the time, and of course she will not allow him to touch her. Now she has lived in the house with both of us for 19 months and I’ve no idea why she feels this way about him. But, as you say, I think that now it’s just ‘old man has food, I want the food, but that’s all’. She simply has no other need for him I guess.

      She’s a canny girl….

      And yes I am forever grateful to Debbie for her support and expertise where Gracie is concerned. I have learnt so much from her. I would so love to meet her.

  48. Debbie on

    My goal is not to encourage people to put their dogs on meds as much as it is for them to do their homework and learn how they can help dogs feel less fearful and stressed.

    I do not see them as a last resort. Indeed if I had a dog that I had reason to suspect was not just dealing with culture shock I’d want them to reap the benefits of meds sooner rather than later. Every day is a lifetime for a dog so why would I let them spend any time being in distress if I had the tools to help them?

    Just because we don’t see their behavior for what it is, terror, maybe depression, stomach churning anxiety- doesn’t mean that they are not miserable too much of the time.

    It’s just what I think is a compassionate response to a being in distress. I’d see that painkillers were used if my dogs was suffering physically.

    There are risks to everything. Stress has many risks as well.

  49. George on


    Anything yet on your thoughts re my 5-26-10 posting.


  50. George on

    Hope it didn’t cost too much to get back in (ha)

    Yes I have noticed some very subtle differences, one basically, she doesn’t shake. She does still hang her head when I enter she kennel sanctuary but rebounds faster after she sees what I’m doing in her space. We finally had some days without rain, we have had more rain than any time on record (grrrrrr) So I took a big gamble and opened her kennel then went inside to watch her. Within a few minutes she was out wandering the yard and checking it out. I went out to be with her in the yard and completely ignored what she was doing. After an hour or so I just slowly walked behind her and she walk back into the kennel. I now use two words, “outback” to let her know I’m opening it up and come out. When she’s had enough or feels I may be infringing on her new found space she’ll head in the direction of her kennel so I use “kennel” and she just walks in right past if I’m standing between her and the kennel door. It is so great to see her out in the yard with tail up and no fear, she even strolled up to the fence to check out the neighbors sitting in their backyard.

    As to the heat and waiting to get her spayed I don’t know either, but that’s what the vet said. I plan on checking further and get a second opinion, I really don’t want to screw up the small progress we’ve made.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Becoming predictable is huge for these dogs I think. Any way we can provide them with the information to know what our next move is likely to be seems very helpful.

      I don’t know why I was in a rush to have to Sunny neutered, in retrospect I wish I hadn’t been. I did want him checked out by the vet for general health reasons.

      If you don’t have to worry about your dog being in heat and having male dogs around, and her overall health seems good, waiting for the spay may be a good idea.

      Does she show any interest in toys?

  51. George on

    No I don’t have any worries regarding boy dogs around while she is in heat, all the dogs around here are of the female verity.

    Her only interest in toys are when I introduce any, or the ones she already has, she just takes them in bed with her. It’s a possession thing, when I take them out and roll or toss them in her direction, she picks it up and takes it back to her bed.

    Today, Monday, will be the 14th day of her being on meds. other than her appetite being a bit off there doesn’t seem to be any side effects, so will hang in there for a bit longer before reevaluating the type or dosage.

    Thanks again,

    • fearfuldogs on

      If you haven’t already tried it, play with the toys yourself, show intense interest in them, squeak them, hide them under your shirt, toss them in the air, chase them yourself, tie one to a string and drag it around, anything that doesn’t freak her out, and then PUT THEM AWAY. Do this for a few days and see if she begins to show any interest in them, if she does invite her to sniff one (this could be the start of teaching her to target) but then take it away. Think about building desire in her for the toy.

      You could toss one for her to chase and let her run off with it if that’s what she’s apt to do, toss another or go get the original. Tug is a great game to get started with if she’ll do it with you, start slow, letting her ‘win’ with slight effort, as time goes on you can increase the effort she needs to put into the game.

      I was away recently and left a collection of new toys for my husband to offer Sunny each day when he came home. A dog can eat even if they are scared or nervous, but they likely can’t play. So we focus on getting Sunny to play with him.

  52. George on

    Just a funny reply to yours: I tried the toy advise you gave regarding me playing with them then rolling, tossing them for her. I went through 8 different toys and each time I’d stop playing with them, I really like playing with the stuffed bear myself, Honey would pick them up and take them into her bed. So we spent lots of time me taking them out of her bed, and her putting them back in. Nice way to spend a sunny afternoon with my girl. The surprise cheese I tossed while I was playing with MY Teddy Bear never made it into her bed.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like you have your first trick. Now you just need to add a cue to it,’put em to bed!’. People will think you are a training genius πŸ˜‰

  53. Lizzie on

    Take heart George, Gracie behaves in exactly the same way as Honey around toys. She can’t see the point of them, they’re not edible πŸ™‚ If I can get her at all interested in any one of them she just picks it up and takes it to her bed, drops it and comes back to me usually for a treat! With Gracie it’s always the food that motivates her not the toy.

    However I have found something that she just loves doing just for the sake of it and that’s tearing stuff to shreds. I give her anything that’s cardboard, egg boxes, plastic tubs, honey pots etc. She loves them.

    I am lucky though in that she never destroys anything that she shouldn’t, like shoes or furniture!

  54. George on

    Am I a great trainer or what? I added a cue to when I’m around “Act fearful” and she does, better than any other dog I’ve worked with. Seriously we’ve had a very productive time the last couple days, at least I think (hope) so. She is a very quiet lady no barking, whining or noise. I told you I have been letting her out to roam both the side and back yards and she will go back to her kennel on her own when she gets tired. As of a day and a half now she will bark to be let out to play. She knows if she barks I will show up pretty fast but she handles that fact because she gets to have some fun. Hopefully this will work out to be the key.

  55. fearfuldogs on

    First let me say that a sense of humor is key to living with these dogs, so it sounds like you are doing ok in that arena.

    Don’t forget to reward her for following your cue, even if it is to be afraid.

    Getting her to move is also a great thing. Most of the nerves in our bodies control movement. If we change how we move we change our brains.

  56. George on

    What an interesting weekend I had with Honey. Picking up on your “if we change how we move we change our brains” comment I proceeded to make her move a lot. Friday, I did as I have been doing, open her kennel to the entire yard, she’s out as soon as I leave the area. I find it interesting as soon as she comes out she first checks to see if I’m really gone, if so she gets busy inspecting the place. After letting her out and she was just being a dog, I went out and shut the kennel door so she couldn’t get back in and left to watch her reaction. She wasn’t fearful of the fact she couldn’t get back into her sanctuary, just a bit apprehensive and I could see her brain working trying to figured out what just happened. After 10 minutes, out I went opened the kennel up and treated her as she went back in. A bit later I did the same thing except I didn’t lock her out. Out she came and proceeded to do her normal stuff, so apparently locking her out didn’t cause any regression. I increased the time she was locked out plus not locking her out and leaving the kennel door open over the weekend totally ignoring her to do as she wished. The results as of last night is she will be outside the kennel when the door is closed and when I’m out with her, she keeps her eyes on me all the time and if I walk in her direction she will walk right past me and make a immediate turn and follow me within a few feet, course a bit of cheese may fall from my hand when she does. Honey was locked out and my wife had to leave so she headed out the front gate, I had to yell at my wife as Honey was right on her heels also heading out the gate following her. Before putting Honey up for the night I was just standing in the backyard talking to the neighbor over the fence and Honey came in the backyard from the side yard where she can see what’s going on and doesn’t need to interact with new stuff, like weeding or watering, and just made herself at home wandering the yard as we talked and ignored her. I will check first thing this morning to see if there are any regressive reactions to what I did, if not more of the same I think. If there are some signs I will take a few steps back and try again a little later.

  57. George on

    Updating the kennel lockout this past weekend. What an amazing difference in my girl. For the past 2 days, I’ve been both locking her out and leaving the door open. She now comes out, even if I’m around and follows me albeit at a distance. I’ve started pinching her space down when she walks past me in order to turn and follow, so I can accidentally (on purpose) touch her with my hand as she does. Yesterday I was in the house doing some computer stuff and Honey started to raise a big ruckus in her kennel, standing and barking with her tail wagging big time. Out I went and opened the kennel. She came out and sat down 4 or so feet from me and the door of the kennel. I left the door open and walked around the yard with her following and going in and out of the kennel several times all on her own.

    I hope you don’t mind me running on about this, but I think she’s making some fast progress, and now looks at me as “the old guy who lets me have fun”

    • fearfuldogs on

      I understand how excited you are about this stuff. I used to do similar stuff with Sunny, my hand grazing him by accident and me acting totally oblivious “huh? what’s the problem?” when he startled and looked at me with concern. I gradually built it up to more deliberate handling but always removing any other social pressure, drive by petting I called it. It took a long time but now he loves to be pet and handled by me.

      If you have some super good treats you might start playing treat/retreat with her. Toss a treat away from you, let her eat it and let her see you step back away from her as she does, or when she looks back up. Then you can begin to play with tossing the treat closer to you to get her moving toward you, but each time you step away. If she shows any concern just toss the treat further away from you. You can sit down instead to play this game, just being sure not to try to get her too close too soon.

      If it wouldn’t freak her out I’d be trying to get her conditioned to a clicker and teaching her to target a stick or something you place on the ground-put a yogurt lid on the ground with a treat on it, click her as she eats the treat, put another treat on it, etc., then you can pick up the lid and move it and repeat the process, eventually you can toss her the treat when she touches the lid rather than having the treat on the lid. You might be able to get her to chase the lid and target it for treats, ultimately getting her to target the lid while you are holding it, reward with a treat tossed away from you.

      It sounds like you are now in the realm of her being able to think around you and helping her learn some ‘tricks’ and how you will communicate with each other (cue, behaviors, rewards). She has already figured out that barking makes you come out and open the kennel. Smart girl. Now you teach HER something πŸ˜‰

      Your patience and commitment to Honey is being applauded right now here in Vermont! Being the old guy that let’s anyone have fun is a pretty cool thing. You’re doing an inspirational job.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I forgot to say that if you have not tried singing to Honey, it’s worth a go. Be sure it’s a song that you would be embarrassed for anyone else to hear and see you performing, the sillier the better. I was going to post this comment and then got an email from a fellow who worked with his scared dog and wrote this in an email he just sent me…

      “Usually I cannot even spell patience but almost two years of lying in the snow; singing β€œellie Girl” to the tune of Danny Boy and then Frisbee with a Flying Squirrel we became friends.”

  58. George on

    I have so much to learn, like how to sing. If I would sing to her now, I’m sure she’d chew a hole in the kennel, pack a change of underwear and leave town, but I’ll try.

    I’ve been doing the toss treat far and near, there really hasn’t been a problem with her coming close for treats while I am in the kennel. Since I’ve been letting her out almost every couple hours for extended time, she will come close outside the sanctuary too even if I don’t take a step back. One interesting point I’ve noticed when I go into her kennel to do whatever, change bedding, feed water etc. she will cower in the corner and show fearful posturing, but no shaking, even though she is free to leave if she wants while I’m doing housework inside the kennel. When she is outside and loose she shows no fearful sign posturing, she even was in the C posture a bunch of the time yesterday, she just will not come closer than one foot yet.

    Today will be interesting, it’s the first day since I’ve been letting her out on a regular basses that it’s not supposed to rain (yippee)and may even be warm. I need to do some serious yard work and plan on allowing her out with me most of the day just to do whatever she wants or to hang out and tell me how to do what needs to be done.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I think it sounds like you are doing a great job and look forward to hearing how this progresses. How long has she been on meds now?

  59. George on

    Shes been on meds for 3 weeks and I have a followup appointment with the vet Tuesday, may need to up the dosage a tad. Yesterday was awesome, she was out most of the day, except when I mowed. I started a new game with her “find me” when I pass her she will turn and follow me for several yards then stop. So I started to use that target and continue walking out of her view. In a few minutes she will look for me and when she finds where I am she will return to where she had stopped. So now I do basically the same but give the the cue find me when she stops. When she does find where I’ve gone, click, treat. When sitting out of the kennel with her, she will also sit watching but 20 or so feet away, at that point I’ll toss treats both near her and near me, she will come to me for the treat right up to within 1 foot. When I drop the treat next to the chair, I use the “come, click” cue. I’m so proud of her, like you, the word obsessed seems to fit nicely. If you don’t mind I’ll email you a couple pictures of yesterday’s outing.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      This is so awesome George. Many people who handle fearful dogs never work with a dog like Honey and they don’t realize all that is involved in their transformation.

      My nephew and his wife will be staying here while I am away for 10 days. They have known Sunny since he was just a shadow under my desk. Tonight he is out chasing frisbees, giving kisses, targeting and basically having a good time for himself. It doesn’t take much to change the picture for him, someone moving, or something new, to make him back off a bit, but he recovers quickly and it’s really a beautiful heartening thing to see.

      I love hearing about what you’re doing with Honey. If you are not keeping a journal please feel free to use this blog as a way to document the changes.

  60. George on

    No Journal, ’cause I don’t think very many people really would be interested in reading what I find awesome. I had to make a big $2.99 cent investment Sunday the clicker I was using was a bit loud and scary. We now have a quieter one and started clicking while it was in my pocket, so as of now we’re in a full fledged clicking mode, small things can have big rewards.

    • Lizzie on

      George, I had the very same problem with Gracie, she ran away from the noise the clicker made, so I hid it in my hand to muffle it, still didn’t like it. Left it for a few weeks and tried again in muffle mode and that worked, we haven’t looked back since then.

      I have found when working with Gracie that the best way forward is simply to exploit what she does naturally. I think that way the stress factor is very low and if she does things herself she is more likely to remember for the next time. Obviously food always plays a huge part in Gracie’s learning!

      I have waited for over 18 months to witness her push open the kitchen door and low and behold this week for the first time she finally did it.

      Patience is a wonderful thing, way to go Gracie πŸ™‚

  61. George on

    Applause for Gracie, quietly so not to scare her. I totally agree with you regarding building on what they do on their own, these wonderful animal tend to respond faster if it’s something they already do or try to do. Sometimes I think they are training us, not only to be more patient and observing but to really tune to them and their needs.

    A year ago, if someone would have told me I’d be spending my days watching and getting all excited over something as small as a dog taking one step in my direction, I would have laughed at that.

  62. George on

    I must share this before the amazement becomes clouded.

    A beautiful day, weather wise, in the pacific northwest made itself available to all yesterday. I spent several hours doing needed yard work with Honey loose doing whatever her wanted, stopping frequently to click, treat the girl. Late in the afternoon I was digging out several big rocks and moving them to a new and improved rock pile not really paying much attention to Honey except to glance at what she was up to. There I am with pick in hand prying a rock out and when the dumb thing gets loose enough to pull out by hand I put the pick down, grab the rock and roll it out of the hole. To me surprise and shock Honey is there by my side and sticks her nose under the rock to check for new smells in her yard. This is as near me as she has ever come on her own. Then she spends most of the rest of the afternoon helping me move a few more big rocks. I totally ignored her actions except to quietly tell her how great she was.

    I can’t wait for more yard work today, something I normally hate.

    Wish us luck.

    • Lizzie on


      I will always believe that the relationship that is forged with our dogs is everything to them. It is certainly the case with Gracie, and I know that you care as much for Honey.

      When Gracie came to live with me she was like a feral dog and I would never have believed that today I can take her out, she can be OFF lead, and so long as we don’t see anyone and we stay local to the house, she actually enjoys it, as her natural canine instincts kick in. It truly is a joy to me.
      I have learned to control her environment so that she can remain calm and in control. Take her out of her comfort zone however and she finds it very difficult to cope. So now it is just a way life that I have adapted to.

      I wish you much happiness in your ‘yard duties’ today, and good luck πŸ™‚

    • debbie on

      You’ve made me grin George. You got it! Steady, slow progress, building skills and confidence without threats of violence or aggression on your part. Lovely. You should feel fantastic about what you’re doing.

  63. George on

    Thanks Lizzie,
    I know you’re right regarding the relationship.

    A second awesome day, she even came over to inspect the very scary wheelbarrow and helped my wife make a small rock garden next to her kennel door, so very cool:)

  64. George on


    I had to take some aspirin last night before bed to quell the pain in my face from smiling so much over the last few days.

    • fearfuldogs on

      This is so cool George. I think that when you build the foundation of the relationship the way you have that you end up with one that can tolerate and rebound from most anything. Honey is learning and feeling good about it. There may be certain limits that a dog like this may have we don’t necessarily know what they are and brains can always change so we just keep working with them.

  65. George on

    Oh yippee Skippie, Honey is in heat and a bit testy. We’re back at the “don’t look at me, touch me or even think about talking to me, thank you very much, now get lost” mode.

  66. Dee on

    Hi. I’m so happy to have found your website. At times I am very frustrated with my dog. Now I understand a bit more on how the dog think when he is afraid, It is good to know what to expect of a fearful dog and to know that I’m not alone.

    I have a 10 months old cavalier king charles spaniel. I got him when he was 4 months from a shop near my house. At that time he was very friendly and fearless, as many puppies are. I had 2 cavalier before, and never had any fear problem with them. When he was 5 or 6 months, he started showing fear when people want to touch him, and recently he has started barking at strangers and he would runaway if the stranger still wants to touch him. The worse is the lift. If a stranger enters the lift where josh is, he will continue barking till the strangers are out of the lift.

    To date, I still cant be sure on what causes his fear of stranger. I socialised him early and enroll him to a daycare so that he can socialise and exercise with other dog. Recently I enroll him to an obedience class at his daycare and the trainer was teaching us the clamming methode (using our hand to immitate a bite on the neck) and also the kicking backside when heeling. Josh didn respond to that, the more he clam, kick or change direction, the more anxious he became. And one day, one of the daycare daycare staff came to the class to pass something to the trainer, and Josh bark furiously towards him. Josh doesnt bark or fear people that he knows before he was 6 months, he is very friendly to the rest of the staff. Because of that, and the trainer’s methodes, I suspect that the daycare causes it. And he also becomes very afraid of the human hands. I cannot be sure the daycare causes this, but I never took Josh there again.

    Now I am working with an animal behaviourist on a counter conditional training, to reduce his fear of strangers. The behaviouris has very similar approach to you. After about 3 months, he is now better with women, but more careful with men. Still need some time to warm up, no eye contact nor touching for the first 5-10 minutes together with the counter conditioning, after that he will start wagging his tail and allow the stranger to pet his chest. It took him 30 min to stop barking and start taking treats from the behaviourist the first time we had the training.

    He is also scared of some unfamiliar thing, like the new CD rack and the new pillow I just bought.

    I hope Josh will gradually get better and take shorter time to warm up to strangers. The next training, we will try to counter condition josh in a lift environment with familiar people first.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Good luck with Josh, so sorry to hear about his challenges. If you have not already visited the fearfuldogs.com website there is lots more information there regarding the most humane and effective ways to help these dogs.

      • Dee on

        I have read the website too, it has encouraged me to find a professional trainer’s help before Josh aggression escalates. I will probably try the clicker training since Josh is a food driven dog. I couldn’t imagine how frustrated you were at times when you first got Sunny. Josh’s fear is probably just a fraction of Sunny’s and I was already frustrated. Especially when I see other dogs who are so calm, friendly and playful.

    • fearfuldogs on

      One of the challenges and goals with fearful dogs is to keep them from becoming aggressive, which can happen when they are forced to deal with things before they are ready. Good luck!

      • Dee on

        Yes, I didn really notice that Josh has became fearful till he started barking at strangers, which is already a sign of aggression. I was a bit ignorant then. Now, I can only hope that he will be more secure and become more comfortable with strangers. He is such a cute dog that almost everyone want to play with him, but I always have to tell them not to talk, touch of have any eye contact with Josh.

  67. Dee on

    My sister will be visiting and stay in my house for 2-3 days, I wonder if Josh will feel nervous when strangers stay in the house. Any suggestions on how to make it less stressful for Josh?

    • fearfuldogs on

      In general the way to work with these dogs is the same, we just figure out variations on the theme. Keep them under threshold around their triggers and provide something to create a positive association with those triggers.

      Sunny has his safe space where he can go and know that no one will bother him. I also send him there when people come to the house and I think he might be inclined to come out and bark at them. We often get single minded in the idea that we want these dogs to be able to approach people or let people approach them that we forget to work on practicing their other option, which is to move away from people. I would much rather my scared dog choose to move away from a person rather than approach them in an aggressive way. It is often when we take this choice away from them that we see aggression.

      You can keep bowls of super good treats around the house and anytime someone is around you toss or hand Josh a treat. The people visiting can also toss him a treat. They don’t talk to him, move toward him or try to lure him to them. You want to begin to change the association he has with seeing people, so instead of feeling a jolt of ‘OH NO!’ he begins to anticipate a treat and feels good. This can be a slow process for many dogs and the trick is not to go too fast and scare him.

      I find that asking guests to ignore Sunny when they are in the house, where he feels less secure, or toss frisbees for him when he is outside, which is his favorite thing, works for him. If Josh shows any comfort around people the treat/retreat game can be helpful, especially if guests are into it.

      They sit down and toss the dog treats, tossing them slowly closer to themselves and also further away. Dogs feel pressure moving toward people, but that pressure is relieved by the treat being tossed further away. No attempts are made to interact with the dog until he is comfortably and happily moving closer to the person and actively engaging and ‘asking’ for more. At this point eye contact, talking to the dog, leaning toward the dog, or other subtle increases in social pressure can be added, but always paying attention to the dog’s response and should the dog show indications of concern or fear, stop these interactions and toss treats away again.

      This is a very cool protocol which Suzanne Clothier has been working on and gives the dog numerous opportunities to approach a person and have good feelings about it. I used targeting and frisbee tossing to get Sunny so he could practice approaching me for recalls. He would target the frisbee, moving to me, and then getting to run away and chase it. Pressure on, pressure off.

      Hope she has a good visit. Many of these dogs are more afraid of men than women, and I have found that Sunny, for some reason has always shown less fear around my mother and sister than any other people. I’ve wondered if we share a certain scent. Or maybe they’ve just been good at ignoring him.

      • Dee on

        Thanks Debbie. My sister postponed the visit, but my cousin (female) visited and stay in my house for 3 days. Surprisingly, Josh wasn’t so scared of her. He barked 2-3 times, but immediately took treats and he was quite comfy with her within a day. He has bout of barks on and off when my cousin suddenly appear from the bathroom or out from her room, but I was pretty happy with how Josh responded to this visit. This is the fastest Josh warmed up to someone, Josh kept on bringing his toys to my cousin and followed her around.

  68. George on

    A new situation since the 4th, no I think the proper wording is, a new opportunity, has cropped up. I had thought she made it through the 4th without any bad effects. Around 6pm she no longer wants to go into her kennel. Her kennel has always been her sanctuary, and still is during the day. She now has free run of the yard all day and goes in and out of the kennel for naps and time outs any time she wishes. However at the dreaded 6 o’clock hour she spends the next couple hours under a shrub in the very far reaches of the yard, as far away from the kennel as possible. I’m sure she is associating, night-kennel-big bangs, not a good thing. So that’s the latest project we’re working on, kennel, click treats.

    Still no touching, but I was able to do a couple drive by pets, at which time she stopped and looked at me with a “what the heck was that Ace” look. A very big step is now in place, when I’m out with her working on getting her to come to me and I leave for my own “timeout” she will go over to the chair I use while working on targeting and lay either next to or under it and snooze. I’m hoping that means she really wants to be with me.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Too bad about the kennel but that can change. Figuring out how to build drive and motivation is great. It sounds like Honey has had enough positive experiences with you that she’s anticipating the opportunity to have more. Very cool.

      Handling can take time to get there but you may find that once she accepts it, those ear scratches and chest rubs become potent rewards. I could/would handle Sunny was he was corner bound and he began to solicit chest rubs from me, but outside was another story, no way Jose. But eventually after enough of those drive by touches you mention I was able to increase pressure and duration. Being handled predicted no further social interaction or capture, and he began to ignore it as he sniffed and I touched. I also had super good treats and would pet him and then toss a treat on the ground or hand it to him.

      Honey’s brain is changing and it is very cool to hear about.

  69. George on

    I needed to post this regarding what you wrote Debbie on the K9 blog.

    “When I hear about or see dogs like this I try to imagine what life must be like for them, being afraid of most of the mortals they’ll encounter on a a daily basis. The reactivity we see is only the tip of the iceberg,imagine the dread-filled anticipation they experience every time they step out into the world, or a leash is picked up, or the doorbell rings, or a door opens, or they’re put in the car, or a bark is heard in the distance, anything that might have become a predictor of a trigger. It’s got to be miserable. Not only miserable but each of those stomach clenching experiences can help build a brain that gets better and better at reacting.”

    I have those thoughts every time I see Honey. Every day when I go out to let her out of her sanctuary she cowers in the back of her open crate so I tell her “I’m not going to eat you today, not fat enough.” The look in her eyes is total fear but I remind myself how awful it is for her. Within a couple minutes she does relax and transforms into herself. We are at a point where she is happy at times, like rolling in the newly cut grass, barking and wagging her tail right behind me while the mower is running full speed ahead. Yesterday afternoon was a very special day in both of our lives. My wife and I were just sitting in the yard enjoying the day, a nice glass of wine and some cheese, when Miss Honey came right up to us and wanted to be included in the cheese feast. I told my wife, “see she’s a normal dog, I just haven’t figured out what’s normal for her yet.” I keep telling her “all I want to do is pet you, Honey” so it’s up to me to get her there, she is normal in her own mind, ’cause that’s all she knows.

    Thanks Debbie

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you George. Honey has come such a long way. It’s hard to keep perspective with these dogs since they have so much further to go, but as we tip the scales and have them feeling happy more than they feel fearful the pace of the journey seems to pick up.

      Sunny acts like he thinks part of my husband’s plan for him is a bonk on the head with a skillet. We remind him it isn’t.

  70. Lizzie on

    George, Your post made me smile. It could have been me writing exactly that about Gracie.

    Honey has made faster progress than Gracie did in the early days. It took months and months before she was comfortable enough to come near me on her own terms. Why just this morning when I was out with her on one of our shorts walks, I marvelled at the fact that she is out there, off lead, fairly relaxed and to anyone else, she looks like a ‘normal’ dog. I am so proud of her for finding the courage each day to be that little bit braver.

    I see owners who keep their dogs on a lead all the time, and when I ask them why, they say that ‘he would just run off’. I would much rather have Gracie, who is obedient, attentive and has a really strong bond with me, than a dog who prefers to ‘do his own thing!’

    Gracie is very normal in her own little world. She has become confident enough around us to allow her real personality to emerge, particularly at meal times. She’S always first in the queue and her bottom never stops wriggling about, it’s wonderful to see her so happy πŸ™‚

    However we, like Debbie, are still struggling with the fear she has of my husband, but even that is getting better day by day.

    Having dogs like ours is so very rewarding.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s incredible that one day we are able to say how rewarding it is to have dogs like this. I never encourage anyone to take on a fearful dog since it doesn’t always turn out that way. But sure is lovely when it does!

      The thread that seems to be common throughout most of the happy endings is that people have accepted their dog for what it is. It doesn’t mean that they don’t work with them or encourage them to grow and change, they just don’t put so much pressure on the dog that it continues to have negative experiences and reactions. The power of classical conditioning. Thank you Pavlov.

      • Lizzie on

        Yes, absolutely Debbie.

        I’ve also stopped putting pressure on my self about how much, or little, training I do with Gracie, when realising that she learns things all the while, in HER own time and that’s the best way to learn for her.

        I appreciate that all dogs are different, so again, in my opinion, it all comes down to knowing your dog and the closer the relationship the better at it you’ll be!

        My main job is to look after Gracie, and keep her in a safe environment so that she can continue to make progress.

  71. fearfuldogs on

    Thanks for the update Dee. It’s easy to forget that these dogs are changing and learning new skills all the time we are working with them. Changes may be small but they do seem to build on each other. And dogs become more resilient so recover more quickly from being startled, which is progress too!

    • Dee on

      Yeah its amazing. All I do daily, is to toss treat when stranger approaches, I didn’t think he was learning that much on not to be scared. I really don’t expect Josh to allow strangers to pet him or even let the stranger rub his belly. But my cousin did all those without any sign of stress or fear from Josh. Ofcourse my cousin is female. Josh always need more time and treats to warm up to my neighbor, who is a man. Im still celebrating this tiny accomplishment πŸ™‚

  72. George on

    Lizzie, Thanks for your comment. She is making progress daily, She really made me smile yesterday. I needed to leave for a few minutes so left her loose to roam the entire property with all gates open, which can be closed to keep my dogs in different areas. On my return, I got out of the car walked up the drive, and there she was standing at the front gate tail wagging, playfully jumping around and barking, hopefully telling me, “Your back, cool”.

    • Lizzie on

      That is wonderful George.

      To see your scared dog feeling happy is something to behold! Bless her, and YOU πŸ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      Made me smile today too.

  73. Dee on

    Honey is so lucky to have you George. I think everyone in this blog are very patient and caring people. Many people are working long hours and don’t have the time and patience to care for a fearful dog (which often caused by abuse).

    Not sure if you have heard about this. I live in Singapore, and a few days back, there was a youtube video of a dog owner beating the dog’s head repeatedly with a stick because the dog chew some of her pillows. I think the news went all the way to Europe and other continents. The police is investigating the case. I hope that the dog has been taken away from the mean owner. It was such a cruel video, I couldn’t even finish watching.

  74. George on

    Thanks Dee, I’m the lucky one to have her living here.

    Debbie, I made some choices this weekend to see what would happen without running it by you, sorry. Thinking about the upcoming fall and winter weather up here, I need to move Honey along a little faster then maybe I should, but when the cold hits I can’t stay out as long as needed to keep Miss Honey working on her issues and I’m becoming concerned she will regress. I would like to get her leashed and be able to have her inside with us, not kenneled.

    I mentioned before I have 2 indoor dogs now, Dexter and Maggie, both are sweet non-aggressive rescues. Dexter a 9-10 year old ACD who doesn’t care one way or other about any dog he meets or is in his house, he just goes on with whatever life tosses in his direction. Maggie is also non-aggressive but is a rude 12 year old girl when it comes to meeting other dogs. She wants to play with them all and will try to hump all dogs while playing, tends to make other dogs a bit irritated at first. Once the other dogs puts her in her place, all it okay.

    To make this post longer, I started to introduce my 2 to Honey on Friday by letting Dexter out back with Honey loose, under my watchful control. That move went great, the two basically ignored each other after the obligatory sniff. I then added Maggie to the mix, with her in the down position next to me. After 1/2 hour or so I released Maggie she went to Honey for the sniff thing ( boy am I happy humans don’t introduce themselves the way dogs do) Honey put Maggie in her place, when Maggie wanted to play, and that was mostly the end of it, but I remove Maggie from the yard to relieve Honey’s stress if she had any.

    Sunday more of the same except the neighbors came over for pizza, nice dog people. Honey and Dexter loose, Maggie in the down next to me, 4 people then added the neighbors dog, who is also a “I don’t care” like Dexter, that Honey finds interesting through the common Chain link fence dog. The end results were the 4 of us sitting having pizza for 3 hours, 4 dogs in the yard, Maggie leashed and snoozing by me and Honey laying next to my wife (her choice)just in case some treat would be dropped and napping from time to time, and great body language on her part, we all did tons of yawing and slow eye blinks at first.

    Today will be interesting to see if Honey has any repercussions to yesterday’s fast moving along thing. So far not that I can see. When I opened her kennel this morning she just came out, like normal went and sniffed all the chair seats, piddled and seemed to be herself, but as the day progresses I’ll know more.

    Thanks for not chewing me out too much, I do need to move her along faster only 45 days until rain, wind and cold weather.

    • fearfuldogs on

      First of all you are the expert on Honey not me! You have also built a good foundation for building on and so build away. Most of my emphasis on going slow is because most people just don’t, and going slower has less chance of negative fall out than going too fast.

      There’s nothing wrong with asking a dog to stretch when you have established a good relationship with them and understand them. That relationship can carry you through rough patches should you have them.

      As much as we might wish, life is not a laboratory and we can’t always control everything. We work with what we have and take advantage of situations as they arise. It sounds like everyone had a great day.

      How about getting a long line on her?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Another thought is to get her into a harness. I prefer encouraging dogs to move with me by moving their bodies rather than pulling them by the neck. Not sure if it matters much to them, but it feels better to me anyway.

      Just be sure if you’re using it in situations where she shouldn’t be off leash that she can’t slip out of it.

  75. George on

    Thanks for the pat on the back. A long line would be great, but we have no collar on yet. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have put one on her what I picked her up from the hoarder when she was already in shock. 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful view of the world.

    • fearfuldogs on

      This is a judgment call situation. You could just get her harnessed or collared up and see what happens. She may be more resilient than you think and won’t hold it against you. You’d know better than anyone but getting her under some kind of control so you can begin to get more skills training in, recalls, going inside, handling, etc., might be helpful.

      If you know another dog that is her size you could fit them with the harness, practice getting it on, before you put it on her. Who knows, the harness may even act like a body wrap and have a calming effect on her. Thinking positive.

      The way you handle her, even as you do something scary will give her information about your intent, and she might not love the experience but it may not have any lasting negative impact. Something that is harder to see than the progress of a dog being able to deal with its triggers is the decrease in time it takes for them to ‘get over’ being scared. None of my dogs love being at the vet but once they’re off the table, even Sunny, life is good again. It’s like, hmmmm…that sucked but let’s move on and eat cheese. That is as important of a response as not being afraid to begin with IMHO.

      Or you could start working on getting her to work with a target stick and use that to move her around. It’s how zoos work with their wild animals to get them into position for blood draws, exams, weights, etc.

  76. Lizzie on

    George, I’ve just been reading your recent post, and thought you might be interested to know what I did with Gracie, in the early days.

    I found that a regular harness works best with a long line. If you use a collar the line tends to become tangled around the dogs front legs adding to any stress. Whereas a harness’s clip is on the back so the line goes backwards naturally.
    I was lucky with Gracie, she just resigned herself to my handling of her and I’ve always been able to get a collar or harness on her. Having said that, Gracie does not take kindly to being on the lead, she panics, goes round in circles and pulls like a Husky, even now. But again, I am lucky in that I can take her out where it’s safe to be off lead and she does much better.

    If you do use a collar at first, I would recommend the type that clicks together rather than one with a metal buckle, as if Honey panics you can get the collar off her very quickly with just one hand.

    Good Luck πŸ™‚

  77. George on

    Thanks to you both, I do intend to use a harness not a collar. I really like the front lead harness, easy to put on or take off, one click together type, one hand removal latch. They have D rings in front and one on each side. I also put her new leash and harness in her kennel on the reading chair and move it around the kennel a couple times a day plus into her bed, so she gets to know it and have her smell on it. Maybe in a week or so she’ll get used to it being around and I will try then.

    Thanks again

  78. George on

    Woo, I had a long talk with Maggie today, telling her not to be sooooo rude.
    I then had both Honey and Maggie out back and watched with great interest all the yawing and lip licking going on between the two. One more day and thet will be friends, so cool.

  79. fearfuldogs on

    You are giving Honey’s brain such a good workout! Sounds like she’s experiencing feeling good more than bad and she’s being exposed to new situations that require that she thinks and sorts out problems. If she is comfortable with Maggie that relationship and what she can learn from her is going to be so helpful.

  80. George on

    I missed that call about Honey and Maggie. Maggie ignores the Honey girl, so they kinda tolerate one another for now. Not much change has happened, we seem to be in a holding mode for now. Honey did however go up to my wife and sniff her intently a couple days last week. Oh well, I’ll need to deal with maybe she will like my wife better.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Ignoring is good. Doesn’t mean they’re not noticing each other. When a dog is willing and able to act like a dog, which IMHO includes the ability to investigate their world, it’s a very good sign! Sounds like you’re going to have to try harder to be more fun and carry tastier treats then your wife. πŸ™‚

  81. George on

    Well that’s the confusing part, my wife very seldom treats Honey, maybe once a week.

    Thank you for posting the Mary’s dog blog, on the group site, more things to consider as to the speed WE would like these dogs to proceed. (Mary should write a book, not on how to but just on the experience with her experience and insight) I needed that as a reminder, it’s not about what WE want rather what they want.

    Something has happened regarding my girl in just the last 3 days. I hate to mention it in case it’s a fluke but here it is. All of a sudden, like someone turned on the switch, she’s pigging out on her food. Previously, when she was with the puppies she ate well, once they were gone she would eat enough to survive, maybe 3/4 cup per day, course I was feeding treats like crazy. Now she wants her food, 1 cup of dry plus some wet twice a day. One of the other changes she now follows both my wife and I all over the place and seems to want to be part of the family structure. Yesterday we had a contractor over to look at putting up a retaining wall in the back yard and I left Honey loose and watch her handle the situation of a stranger in her yard. Almost immediately she was right with the three of us, as if to be listening to what we are planning to do with HER yard. Miss Honey, in the afternoon followed Maggie all over the yard and rolled in Maggie’s fur which I had brushed out, Maggie is and always has been a major shedding pal who needs brushing at least 3 times a week. I don’t know if Honey was trying to put her scent on Maggie or the other way around, interesting behavior whatever it was.

    I may be dating myself a bit, but I need to play the song “Time” by Pink Floyd more often.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      No flukes George! Change happens and giving Honey control around triggers has given her the opportunity to build what sure sounds like positive responses! Once again makes me smile.

      Regarding food consumption-I’d have a fecal for worms done.

      I have encouraged Mary to read your comments about working with Honey. It’s probably too cumbersome to do it this way though so you have to start your own blog to make it easier for folks. Just let me know the URL when you do πŸ˜‰

  82. George on

    I fecaled her and she is a clean girl. Re mine own blog, maybe some time. But your free to peruse my other love. http://www.crowfacts.com

  83. George on

    WOW, honey touched a treat while I was holding it! She didn’t take it, and dumb me left my clicker on the table inside. Today is coming, I’ll be ready clicker in hand.

    Forgot to add, the reason for my Crow website, is I rescue fledgling crows.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I also use a marker word, ‘yes!’ which acts the same as a clicker. You can use either as available πŸ˜‰

      Sounds like step 1 for hand targeting! It’s the start of recall behavior. Yahoo! Sunny couldn’t resist canned cheese.

      Very cool about the crows. This blogger used to be my doctor.

  84. Lizzie on

    Debbie, any advice on when a fearful dog starts regressing, or maybe you’ve not come across this?

    Gracie has, in the past few weeks become more scared outside. I have no idea what has caused this to happen, but quite clearly something has occurred that scared her so much that she no longer listens to me and just runs home. I am so worried that I now have to keep her on the lead which is even more stressful for the pair of us, as she hates being hooked up.

    I feel totally deflated at the moment, and have no clue how to rectify Gracie’s behaviour.

    The very first trainer who came to assess her said that this sort of thing can happen. You could spend years trying to rehab a dog and just when you think it’s settling down, something else triggers them and you’re back to square one. I guess that if Gracie was ever going to ‘get any better’ she would have done so by now.
    I have taken her out on the same route hundreds of times now, but she is no less afraid today than she was two years ago, in fact she is more scared, but of what, I have no idea. It’s very disheartening 😦

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thoughts. Classical conditioning will trump operant conditioning, so for any behavior that is trained, the original behavior which was practiced because of an emotional response, never goes away and under stress can occur. So square one is always there, but, the trained behavior, i.e., walk calmly down the street, for example, doesn’t totally disappear either. Kinda like riding a bike, you may not be very good at it when you’re 60 but you don’t have to go through the entire process of learning to do it again.

      When a dog seems to regress 1) Consider a physical or medical issue 2) Reassess whether the behavior you were seeing and defining as ‘ok’ truly was ok. A dog can often hold it together enough to do what we want but is still negatively impacted by the experience so you can sensitize to the experience. 3) Give the dog a break and then go back and start training from the beginning again, getting to where you were shouldn’t take as long.

      I’m not sure where you are in regard to using meds for Gracie, sorry I forget, but she certainly sounds like a good candidate. If she’s on meds I’d look at either adjusting the dose or changing the med.

      Just some thoughts.

      • Lizzie on

        Thanks Debbie for your thoughts.

        I would say that point 2) above probably sums up Gracie when she is outside. Also as I’ve mentioned before she does have obsessive compulsive behaviour and that can be just as difficult to cope with. She seems to make her mind up about what she will and won’t do, as opposed to what she maybe CAN do.

        Usually the scenario is: I introduce soemthing new, new location, new toy, new game, different route in familiar territory; and she will go with it the first and sometimes second time. The next time we try she point blank refuses to do it. I sometimes think that she is being willful and stubborn, because I know that she can do it, she just doesn’t want to!
        Note I said sometimes, usually when I’m having a down day.
        Thing is, Gracie is complex, she is also an older dog and I think that sadly, she may be too old to change all that much and I don’t think that meds would have much impact on the way she sees her world.

        As you’ve said before, she is an unsocialised dog and she’ll always be that, just as I am not an expert dog trainer. But I think I am becoming and expert on Gracie, I wish though that I could get inside her head and understand her fear.

      • fearfuldogs on

        There are plenty of things which I ‘can’ do, but it doesn’t mean I’m not scared when I do them or would be inclined to do them repeatedly.

        We all have to make choices for our dogs. If we choose to provide them with a life which limits their exposure to the things they are afraid of, that’s our choice and the dog may be happier for it.

        It’s up to you whether to try meds or not. It’s not a question of changing how she sees her world, but a matter of changing her brain chemistry, which in many cases does make dogs feel better. Meds don’t cure fearfulness but in conjunction with DS/CC may provide the best chance for improvement for many dogs. I’m not sure why her age has anything to do with the decision whether or not to try them. To the contrary, an older dog whose brain is not as plastic as a younger dog’s may be, may need them more. Clomipramine, sold by vets as Clomicalm, is used often for OCD behaviors in dogs. I wonder at this point what you have to lose by trying them.

  85. Mike H on


    I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Mike and I adopted a rescue dog last Friday. Her name is Piper and she is a 6 year old Australian Shepherd mix. According to the rescue organization, she has lived her entire life on the streets or in shelters in Mississipi. I don’t usually draw to a specific dog but there was something about her that struck me.

    Anyway, we brought her home last week and she is a fairly scared dog. Luckily, she has been able to feel more comfortable with my family – including my 7 year old Border Collie, Finn – and is able to be around us, both inside and out. However, she is VERY afraid of being touched and grabbed.

    I had e-mailed Debbie about her, and I guess I thought I would start posting here and taking part in your discussions, if no one minds. I’ve read the entrie blog so far and am encouraged by things you all are achieving. Keep up the great work!


    • fearfuldogs on

      Welcome Mike! It’s a slow process but change happens.

      • Mike H on


        So, to get up to speed, my experiences touching Piper have been the following: On day 2 with us, I decided that I would walk her around the neighborhood and see how she did. To do this, I had to corner her to get her on a leash. Afterwards, I started doubting whether cornering her was going to be a good idea.

        For the next few days, I just let her be. I would get down on the floor from time to time and scooch over by her real slow. If I went slow, she was usually fine. She’d even fall asleep with me near, which allowed me once or twice to slide my arm over and just barely rest it against her paw. Any more than that and she would wake up and move away. I also started target training and trying to figure out what she likes to eat and do. So far, I haven’t found any irresistable treats or games she likes to play. For playtime, the closest I have gotten was when I towed a stuffed squirrel behind me on string. She seemed real excited for a short time until my other dog chased her off it. I quickly put the other dog inside so we could continue the game, but Piper hasn’t played it since.

        Then, yesterday happened. For a few reasons(impatience, curiosity, the need to get an I.D. tag on her, etc), I decided that I would try to leash her and just make it a real positive event. It took awhile to get her and when I was going to clip the leash on, she moved her mouth over my hand a little. Once clipped in, I immediately started giving her turkey and then we went on a walk with the other dog. That was great! But when I got home and started the collar replacement process, she really didn’t like it. To compund things, a thunder storm moved in right then. It was all too overwhelming for her. She basically shut down and huddled down next to my wife and I, letting us pet her and change her collar. When the storm was over, I wanted to end on a more positive note so we went for another walk. She let me pet her a little on the walk and everything seemed fairly okay. As soon as we came back in through the side gate, I gently reached to unleash her and she went berserk, thrashing and acting like she was thinking of biting me. I paused, took a quick break, and then moved in real slow and got her unclipped….then acted like it was not big deal and went on my way.

        In any event, it will be interesting to see how all of this has affected her. I suppose it is clear that I need to step back and take it slower from here on out (but I’m thankful I finally got her tags on). I’m discouraged by the biting signals I picking up on, which no one at the shelter, rescue organization, or foster home had apparently seen. Perhaps she was always in shut down mode in those environments.

        Anyway, that’s our short story. I’m excited to follow along on everyone’s journey with their fearful dogs.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Just a thought Mike regarding the ‘mouthing’ of your hand. Rather than being concerned about it, and I’m assuming because you see it as a willingness to bite, I’d be happy with the control she showed. A dog who wants to do damage can quite easily. A dog who is saying, “hey look I’m not happy with what you’re doing and would like you to stop, but I’m not really interested in fighting with you” may behave this way. What else can they do? Everything else she ‘said’ prior to this didn’t work, the cowering, ears lowered, head down, look aways, etc., so she escalated her response. She’s clearly letting you know her limits. So be careful pushing them. A scared dog should never have to think they need to bite to get their point across. Keeping a fearful dog from becoming aggressive should be first on the list IMHO. Getting them to deal with things that scare them come next.

      If I’m riding on the subway and someone touches me and I slap their hand away it doesn’t make me an aggressive person. Especially if I’d already asked them to stop.

      Again I’ll remind you to learn and think about desensitization and counter conditioning, triggers and thresholds. Just exposing a dog to what scares them and surviving it is not enough to change their emotional response to it.

      These dogs force all trainers to refine and improve their technique.

      BTW I also have a 7 year old BC named Finn!

  86. George on

    I know the feeling, I hope Debbie doesn’t mind my two cents being added to her post. I’ve only posted the good results with Honey, the regressive parts not so much. If you haven’t considered meds maybe you should. For me it’s sometimes hard to remember dogs are feeling and thinking animals, who for no reason seen by us, can determine in their mind something or other is different to them and react to their perception of the situation. When those circumstances arise with Honey, I just let her work it out with out any pressure from me. That might not be the correct way to handle some situations, but it works for Honey. As an example a couple days ago she decided she needed to cower behind a bush most of the afternoon and not interact with anything or anyone, so I just let her be and ignored her completely. The next morning the same from her, behind the bush. By the afternoon on the second day she was right back to being herself, out and about. Why the change, I don’t know and most like will never know, it might have been something as silly as combing my hair or smell different. Now that I wrote this, it most likely was the smell as I had changed the fuel filter in my car the day she went behind the bush.

    Mike you came to the right place, Debbie is a great resource, the best in my opinion. I think you are right regarding Piper, go slower let her find herself in her new surroundings with no pressure from you for her do anything, walk, leash, basically ignore her and let her settle in and find her place in the home.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Please feel free to share your experiences George. You’ve done lots of work with Honey and are seeing progress. Some dogs are more ‘damaged’ than others and change occurs at different rates. Some dogs may never achieve ‘normalcy’ as we might define it, but they can live quality lives if managed properly.

      Ugh. Gotta go. Neighbors are target shooting and my BC is freaked by it. Feeding chicken after every shot. Also gave him a melatonin, who knows how long they’ll be at it.

  87. Mike H on

    Thanks Debbie and George. I certainly value your input. Now that Piper has a proper collar and tags on, I don’t have a good reason to get a hold of her. We can relax and just get used to each other’s rhythms.

    My wife and I were away from the house most of the afternoon/night yesterday. Her sister was here watching our two young kids. When we arrived home last night, I looked in the window and saw her petting Piper! She said they bonded during a thunderstorm earlier that night. Later, both my wife and I were able to get down on the floor on separate occassions and pet Piper a bit. I suppose the desensitizing is under way. Now, it will be nice when the trigger for her tolerance isn’t thunder, but I’ll definitely take what I can get.

    Debbie – Yes, I say you had a Finn too! I bet yours is a boy, though, huh? Ours is a girl but everyone thinks she is a boy!

    • fearfuldogs on

      My Finn is a boy but he’s so pretty people think he’s a she!

  88. Lizzie on

    George, thanks for your imput earlier.

    It’s interesting that you talked about scenting where Honey is concerned. As Gracie was kept in semi darkness in her previous life, she had not much use for eyes so for her, smell is the most important sense she has. She does behave in the same way that Honey does, ie if I’ve been to the hairdresser’s for example she will sniff all over my head and legs, and back away because of the unfamiliar scent. She does this every time I change my clothes, or even when a new item enters the house including the post or a package!

    BTW how is Honey doing on her meds, is she still on the Clomicalm? Has/did she suffer any side effects at all? My problem with meds is just that, side effects, plus my vet is not really intersted enough in Grace and does not have any experience of a dog like her. It’s so stressful taking her to the vet, that I avoid it unless she is really ill, which hasn’t happened yet! She is a robust girl pyhsically, surprisingly given her past. She has been on various supplements since I’ve had her but nothing has had any impact on her emotional state.

  89. George on

    Honey is doing well on Clomipramine, it has helped. I know this to be true, as my vet suggested to try and slowly remove the meds after a month of use by cutting the dosage in half and see what the results were. She reverted almost immediately in shaking again, so back to full strength and the shaking stopped. Not any side effects except for reduced appetite for a couple weeks, but now that she is used to it and her appetite is better than before the Meds. I also started adding L-Theanine the 2 together really help. I am very fortunate to be with her most of the time, so can visually see when it’s time for the L-Theanine. Strange as it may seem, I give the Clomipramine in the morning resulting in hours of good work. By the early afternoon she is a bit more cautious and that is when I give her the Theanine. Within 30 minutes or so she’s more friendly and wants to be with. I don’t know if that will work in your case, but that’s how it works here.

    On a side note, If your vet isn’t really interested in or knows how to deal with dogs like Gracie, in my opinion, it’s time to find a new vet.

    • Lizzie on

      I think you might be right George, about a new vet.

      I did ask him once if he knew of a vet who might specialise in canine brain function, but he couldn’t come up with anyone, saying that most issues with dogs are behavioural, so it’s trainers that are required. He did give me the name of an experienced behaviourist though, who came to assess Gracie, very accurately BTW.

      I think the reason that my vet’s practice doesn’t have much, if any experience with dogs like Gracie is simply that people don’t take on damaged dogs. The world is full of dogs, anywhere you find people you will find dogs and the majority of folk want ‘normality’, obvioulsy. I most certainly would not have adopted Gracie had I known just how bad she was, because I would have felt out of my depth, as indeed I was, and still am it seems.

  90. Lizzie on

    Debbie, I think that the attitude of vets over here in the UK is a tad different from in the USA. I have researched the few drugs that there are on the market for dogs and Clomicalm’s main usage is for dogs with seperation anxiety and associated destruction, urination and defecation. Vets here don’t use it for dogs with OCD, just people. My vet explained that drugs here have to be licensed for usage on animals, but I assume that’s the same over there. I don’t believe that Clomicalm is appropriate for Gracie.

    When I adopted Gracie I took her to my vet for the once over, he came out to the car to see her, as she was so scared I didn’t want to get her out. He took one look at her and she wet herself. He prescibed Selgian, and a DAP diffuser, neither made any impression. We then reverted to supplements Zylkene for one L-Theanine, Vitamin B, St John’s Wort, and Seratonin. Nothing has helped her feel less fearful outside, and that is what this is all about.

    She is happy and not at all under any stress in and around the house, for that’s where she is most of the time. She simply cannot cope with the outside world and humans.
    She was coming along quite well until a few weeks ago when one day, for no apparent reason to me, became more fearful when we were out. Having said that she is still willing to go out but once she has toileted it’s clear all she wants to do is come back home.

    Gracie is, no doubt, a damaged dog and IMHO was born predisposed to being fearful. Her previous life and lack of socialisation just impacted on her even more and now it’s too late to expect radical changes.

    Having said that, she has learnt a great deal with me, and who’s to say that with another owner she might have learnt more? However, all dogs are different; Gracie will always be a fearful dog, but at least she does have a life now with someone who cares. I may not be an expert but I am doing my best.

    • fearfuldogs on

      The thing about the meds is that they may have been tested for a particular symptom but it doesn’t mean that they only address that problem. Vets who believe that to be the case are underinformed. My own vet thought that one med was good for aggression and another better for fear.

      Please don’t think I’m finding fault with you, I have just seen so much improvement in my own dog and others who have had the benefit of meds. It doesn’t mean that they are simple, they require monitoring and playing with dosages and different meds. Having a vet who can help made the world of difference to me, even if she didn’t fully understand their usage, she was willing to learn.

      Too bad you couldn’t try a short term anti-anxiety med like valium or xanax.

      Also when it comes to seriously damaged dogs many of us are treading water, so don’t beat yourself up.

  91. Mike H on


    From all I have read here on the blog, it seems you are doing a wonderful job with Gracie. While I don’t pretend to understand the particular issues that you are facing, I do know that it can be frustrating dealing with certain behaviors, especially when it seems regression is at hand. My other dog, Finn, was also a nervous and fearful dog when we got her and there were many times when I felt we were never going to see her get better, or that she would have been better off in someone else’s hands. To me, it seems you are the perfect person for Gracie because you care to help her and are doing your research and trying new things in order to help her bridge the gaps. She is very lucky to have you!

    • Lizzie on

      Thanks Mike, I appreciate your comments.

      I have found Debbie’s blog and web site invaluable since I’ve had Gracie. It has supported me on a daily basis where I have had non locally.

      I believe it to be unique for those of us with fearful and damaged dogs. It can be very stressful living with our dogs and we need all the help and support we can get.

      I hope it does the same for you and Piper. Good Luck πŸ™‚

  92. George on

    You are the right person for Gracie, just think where she would be today if it wasn’t for you, possibly euthanized. I too wasn’t planning on taking on a Honey type dog when I rescued her and the puppies. I volunteered for a organization that rescued unwanted shelter dogs and before they were taken I temperament tested each one for aggressiveness, fear etc. Honey would have never made the grade and without any question would not be alive today or if she was, she may be in some laboratory having all kinds of testing done to her. I, like you, am learning, reading and doing everything possible to help her. However if SHE CHOOSES to be what she is today and never walk on leash, interact with other people or decide never to come inside that’s fine too. She will always have a warm bed, good food, medical attention and like Gracie someone who really cares.

    Keep up the great work you’re doing.

  93. Mike H on

    How do you get medical attention for Honey? I’ve been thinking about that with Piper. If I can’t get her on a leash, how do I get her to the vet?

    Okay, I know it’s only been a week and a half for me, which is a drop in the bucket, but I’m having a difficult time finding anything that Piper likes to eat or do. She seems to get most excited, almost intent, about the possibility of going out front. And the more she lays around the house and backyard, the more she needs and wants to go out front to exercise her legs and mind. It seems it could be a good high value reward. But, of course, there’s that little problem of not wanting me close enough to put her on a leash. The more we come and go out the front door, the more she wants to do the same.

    I’ve tried exercising her body and mind with games, balls, the frisbee, tug ropes, stuffed squirrel on a string, hide and seek, targeting, basic training w/ rewards – but nothing. She has a playful side (she will play bow, bark at me, and dart around from time to time – usually when I get home from work) but I can’t figure out how to keep it going or instigate it as of yet. Then, with training sessions, half the time I’ll toss her a treat – turkey, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, etc. – and she’ll smell it and walk away! I can tell she’s starting to crave some mental and physical exercise…just don’t know what it is yet.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sometimes we end up having to do what we gotta do. So getting a collar and/or harness (make sure she cannot slip out of it and consider using a back up leash on collar) on her may make sense. Harnesses can be chewed off FYI. You might need to figure out a way to handle her, get a collar on her, have a long line already attached to it, do your best to seem non-aggressive and non-confrontational, you’re just doing your job, and then let her chill out for awhile. With the line attached you don’t have to handle her again, but can manage her. You may need to CC/DS to being moved on a lead, start slowly, pick up lead add some tension, toss treat, release tension, repeat, gradually increasing tension and perhaps even moving her a bit using the leash, but always making it short, relieving the social pressure and giving her time to recover.

      A week and a half is not a long time when dealing with a dog with long standing or extreme fear issues. Have you started hand targeting or doing any other targeting work with her? It helps to be predictable, which is what training helps with. Piper needs to be able to predict what is about to happen to her and know that it won’t be horrible, in fact it will be fabulous. A dog who can predict what is going to occur and has control over their lives, as much as is safe and reasonable, feels better and can begin to make build new behaviors that help us manage them.

      The desire for food rewards often builds when a dog is performing behaviors on cue. Dogs need to learn the relationship between their behavior and consequences, so often dogs don’t really understand why food is being tossed at/to them, and if they are too scared, not hungry or whatever, may not be interested in it.

      There is a science to training dogs but much of working with fear based behaviors comes down to understanding the dog and making choices regarding how big the next step we’re going to take with them is going to be. That knowledge can also come from understanding the science of dog behavior, but you may also need to check in with your gut and decide whether what you are doing or plan to do is a good choice. If it turns out not to be, and believe me we’ve all been there, don’t sweat it, give the dog a break, think about the lesson you just learned and move on. If you’re seeing positive progress you’re doing something right. If not, reevaluate how you’re managing her.

  94. George on

    I am very lucky to have a vet who will come to my house, and will give me sedatives to use when she needs to go to the vet’s office. Honey crates quite easily, therefore crate and all will go to the vet.

    My thoughts on Debbie’s comment on some dogs don’t realize why we toss food to them. Honey never ate anything except what she was fed, no type of, I guess you call it fun food, peanut butter, cheese etc, so really didn’t have a clue what it was or why it was tossed. It took several weeks and trial and error to find something she really wanted. It ended up to be raw steak pieces, as I finally remembered she had been fed on cow carcasses, raw meat should work. Now she eats just about anything I toss to her and use the word “cookie” when tossing it.

  95. Mike H on

    George, I love reading your writings about Honey. Your patience and selflessness are inspirational for sure. Two areas I need work on!

    I’m celebrating two weeks with Piper today. It’s been good overall and I think I see signs that she can ultimately be a well adjusted dog, relatively speaking (if I don’t mess it up!). We are dog-sitting our friends dog and she and Piper get along great. I’ve seen more of Piper’s playful side, and more confidence, since this other dog has been around. Piper likes being part of the 3-dog pack.

    Debbie, I have been doing my best with the hand targeting. She has regressed with it lately either because of her relative disinterest in treats or something I am doing. Piper has bonded more with my wife than me (my wife even got her on a leash a couple times), and, it’s funny, I sometimes feel like the more comfortable she gets with my wife, the less motivated she is to work with me. (This is where my lessons on selflessness and remembering its not about me comes into play!) I’m just going to keep working on it.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Wise to back off on the targeting if it’s not a game for her. Don’t take it personally, really. I think that men working with shy dogs need to set up a group for moral support, it’s not your fault (I’m assuming) that dogs are usually more afraid of men than women. My husband can moderate πŸ˜‰

  96. George on

    Great idea Debbie, your husband can Moderate, and I’ll by the beer, are you in Mike?

    • fearfuldogs on


      • Mike H on

        I’m definitely in! We need all the support we can get!

  97. George on

    Do to the male support and all the beer I bought for the 3 of us, Honey and I have a great new game. We are so close to hand feeding, maybe in a few more weeks. The new treating game is, I place the treat on the ground then put my finger on it pointing straight down. She comes and uses her head to push my hand away from the treat then enjoys her new found best treat ever. Who would have thought, as I kept trying different treats to find one that would really stir the juices, that it would be a very healthy one, Prescription Diet T/D dental tarter and plaque control.

    Hand feeding and petting coming soon to State in the Pacific Northwest.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Cool George. There is a game called ‘magic hands’ and it is used to help DS a dog to hands near their heads. You can make it up to suit your situation. In a nutshell the dog comes to eat a treat while a hand is positioned near their head. The dog moves toward the hand, perhaps needing to put their head under or over the hand, but not being touched (yet). Repeat this until the dog is comfortable with the hand then slowly move the hand so that it is closer to the dog’s head, or to a different position. Eventually the dog’s head touches the hand to eat the treat, but it’s the dog choosing to be in contact with the hand.

      When she’ll take a treat from your hand you can sit down and offer the treat with one hand and hold your other hand still above, or below, the dog’s head. For some dogs it’s easier to start by moving their head over an upturned palm so that their muzzle eventually ends up resting in it.

      Not only do men like you get to drink beer during your support sessions you are also going to be nominated for sainthood.

  98. George on

    Sainthood? the chances of that are slim to none and Slim just left.

    Honey, the girl with the whitest teeth in the country, did the same thing yesterday with my wife, shoved her hand out of the way to get the treat, big progress. Plus Honey now comes to the backdoor looking in and will come to the door sill after climbing 3 steps to get the beloved treat.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Nice set up for DS to being touched.

      How about if we just get you guys some plaques?

  99. Lizzie on

    So George, Honey has graduated from cow to kibble, nice one!

    I too use Hills T/D for treats as my eldest, the one with CRF is very picky and does not like dry kibble at all, but he’ll always take one of these. I think it’s because they have a high fat content, so are very tasty. Goodness knows why they are so good for tartar control but they sure do seem to work.

    As for Gracie, well she’ll eat just about anything, being a Lab an’ all πŸ™‚

  100. George on

    Well she graduated from Feta Cheese and steak to T/D Now I’ll have a bit more cash in my pocket.

    Debbie, Here’s the upcoming plan And would like your thoughts. I called my awesome vet yesterday to address Honey’s medical needs. Sept 3rd, catch this, the vet, the surgeon and tech are all coming here to spend some time with Honey and evaluating her as best they can. Sometime after the visit she will get a complete work over, spay, shots, CBC etc. plus collar and harness her. I’m kinda moving this along a little sooner than I had planned, because I would like her in the house and not out in the kennel during the winter, I personally can’t handle cold therefore would not be able to spend as much time with her during those wet and cold months as I do now, and that would most likely result in regressing back to where we started. I don’t know for sure yet but she may be fitted with a E-collar after surgery, and that would scare the heck out of her. Reading the shy dog blog and remembering the work of the Monks of New Skete and tethering, do you think I could, should tether her to me after the surgery while she is still a bit groggy and just slowly move her along into the house for re cooperating , or would that be a bit too much all at once?

    • fearfuldogs on

      That great that the vet is able to come to you. When I have had to take Sunny in for any work I ask that he is given a pre-op sedative/tranq so he goes out before he is handled. Do your research on why acepromazine is not to be used with fearful dogs and ask your vet about what s/he uses. Coach them on how to interact with your dog. Keep the feta handy.

      What about setting her up with a quiet safe place inside where she can recover from surgery and then taking it from there? Remember that for a dog that has never been inside there’s plenty to be concerned about. She might need a week or two inside to settle down, and start to feel better and heal from the surgery. A crate in a back room perhaps.

      You can try tethering her to you, but as with everything else, it depends on the dog. I’d let her get used to house noises, etc., before trying it. You might also add a short term anti-anxiety med to the process, xanax or valium, to make the transition less horrifying for her. Just a thought.

      Have you seen the latest video that Mary put up on her blog showing how she’s DS/CC her foster dog to the harness & leash? Granted he’s more comfortable being handled but it’s a good example of how the process can look.

  101. George on

    I got called away so did finish my thinking, if tethered she wouldn’t need the E-collar.

  102. Mike H on

    Hello everyone!

    George, sounds like you are making great progress with Honey. The hand-on-the-treat game was a good idea. I’ll have to try the treats you are speaking of. Maybe something will work for me.

    Well, it’s just over three weeks with Piper and she has made progress in areas and regressed in others. The progress has come with my wife, where Piper will allow her to touch her at times and even be leashed! My wife has gotten to the point where she can even walk by and pet Piper on the head every now and again. It’s been great to see!

    The regression is all surrounding me, for whatever reason. Though I have been able to surprise her and touch her once or twice (when I get home and the dogs have been alone all day and are excited, I’ve slipped a little pet in here or there), overall, she seems more determined than ever to stay well away from me. I can tell that she thinks everything I try to do with her is a trap. It’s discouraging, but I keep reminding myself not to take it personally and just revel in the sucesses my wife is having with her. I won’t lie, it’s hard though.

    As of yet, I haven’t found any treats that will entice her to come close to me or any games that we she will play to help loosen her up. She has even ignored a treat that I was holding, yet been willing to take the same treat from even strangers that visit our house (all have been women). I may be making too much out of it, but it kind of seems she is deciding she doesn’t need me for anything as long as my wife is around (pass me one of those beers, George).

    It’s early, I know, but I don’t want to miss any windows to bond with her. Is it possible that if I am ignoring her, trying to just let her get more comfortable, that she is deciding “that’s great, now I don’t have to deal with that guy” and never feel the need to try to get close to me? I mean, there are some scared dogs that only really bond with one owner, right? The downside is my wife isn’t interested in the dog training and such.

    Either way, I’m happy we are able to finally give her a home. And believe me, I completely understand that my time with Piper has been a drop in the bucket compared to what a lot of you have gone through. Don’t mean to complain, just want to do my best to get it right from the beginning.

    Thanks, Mike

    • fearfuldogs on

      Just a thought. Being predictable is better than surprising a dog. Imagine being afraid of someone and never knowing when they’re going to try to touch you.

      You can ignore the dog and still provide for her needs. Forcing yourself on her is not going to make her bond with you any faster. Are you hand delivering all her meals? This does not mean she has to eat from your hand but eat bite she takes is associated with you in some way.

  103. Lizzie on

    Mike, if I might make so bold as to give an opinion, I think you might be trying too hard with Piper. She doesn’t sound quite as fearful as Gracie but even so these dogs can’t be rushed, everything has to come at their own pace. My husband still can’t get near Gracie after two years!
    I haven’t a clue why this is, as she will target him for food but that is all.

    My advise would be for you to be the only person who feeds Piper, so that she looks to you first, assuming that she is food orientated! I would feed small amounts of her daily ration throughout the day. I did a similar thing with Gracie, still do as a matter of fact. She can now predict when the food is coming and comes eagerly for it.

    I appreciate that all dogs are different but food is always a good place to start with them.

  104. George on

    Okay Debbie, Mom,

    I looked up Acepromazine and couldn’t find anything on not to use on fearful doggies, unless you’re talking about “Paradoxical Reaction” can you please enlighten this old man, thanks. Mary’s blog video is a great example of DS/CC and should be required viewing for all dog owners regardless if the dogs are fearful or not.

    One of the hardest things I found with Honey, was to find a treat and food she really liked, I tossed out more than I care to think about, but once you hit on the un-resistible one that battle may be over. Also I agree with Lizzie, you may be pushing or trying too hard and it may not be regression you see. Lizzie has been at this for two years and I’m just a newbie at 8 months. These guys and gals need a timeout every so often. Saturday is a good example, Honey wasn’t interested in anything, food, treats or interacting with my other dog and just wanted to hangout under a large bush in the backyard all day. I went out every once in a while just to say “hi” at a distance then left. Sunday she was back to being Honey, I think she just needed some well earned rest and relaxation. I could be wrong, but since each dog is different it seemed to work with her.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Check out this video

      • George on

        Wow, thank you, she won’t get that stuff. Who would have realized that, can see and hear whatever and can’t react or factor what’s up.

        Thanks again Mom.

  105. George on

    Lizzie, I hope you don’t mind Debbie,

    I was thinking, at that is usually dangerous, I’m sure you use a key word when giving Gracie a treat, I use “cookie”, to wit Honey is starting to think her name is Cookie. You might try having your husband sit near you while you treat and use whatever key word you use a couple times and your husband just sits quietly. Then show her the treat, say the key word then pass the treat to your husband while repeating the word and she watches. She may just go take it or think she gets the second treat from him after you pass it to him. Never know, just a thought.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s worth a try. The only risk is that if the aversion to the husband trumps the value of the treat, the treat can lose it’s potency. But it sounds like Gracie is not over the top scared of the man.

  106. Lizzie on

    Thanks George/Debbie for the thoughts.
    It really is good to know that I’m not alone in my isolated world with Gracie, although it can feel like it most of the time!

    Gracie will target and take food from my husband but he can’t handle her. She will not let him near her. By that I mean she will not go to him unless he is offering food or he’s sitting at the table. She won’t go up to him if he’s standing, even if he has food, he must be sitting down. As soon as she’s taken the food she retreats or darts backwards to avoid his hand, not that he tries to touch her.
    Having said she is relaxing more in his presence, if he holds out a dish or spoon she will come forward to lick it and she will take food from his hand but it’s usually snatched as she wants to keep as far away from him as she can. The best he has done lately is to stroke her back in passing if she is lying with me on the sofa, but I think if I weren’t there she would jump off before he could touch her. We’ve tried tossing treats as he gradually gets up from a chair but she still runs away from him and is not fussed about having the food. My husband has ingnored her basically since she has been with us and the two of them live in the same space but have no interaction apart from the times she targets him for food.

    Not a lot that Gracie does makes much sense to me since she is so affectionate towards me and loves physical contact. She comes up and nuzzles me, rolls on her back and asks for tummy rubs, initiates play, asking me to chase her where she will run round like an idiot, as any normal dog would. She can be really funny, but she does not want to interact with anyone else.

    I think that I must have made her the way she is by spending so much time with her, but she doesn’t suffer any anxiety when I’m not around and we have ‘time out’ when I simply go into another room by myself and she settles down immediately on her bed.

    I can think of worse dogs to be around πŸ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      Sunny is still afraid of my husband John after 4.5 years. Sunny will go outside and play frisbee with him, come inside if he calls him. But Sunny will leave the room if John comes in and will bark at him outside if he appears suddenly. My husband can pet Sunny though it’s questionable if Sunny likes it or not. I doubt it, but my husband actually likes the dog and wants to interact with him. I gave up awhile ago trying to micro manage their interactions.

      What seems to happen with dogs that were not properly introduced to people early in their lives is that they can attach to their primary caregiver but find it difficult to generalize that behavior to other people. The challenge for us is that my husband is not inclined to be primary caregiver to any of our dogs. He will if I’m away, and so far the best I’ve been able to manage without risking a happy marriage is to get him to go out daily and toss frisbees for Sunny and ignore the dog the rest of the time.

      Sunny startles easily and sudden changes in his environment, even in the house he’s lived in for years, will spook him and he still walks warily from room to room or into the house unless I’m playing with him, in which case he will run in to bug me to play more. People going from sitting to standing or standing to moving toward him, scare him. But he can go for walks with me and other people and stick pretty close (as opposed to shadowing us in the woods like he used to).

      He’s been able to learn a bunch of good skills for living with us and people we bring into our home and when neighbors or relatives take care of him. He’s happy most of the time hanging out in the yard waiting for someone to play with him, or going for walks in the woods. I can take him in the car to places for classes or walks but he’s initially anxious in the car. He can deal with vet visits.

      Bottom line is that he’s a damaged dog. Given the amount of positive exposure he’s had to people, a dog without fundamental developmental challenges, would have long ago become more comfortable around them. But I will never stop DS/CC him to people whenever I can. Even if the changes are miniscule, I’ll take them and let them accumulate. So long as I’m alive and can care for him I am willing to accommodate his needs.

  107. Lizzie on

    Gracie is almost exactly like Sunny, but hasn’t come so far with people, as she still panics when she sees anyone. She is reactive to movement by my husband around the house and always needs to know where he is, even if he’s upstairs. If we have visitors, which is not often, she copes by staying on her bed in the corner. I have no problem getting her to go out in the car, she loves it and I take her out daily. Trouble is she does not want to get out when I stop. We have had the odd outing but she will not go very far away from the car before she starts to panic and we have to go back. She is quite happy to be in the car when I go to the grocery store, so at least she does get out of the house most days. Vets visit’s are a nightmare, so are avoided. The best I can do there is take her every so often to get her weight checked, which doesn’t involve any of the staff handling her.

    I have the same problem as you in that hubby is not interested in being a care giver to any of our dogs, well they are my dogs actually. The most he does is take the two boys out for their walks, and I take Gracie out seperately. I have tried to take them all out together in the hope that it might help Gracie but it makes no difference to her, and is far too stressful for me.

    The boys are much the same as hubby in that they live with Gracie but it’s like she’s not here. There is no interaction between them at all. They have tried to engage her in play from time to time but she reacts in a way that says to me she has no idea what their intentions are and it scares her.

    I agree with the thought that Gracie cannot generalise behaviour, it’s all very sad really that she’s made such progress with me but as far as the outside world is concerned, in her mind, she is still stuck in a dark barn and terrified. 😦

    I wish I knew how to help her see the light.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think you are helping her see ‘the light’ it’s just a pinpoint and hopefully it will grow bigger as time goes by. I am always thinking about DS/CC with Sunny, since their brains can continue to change, so I continue to work with him. Or as they say ‘hope springs eternal’.

  108. George on

    HELP! Dr. Debbie,

    Boy I missed this call when I said Honey was in heat last month. In my defense, I’ve not been around heated girl dogs before and Ms. Honey has a very fluffy tail and lots of rear end fur and I thought she was do to all the polishing she was doing. Anyway I had Maggie out Monday and when we returned she went outback and Honey came running up to her all excited licking her ears etc. then turned, moved her tail outta the way so my Macho girl Maggie could spread the love. Two days now they have been constant companions and having quite a amicable love fest. How long is this going to go on and do you think my 2 girls will be more friendly after the love in?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Heat cycles can vary in dogs but figure 21 days or so. I’ve never had an intact female of my own so can’t give you the blow by blow details of it. Here’s my thinking on the situation- Hormones are going to change when it’s over so that will probably affect both their behaviors but the experiences they’re having will not ‘disappear’ from their brains. So behaviors performed while she is in heat are being ‘learned’. How good they’ll be at them without the hormones remains to be seen. Finding the right motivation is always a challenge with shy dogs, let’s just say you’ve found a pretty potent one.

      It’s nice to hear that she and Maggie are getting along, it isn’t always the case between females. I’ll be curious to hear if Maggie starts doing more ‘marking’. Watch her in the house.

      I did have a cocker that had been bred a couple of times before I had her spayed (she was given to me along with her daughter). She was a stable dog to begin with, but she was also the most confident dog I’d ever met. She knew her way around the block so to speak. She was quite the flirt with other dogs, especially the fellas.

      Keep us posted.

  109. George on

    Oh goody that’s what I read also, hum 19 more to go. Hopefully no problem with the Magpie I’ve had many other dogs spend time here over the years with no problems as to marking, but none like this case.

  110. Mike H on

    Wow, sounds like some interesting stuff is going on the fearfuldog world!

    Lizzie and Debbie, you’re scaring me with the tales about your husbands. I sure hope it doesn’t linger that long with Piper and me!

    I had a couple interesting findings with Piper last night. I’ve been wanting to let her out front because she is so interested in going out there. My other dog, Finn, and I often go out there and Finn has always been a dog that never leaves the front yard. I keep thinking that taking Piper with us would be something fun I could do with her. Well, late last night I decided we would go for it. We went out the side gate and Piper followed. She stood in the front yard a looked around for a couple minutes, then went right back into the backyard with no problem. Maybe she would rather live with us than run away from me afterall? πŸ™‚

    Then, I had the dogs outside and had fallen asleep on the couch. When I woke up at 2 a.m. I went to the back door to find Finn, but no Piper? I whistled. Nothing. I went around the side of the house where the dog run is and whistled again. Then Piper stuck her head out of the dog house. This was interesting to me because, first, I had never seen her go in there…second, she’s been avoiding the dog run like the plague ever since I trapped her in there on day 1….and three, she actully responded to my whistle and followed me inside. Small steps!

    Well, I’m leaving for the next four days on a fishing trip. Anybody want to set the odds on if Piper will remember me when I come back?

    Have a good weekend

    • fearfuldogs on

      One big difference is that you are actually working with Piper. My husband is not into doing more than very basic stuff with Sunny. If I can get him to go out and toss a frisbee once a day I’m happy.

      Building desire in a dog is a good thing. Not being able to be inside or with the other dogs, or where the action is, can have a dog ‘wanting’ to be there. I too discovered early on that although Sunny was still behaving as though he was afraid of me, he did not take off and disappear when he did manage to get outside off leash or out of a fence. I suspect he was attached to the other dogs, more than he was to me, but he got me by default.

      One of the things I like to do when I go away is to come home with a special toy for Sunny. I love watching him check out the new squeaky toy, grab it and claim it as his own. I bet if you came home with steak in your pocket Piper would remember you pretty darn quick!

      • Mike H on

        Thanks Debbie. It’s great to hear about your early experiences with Sunny.

        The coming home actually worked out fine. She followed my other dog over to me and I was able to reach and quickly pet her. First time since the early going, when she was in semi-shutdown mode.

  111. George on

    On the dog blog they are talking about not letting a vet use Ketamine during surgery because of nightmares. So no Ketamine and no Acepromazine what would you recommend I request to be used for Honey’s upcoming surgery, Isoflourane or just let them decide after I express my concerns over the drugs to be used?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Not being a vet or tech I couldn’t say. Hadn’t heard that about Ketamine. I’d mention concerns to the vet. Not sure how they determine whether or not a dog is having nightmares. I missed this conversation, where’s it happening?

  112. George on

    It’s on the shy K-9 blog messages 48595,96 &97

  113. George on

    Wow, wow and triple wow, there is a benefit of Honey being in heat, albeit slight. Finally after 3 &1/2 days Maggie isn’t real interested in spreading love around, but is being very nice and friendly. This morning after they were done playing Maggie came in the house and Honey followed her in, very slowly but spent 10 or so minutes wandering the kitchen and living room once Maggie took a deep breath sighed and went to the basement (man cave). We’ll do some more in the house stuff again today, so cool!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Very cool. Think about this, getting Honey into the house then tossing something outside for her to get. If you can make being in the house low stress, and one way to do that is to end the experience before she’s overloaded, you can practice the coming into the house behavior over and over again. Throw food into the house for her to get, throw food out the door. Just a thought. Have fun and glad you are seeing your hard work paying off, even if you think it’s just cause she’s in heat.

  114. George on

    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve been doing just that. Yesterday we had some big time in and out of the house work. I put Maggie in the living room in a down then I disappeared. Honey came in went all around the 3 rooms and found Maggie. I quietly closed the door behind Honey. All she did was make several trips back and forth from Maggie to the door, stopping each time she pasted the dining room table (I wonder why). After 10 minutes I released her with treat in her mouth to relieve any anxiety that may have built. Shortly after she devoured the T/D she was back inside, but I didn’t close the door again, that part will be repeated today.

  115. George on

    Imagine this, a male person being wrong. I was, Honey told me “don’t close the darn door when I come inside just yet”. She’s coming inside most times when I motion her to do so, but no door closing, so we put that part on hold for a tad. I say motioning her, because she picked up the hand signals I use with my poor old deaf dog Dexter, faster than voice. So now I use both, If I remember.

    The vet came last Friday as promised, and we decided no snip tuck yet. The vet said sometimes when a fearful dog is sedated and brought to the vet, the stress is so intense the sedatives have no effect. Therefore when she is able to be handle by me, then we’ll do it like you said, me in the room with her until under the antistatic.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s nice to have a vet who is willing to err on the side of caution. How did what she learned during her heat cycle work out?

  116. George on

    Yes it is, my vet is a very awesome lady who I’ve used for 30 plus years. You know you have a great vet when the vet cries more than I did when I had to put my best friend to sleep.

    Great, according to the books, she still may have 3 more days to go, but I think she done. Maggie and her are still friends, and, thank you very much, Maggie isn’t doing the nasty any longer with her. She is a lot more relaxed and interested in what ever is going on. I don’t know if the hormone changes had anything to do with it or just time, but she’s really moving along nicely.

  117. George on

    Well the heating thing is done! The end results are that Ms. Maggie and Ms. Honey are quite good friends and now play together. It is so cool to watch Honey play, she never seemed interested or knew how to play before. Now she runs by the door barking to get Maggie outside or sticks her head in the door, if it’s open, and whines calling Maggie out. Unfortunately Maggie has an arthritic spine, so can only play a few minutes at a time, before she needs to rest up.

    We’re moving nicely along the road to “maybe that old dude will play too”

    • fearfuldogs on

      This is fabulous news. Play changes brains!

  118. George on

    I haven’t reported for a bit, as there isn’t much to tell that is different with what’s going on. We’re still working on coming into the house and the last two days we had some big moves in the right direction. First thing in the morning I open Honey’s kennel, she will follow me around even sit by the back door while I get breakfast ready for Maggie and her. Wednesday morning right after feeding the two, she walked right in and wandered all over the place. After 20 or so minutes, the anxiety must have built and she left out of the open door. Then yesterday morning I fixed their breakfast and took Maggie’s dish to her favorite eating area. On returning to the kitchen to take Honey’s food out to her kennel, to my surprise there she was just sitting in the middle of the floor waiting. Another small step, but A cool one. Can’t wait until feeding time this morning, in about an hour, to see what new surprise she has in store.

  119. George on

    We ate in the kitchen this morning, yippee.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That is so cool George. It’s fun for me to hear about.

      Years ago I started Sunny eating in the kitchen or living room with the other dogs, but it meant I had to keep watch cause if he moved away other dogs would eat his food and I was losing track of whether or not he’d had his pill or not, so I decided that it didn’t matter to me if he ate with the other dogs or in his spot under my desk (easier for me).

      Just recently he’s been coming into the kitchen and hanging around and a few times I’ve put his food bowl down and he’s eaten it up with very little need to keep looking around him. He’s even taken to going into the bathroom, where I feed my old dog, to check out the scene and explore. Very cool to have him choosing to explore more stuff on his own.

      I should note for folks that the kitchen/living room was where Sunny lived for weeks when he first came to live with us. Being scared in the corner and having no place to hide did not help his ability to feel comfortable in that space. In fact he avoids it most of the time. I think it’s a case of flooding gone bad.

      But on the other hand change just keeps happening.

  120. Lizzie on

    It’s so interesting to read about our dogs as their behaviour is so similar, and George, sounds like Honey’s coming along very nicely.

    Gracie would not eat on the floor at all, nor out of anything that made a noise or moved, so metal bowls were a no no! She spent most of her time when being fostered, on a sofa or up the stairs, she seemed to need to be elevated. However when she came into my house, after running round in a blind panic for what seemed like hours, she headed for a corner away from the busy part of the house and there she stayed for over a week, except for when she rushed out to the garden to relieve herself.

    Anyway I had to feed her in situ, and she wouldn’t eat or drink if I was present. I meant to say that the foster mum found her a super dish that is made of solid plastic with a rubber bottom that does not move and my husband made a table with edges so that it is elevated. So after a while I started moving this table further and further away from her corner, until we were into the hallway, (the kitchen is not too far from her room). I wish now that I had documented Gracie’s progress cos I can’t remember how long it took to get her into the kitchen, however it was some time.

    During the early days I never thought that Gracie would eat outside, or do half the things she now does do, but she sits and waits for the command ‘go eat’, and wolfs down her food at warp speed.

    It’s all progress πŸ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      You reminded me of Sunny’s mad dash around the house and his settling into a corner. Hard to imagine he’s the same dog now and I hope to say the same thing about now in five more years!

  121. George on

    I AM STOKED, Honey was in the house for over an hour this morning, WITH THE DOOR CLOSED. When I finally opened the door so she could leave, she showed up at the door with my wife’s slipper, I guess wanting to take it outside as a memory.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That makes me laugh! I can just imagine. Sunny is an avid sock stealer. I’ll see him sneaking over to where I’ve put them down and when I say ‘hey!’ he grabs and runs. And he has his shy dog license and gets away with it. Some behaviors I can live with πŸ˜‰

      I see targeting for stuffed toys in Honey’s immediate future!

  122. George on

    Updating the Coming inside thing and listening to what dogs are tell you. Honey wants to come inside, she tells me by following me around all over the place, and when I do go inside she comes and sits with two feet inside and her rump outside. If I ignore her she will come in and investigate then leave after a few minutes. If I close the door when she’s inside it doesn’t seem to matter too much, she just checks the door then goes back to what she was doing. We are now up to almost up to one and a half hours inside. Last night was a big grin night. While she was inside with my other two, door closed, just hanging out in the living room, I decided the rest of the family should meet. I let Sid the cat out of bedroom to see what would happen. Sid is a stray that moved in 14 years ago after he decided he’d let us live in his new found house. Sid and Honey have seen one another from afar but not up close and personal. I don’t know how do cats and dogs communicate, but they do. Sid walked right up to ms. Honey, who was laying in the L.R., sniffed her and Honey the same, return sniff, end of story line. I guess Sid thought, oh well another mouth to feed, no big deal.

    After a couple hours, I Let all 3 out to potty before bed time Maggie, Dexter both returned inside and Honey went to her new crate outside just like this has always happened since the beginning of time.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Cathy Toft kept a diary of her work with her dog Babe. It was one of the first inspirational stories I read about a fearful dog. I contacted Cathy and asked her about Babe and she said that years later they had practically forgotten that she was ever a fearful dog. That is a goal I aspire to. Sounds like you are on your way there with Honey.

  123. George on

    Good morning, I would like to ask for a suggestion as to what CC would you recommend regarding the latest problem between Honey and Maggie. It seems now that the love fest is totally over between the two, Honey has become very protective of her kennel. Several days back when Maggie needed to go outback Honey came at her barking and posturing hackles up, but no actual biting just a lot of noise as Maggie walked past Honey’s kennel door, either on the way out or back in. Maggie has become a bit fearful of walking past the kennel. Honey will protect the entrance to her kennel even if the two have been together elsewhere on the property. Now when Maggie wants to go outback I must walk with her and between her and Honey. When Honey comes inside with Maggie all is well, as it’s Maggie’s area, I’m thinking. Any-how-way, I gotta nip this in the bud quickly, any thoughts

    • fearfuldogs on

      Here’s how I think about it. Sunny does a similar thing to dogs that go under the desk where his safe spot is, but is also a bully to my old cocker (who does deserve it sometimes).

      1) I want whatever is causing the aggression to predict something good happening. When old Bugs walks up to Sunny and I, Sunny gets rapid fire treats. Even if Sunny is being a jerk, he gets rewards. We’re working on changing the emotion at this point, not the behavior.

      2) I want the inappropriate behavior to have a consequence the dog doesn’t like. If I am sitting at my desk and Bugs comes over and Sunny gets bossy I will get up and walk away. You lose what you guard.

      #2 may be a challenge to sort out with Honey since she’s in her kennel and it may not be possible to have her lose that space without scaring her.

      Now that Sunny and I have a solid relationship I can use a combination of positive reinforcement, oh look there’s that stinky old cocker, have some cheese, and a verbal interrupter, followed by a reward. ‘Hey knock it off’, which interrupts the behavior, and then when I have his attention we can go back to working on rewarding for both a positive emotional response and an appropriate behavioral response.

      Perhaps in Honey’s case the kennel door can be shut (if it isn’t already) when she behaves aggressively toward Maggie, this is a kind of punishment (sounds like she does not want to be isolated anymore), but you will open the door after a minute or so and give her the opportunity to repeat the inappropriate behavior and experience its subsequent consequence. If the door is already shut you might have something that can be easily rolled down to cover the front of the kennel. This might work because she can’t see Maggie and may be a management technique to prevent it from escalating if you’re not around to work the situation (dogs get a charge from behaving aggressively and I think that for fearful dogs it’s a slippery slope for them, since feeling good about something, even if it’s a bad behavior, can be addicting), or it can be used as a kind of punishment like shutting the door. Keep in mind that if you try this don’t leave the blind down for more than a minute or two. The dog needs the opportunity to put two and two together and understand that the bad thing (being isolated) is a consequence of their behavior.

      I’d also be working on CC Honey to Maggie in other places as well so that Maggie becomes the cue that something good is about to happen, anywhere.

      It might take two people to work with this. One person managing Maggie’s proximity to the kennel while someone else rewards Maggie. You can use a combo of both positive and negative reinforcement. Honey gets a treat when Maggie is a tolerable distance away and Maggie is removed from the scene as well. Then the distance is decreased.

      Don’t forget about Maggie in this equation. Reward her heavily for making good choices in regard to Honey’s behavior. A dog that is willing to avoid a confrontation deserves lots of reinforcement.

      Just some thoughts. It’s an unacceptable behavior. Maggie should not be afraid to move around her home.

  124. George on

    Honey’s kennel door is always open, so she can come and go as she pleases. Therefore when Maggie heads out Honey will run to her kennel door and stand guard. This morning after I wrote you, I let Maggie out and Honey came running right up to the back door, which is 15 feet from her kennel, raising a stink. I can stop it, at this time by just saying “no” a bit louder than normal. I will do the treating when Honey first sees Maggie and before she reacts. I also see Honey’s actions as a positive reaction in that she now feels comfortable and possessive of her environment. When Honey is inside she’s not as comfortable and actually sits with Maggie and kowtows to Maggie’s authority, which Maggie never shows, she’s really laid back. That maybe some of the problem, Maggie always submits to aggressive behavior.

    Thanks, and won’t forget Maggie, as of now when she avoids confrontation, which she always does, she gets big time attention and or treats.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You’re lucky that Maggie is willing to compromise, otherwise you could have a bad scene. The challenge we have with our fearful dogs is to prevent them from becoming aggressive as they discover the confidence to say what they want, but resource guarding is a pain in the neck.

      You might consider reading the book MINE! by Jean Donaldson.

      If you have created a strong reinforcement history with a particular marker, a clicker or verbal marker you might try interrupting Honey’s behavior with this. It’s counter intuitive since it seems like we are rewarding a dog’s bad behavior, but if we can change the context of the situation from it being negative all around, Maggie is near the kennel AND she’s getting reprimanded to Maggie is near the kennel and good things are happening, we often get a decrease in the negative behavior because we are lowering the negative emotional response.

      Try interrupting the behavior with a positive reinforcer, chuck chicken at her (unless she’ll guard this too!) and see what happens.

      Behaviors can be very site specific. When I had a mother daughter team of cockers, the daughter would only ever mount the mother when we got into a car. Only place.

  125. George on

    Thank you, I will pickup the book Mine along with Fight.

    I tried what you suggested, “interrupt her behavior” and tossed her favorite treat as soon as she saw Maggie and took a step in her direction with good results so far. No problem with her guarding her treat, she just ate it and allowed Maggie to pass. More of the same today, fingers crossed as this is a very easy fix. The strange part is Dexter can walk by her anytime and absolutely no problem, ‘course he doesn’t care one way or other about her, never gives her a second look.

    Thinking about this while writing, I may be the problem. Maggie is, and I hate to use this word, MY dog since adopting her from a shelter 13 years ago, she wants to be “with” all the time. If I go out with Dexter or alone Honey is great and follows along. When Maggie is with me Maggie follows me, and that may make Honey feel left out or jealous, or am I making too much of the situation. As we had a small incident last night between the two. The side yard and driveway is sort of a nondenominational area with cats, squirrels, birds etc, all hanging out there. When I leave out the front gate both Maggie or Honey will come to the gate and watch me intently depending on who is outside at the time. Last night I took the garbage out to the curb (woman’s work?) and the two had been doing just fine together. When I was almost to the curb, bark snap sound, when I turned to see what’s up, both dogs standing at the gate watching. I couldn’t tell who caused the situation, but it sounded like Ms. Honey.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Always think about any changes in health that might be occurring. Talk to the vet about the meds she’s on.

      Any idea of how old Honey is?

      Female/female relations can be challenging (as can male/male).

      I am often sharing my home or go on walks with dogs with varying levels of ‘volatility’. None are dogs have so much trouble with controlling their arousal and impulsiveness that I have to stress about dangerous fights, but even low level altercations can be scary, stressful and expensive!

      All the dogs that are with me have a good reinforcement history with me saying their names or calling them to me, or we’re working on it. This way if I need to I can interrupt and management situations so that if I see dogs beginning to get too concerned about who gets the old tennis ball, I can get them to focus on me and by the time we’ve had a few treats, did some tricks, they usually turn around and act like, “so what was it we were about to argue about?” and most don’t seem to remember πŸ˜‰

      I also try to maintain the appropriate behavior in any dog who is controlling situations by not escalating things. It may mean that I keep another dog away from them, or reward them heavily for staying cool under pressure. In this way I can turn the other dog’s negative behavior into the cue that they are about to win big time. For example, when my cocker Annie runs up to Nina the chocolate lab, and tries to engage in play, in the rudest possible way (she’s got a bit of deficit in that area), Nina knows that she’s going to get a treat from me. Nina usually does a good job of ignoring and ‘putting up’ with Annie, but I don’t want to push my luck, so I don’t stop working with Annie on this behavior, but I don’t forget that having dogs who can negotiate the emotional minefield themselves is far easier than having to always be the referee.

  126. George on

    She’s between 2 and 3. Thanks for all the help and suggestions, Yes it’s a bit difficult having dogs with control issues, but we’ll get through it in time. In the past I had 2 ACDs who absolutely didn’t care for each other, including food aggression. But we got through it, took awhile but it finally came together.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I remember being very upset when Sunny and Bugsy started going at it. There was never any blood drawn but it wasn’t pretty. There is still no love lost between them but I mainly have to deal with just posturing now when one gets in the other’s way.

  127. George on

    Well we’re back to square one and a half times pi. I thought it a bit funny at the time, but in Honey’s eyes it was a major event. She had been coming inside 2-3 times a day and doing very well, mostly laying in the front room just watching with great body language on her part. Mr. Sid, the cat, who she is very leery of, decided he needed to rub against Honey. Honey wasn’t having any of that nonsense so headed to the door at a high rate of speed. The door being opened because I had just come inside and left it open just in case Honey wanted to leave, as she had been inside for a long time. As Honey rounded the corner she slipped on the rig, lost traction on the kitchen floor and splatter herself on the side of the refrigerator before making her big escape.

    So now we’re not coming in that house ever again, either the black thing that walks on 4 legs and smells funny or that big square doohickey in the kitchen is gonna eat me.

    More treating and clicking again going on in order to get the rear end over the door sill, the front end is okay, but it’s scary for the rear end to cross it.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Oh dear. But…the climb back up will not be as long as it was. No pressure, reward the front feet with a treat toss back outside. Play a few rounds then YOU end it. She’ll let you know how comfortable she is and you resist going for ‘just a little more’. And all the fun happens inside, she’s welcome to join you. You may even need to ignore her if she does come in, if treating puts too much pressure on her and makes her want to flee.

      Sunny has been attacked by a flexi-lead in the house, that required cleaning poop off the sliding glass doors. He was also chased down the stairs by a metal bowl once. S**t happens.

  128. Lizzie on

    Hey George, I’ve been catching up on Miss Honey’s progress and sorry to read what happened to her with the cat.

    I, like Debbie have had this kind of thing with Gracie and had to take a step back, leave her alone for how ever long it takes for her to feel confident enough to try over.

    A couple of months ago I remember posting about Gracie’s regression outside and it seemed that everything I thought she learnt had gone out the window because she became even more fearful and kept wanting to run back home, tail tucked crawling on her belly.
    I stopped taking her out apart from a few minutes for toileting purposes, then straight back. I’m happy to say that we are now back on track after about 2 months, and she once again is happy to go for a longer outing, off lead for most of the time! She still hates the site of all other humans but is learning to cope a little better with the world at large.

    Don’t give up George, she will get better, if only around you and your home.

  129. George on

    Thanks you two, I am stubborn and of German dissent so we’ll get back on track eventually. I just find all this fascinating and more committed to making her into awesome dog.

    Thanks Debbie, somewhere on either your blog or files, you recommend reading “Bones” by Suzanna Clothier, wow great book and I have been devouring it intently. So now reading what Honey is trying to tell stupid me, yesterday morning was (I hope I read her right) very interesting. We have a protocol we must follow first thing in the morning as to when to feed, when to water, and when to let Ms. Maggie out to potty or the day starts off badly. After the strict morning protocol is usually when she comes inside, or did. Yesterday she came up the 3 steps to the door, sat down with her front feet as near the sill as possible just watching everyone ignoring her. A short time later she got up, turned around and sat back down, very relaxed, with her hind end inside and her front end on the step, with her back to all inside. Sat there for a good 20 minutes, I think she was saying “I’m back inside, but I do have my great escape planned if need be.” Either that or “ignore me will you, I’ll show you how to ignore.”

    She is so cool even though I keep telling her “you’re one funny duck.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      One of the comments that Suzanne Clothier made at the seminar I just attended, and which is good for us to remember, is that just because a dog does something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the skill down solid. It’s hard to not say, ‘but she’s already done that!’ in regard to whatever step forward we think they’ve made.

      I used to be able to play ‘Love Story’ on the piano really fast (my criteria for musical skill πŸ˜‰ but it would take years for me to ever achieve, if it was even possible, concert pianist capabilities. Fortunately our dogs don’t need to have super refined skills to be comfortable and safe in the world. If Sunny could play Love Story really fast I’d be happy for him. We can dream of world tours, but just sitting down at the piano and playing a few tunes works for me!

  130. honeysjourney on

    I have a question that has been sloshing around in my head for sometime now.
    Honey has great eye contact and has had since day one. When I’m out working with her, she will follow closely behind and when I stop she sits right down a couple feet behind me and waits until I doing something again. If I don’t do anything, just may be look at something for a few minutes, she’ll get up and move around to the front, sit down 3-4 feet away and just stare into my eyes. I don’t look or stare back, I just see it when I glance at her. I’m just curious if there is any reason or significance to that move on her part, as I would think she’d feel more safe being on my backside. I just don’t know how to read her, she does this all the time.

    Thanks for you help, here and on the other thingamabob.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Wish I knew George. But I’d be rewarding the move and the eye contact. I’d even be returning the eye contact. It sounds like a good time to work on cued behaviors. Is she targeting stuff? If she can get used to a targeting stick you could carry one with you and when she sits in front of you, bring out the stick and ask her to touch it. I say a stick because it can provide some distance. Or a toy she likes.

      Another easy target to have is a yogurt lid. You toss the lid down away from you and ask her to target it. You can toss the treat reward away from you as you go to pick up the lid to toss it again, so you don’t scare her if she’s spooky about being approached.

      I could come up with some story regarding her behavior but as I heard the trainer John Rogerson say, “We have all the theories, the dogs have all the facts.”

  131. honeysjourney on

    No real targeting, we’ve been working on that. She will come a smell anything I put on the ground, bag, hammer, car parts etc., when I step back. I guess I could treat on that action, right, as a start. Great on the returning look, that will be a blessing for me, as I really like her eyes.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Would a clicker scare her? Or try a verbal marker. Prime it a few times, yes-treat, yes-treat, and then start marking when she goes and sniffs something. Put the lid down with a treat on it. When she goes to get it mark (yes or click) when she does. Do this a bunch of time, then put down the lid without the treat, wait for her to touch it, mark it, and then give her a treat. When she’s doing this reliably start giving her a cue, touch it!, as you set the lid down. Once she gets this you can start to ask her to touch other stuff or the lid in your hand.

      When she’s reliably targeting the lid you can set it down near you and when she touches it reward her with a treat tossed away from you. This can help her practice moving toward you. I used a frisbee for Sunny, tossing it as the reward, but we started with stones which he liked to chase when I tossed them in the river. He had NO recall but he would readily touch my hand for the stone toss.

      Targeting has all kinds of practical purposes, getting her to go to certain spot, it can offer a distraction when she’s worried about something, I use it all the time to help Sunny deal with novel objects which worry him. But I think the best thing it does is it helps the dog understand how to learn from us. It’s an easy behavior which should have no ‘scare factor’ to it. Once a dog understands that our words and movements mean something they can interpret or predict, we become less scary. From there on we’re usually just limited to our ability to train new skills, not by the dog’s ability to learn them.

  132. honeysjourney on

    No a clicker doesn’t scare her now, I charged it a while back, but keep forgetting where I put the dumb thing, usually it’s in the washer (forget to take it out of my pocket) so I’ve been using a low whistle. She does come when I whistle she has picked that up very nicely. Maybe I should keep the whistle for calling her then use Yes, or click of the tongue in place of the clicker, I seem to always have my big mouth with me.

  133. Kim on

    Hi Debbie. I stumbled upon your blog and would love your advice. I rarely meet or hear about people in my situation. My husband and I rescued a one year old Korean Jindo from overseas. She had been confined to a cage for her entire life. Since she has come to live with us in the US, she has been extremely fearful of my husband. This has not subsided for the 6 months that we’ve had her. She barks wildly when he comes home from work (this dog never barks otherwise), paces around the apartment, and runs from hiding spot to hiding spot whenever he’s around. If he approaches her she freezes, and sometimes poops or pees. She is shy around new people–but NEVER exhibits this extreme fearful behavior with anyone besides him. Which makes living with her very difficult! She will not accept treats from him–and will not eat her dinner when he is home, making positive reinforcement ineffective.

    We’ve had trainers in our home… one that insisted we keep her on leash and around my husband anytime he is home to block the running away response. This was essentially very punishing to her and I think made things worse because once he’d come home, she’d know what was coming and always appear more worried in the evenings awaiting his arrival. Another trainer uses only positive punishment, and encouraged my husband to just ignore her and wait till she approaches him. I liked this approach best… but since she spends all her time hiding instead–I am not sure how effective it will be in the long term. I am just not sure if she will ever come around on her own.

    We’re at a loss of what to do. My husband does not like her… but I am so attached to her and really want it to work. I am considering meds as the next step and would like to hear your opinions on this, as well as any other suggestions you have! We’re desperate!


    • fearfuldogs on

      It is a challenging situation because you are dealing with two emotional creatures. You mention a trainer who suggested that your husband ignore the dog (and uses positive punishment, which I don’t think is what you mean, positive in the context of punishment means to ‘add’ something to the situation in order to stop a behavior, hitting the dog, yelling the dog, yanking on the dog, or in your case, tying the dog to prevent him from running away).

      I’m guessing that that trainer was on the right track. But you are right in that, just ignoring the dog is not necessarily going to give the dog any skills for dealing with your husband BUT is might stop the dog from worrying about him all the time. You might also have to accept that the dog may never ‘love’ your husband (or him the dog), but they can come to a truce and find ways to co-exist so both can be comfortable in their home.

      Forcing a dog to deal with things that scare them, which is what preventing the dog from fleeing when he felt he needed to, can, and sounds like it did, have negative consequences, so there’s catch-up work to do.

      Go with meds for sure. Check out both anti-depressants and anti-anxiety med options with your vet. They will not ‘cure’ your dog, but they may help him feel less stressed, which will only help in the long run. Remember that this dog is not only afraid when your husband is around but he’s also dreading his return. It sucks to be afraid like that all the time and it affects your dog’s brain.

      Do you have your head firmly around the concepts of triggers, thresholds, counter conditioning and desensitization? If not, you should. I have info about these on the fearfuldogs.com website. You can provide the spoonful of sugar to your husband’s medicine. But the dog has to be far enough below threshold for the positive stuff (hot dogs, dried liver, cheese, etc.) to be of any value to the dog. Do not give your dog the opportunity to bark at your husband. Put the dog in a safe space when your husband is home and let the dog learn that the man will NEVER look at him, talk to him or heaven forbid try to touch him. This is going to take time, but the meds can help with this learning process. She may not initially be able to eat when he’s home or even take treats from you, but give her time to decompress. He should not even try to get her to take treats. If she needs to be in another room when he’s around in order to feel safe then put her there, and that’s where she gets her treats. The next step may be opening the door to the room and eating treats (how we desensitize depends on the dog’s needs an abilities and the environment).

      My own fearful dog loves to play with balls and frisbees so that is how my husband interacts with him. Sunny will happily run outside to chase balls, but in the house he prefers not to interact with him. Both the dog and man have figured out how they can do the things they need to do, John can get Sunny in and out of the house when I’m not around, and he can feed and play outside with him. They don’t need more than that from each other. Sure John wishes that Sunny would be happy with him cuddling and petting him, but he’s accepted that that’s not where Sunny is right now. But he also doesn’t appreciate being barked at by Sunny (this happens outside) and I understand that. So, we are always working on that, and it’s gotten better.

      Hope these thoughts help.

    • sisterswithpaws on

      This was written abt 5 years ago but I know a lot of the frustrations and emotions that went went into this post.

  134. Lizzie on

    In response to Kim’s post, could I add that my fearful Lab Gracie is also still very worried around my husband, after more than two years!

    Like Debbie says, we have come to accept that she may never be happy to have him pet or cuddle her, he can do neither at present. However she has learnt to be more relaxed around him and will take food from him but he has to be sitting down, if his hand is empty and it moves, at all, she will back away looking worried.

    You probably know after six months that time and patience is key with these dogs and a reaslisation that they have limitations. Acceptance that they may never behave like a ‘normal’ dog is also necessary, otherwise frustration may get the better of you. You can’t train a dog to be less fearful but you can help her to overcome her feelings and reactive behaviour with kindness, consistency and understanding. And the best place to start is with a solid relationship and having her learn to trust.

    In my experience, the foundation of working with a fearful dog is a good relationship, before anything else can be achieved. It all takes time, and you have to be committed.

    I wish you all the best with your dog.

  135. Kim on

    Thanks so much for both your advice!

    It is sad to accept that she may never change. She has made small improvements with my husband–she will actually go for car rides with us now while sitting ON the backseat without plastering herself to car floor. She also will go for walks with the both of us together with her tail up now (instead of between her legs) and will sniff things and even sometimes pee… so long as he is ahead of her and she can keep a close eye on him. She still is not good alone with him–or inside the house. But it’s an improvement over these past few months! I am taking her to the vet this weekend to have her put on meds. Thanks so much for all the great info!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Actually Kim dogs can change throughout their lives. Desensitization is a never ending process. Your dog may never be like a dog that was socialized appropriately as a pup but it doesn’t mean she can’t continue to learn new skills. The challenge includes being patient and figuring out how to keep your dog feeling safe while you add new experiences to her life.

  136. Ruth on

    I just read the current post “Treat Yourself Like a Toddler” on another blog I read regularly (besides yours) Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project’: http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/2010/12/treat-yourself-like-a-toddler.html

    I just realized that I treat my 2 rescued border collies like toddlers. 1 is fearful like Sunny, and both extremely high maintenance, due to the fears and socialization issues from their mysterious pasts. There is really not that much difference in the planning, maintenance, and amount of gear that I put into their daily lives, and the same efforts I might exert for time spent babysitting my 2 year old nephew. I know that the BC’s will never be laid back couch potatoe dogs that I trust implicitly and can kind of ignore at times. All 3 of my charges thrive on continually learning new things, anticipating and avoiding bad situations, and getting enough playtime; and our work on socialization NEVER stops.

    I think we all would do well to follow Ms. Rubins’ advice to care for ourselves like a toddler, of course. But, for those of us with fearful dogs, the advice fits.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s a good point and responding to the fears of a scared dog are not that dissimilar to how we might respond to those of a child. In my book I talk about how instead of forcing a scared toddler to shake the hand of a scary clown, just move them away and buy them cotton candy.

  137. honeysjourney on

    We’re having a bit of a problem, Maggie and Honey. Honey started to resource guard her kennel by charging and barking at Maggie whenever Maggie wanted to go into the backyard and pass Honey’s kennel. I started BAT CC and DS by when ever they needed to be in the same vicinity, treat them both and step between the two if Honey showed any signs of aggression. The strange thing is it only happens every once in a while. The guarding has elevated somewhat Honey now doesn’t wait for Maggie to head to the backyard but will bark at her when Maggie is in the side yard. There are times when Honey charges Maggie and then plays with her both dogs running all over the place. Today I was treating both dogs and they were wagging their tails, and seemed to be have a good time. When I ran out of treats, Maggie just strolled off and Honey charged Maggie’s side snarling and snapping. Maggie doesn’t do anything just keeps walking no revenge or fighting on Maggie’s part. Honey had done almost the same thing a few days back, when she did I just said no a tad bit louder than normal which did stop the interaction, but then it was a couple days before Honey recovered enough to be back to her normal self. Any suggestions how to be more, I guess proactive with the Honey kid.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Good question. When it does happen is there anything that you can notice to give you an idea of what provokes it? Are you sure it’s resource guarding? I forget-was Honey spayed already? Might she be going into heat again?

      (Without actually seeing the behavior myself) I’d try to avoid the raised voice. I’d interrupt the behavior instead. I’d use a conditioned reinforcer, a clicker, marker word, or her name, the sooner the better in the sequence of behavior (stare, head drop, movement, charge, contact or whatever it looks like). The idea is that instead of sounding angry you sound happy and the CR brings her back to you for her treat (so don’t run out!). You will be using classical conditioning to change how she feels about Maggie’s movement. The dog has to have very strong history with the CR so that as soon as you say or use it, the dog spins around and returns to you.

      Be sure to also reward Maggie for her continuing good behavior in response to Honey. This is an important piece of the equation to keep as is.

      Just some thoughts. See what happens if you try this. I use it a lot to stop my Annie from getting too aroused with other dogs.

  138. honeysjourney on

    Thank you so much, I will use her named before anything escalates. I can see she raises her butt fur a slight bit, funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I always do reward Maggie. I also noticed when Honey, the not spayed girl, does the charging she then looks at me(?) Could she be resource guarding me? I’m sure it’s resource guarding, because she only does it around her sanctuary which she is now expanding. She never does it in the kitchen when both dogs are together receiving their morning wake up goodies.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Could be you. You hold the food.

      Dogs can be very specific regarding stuff like this. When I had a mother/daughter pair of cockers the only place the daughter humped the mother was in the car.

    • fearfuldogs on

      When I first started dealing with Sunny’s hatred of old cocker Bugsy I was very aggressive in trying to stop him. It really made me mad and though it didn’t do any long term harm to our relationship, it also didn’t get him to stop. In our case it turned out that Bugsy was instigating the problem in many cases, either he doesn’t see or hear well enough to stop staring at Sunny when Sunny let him know to back off, or else he was doing it on purpose, either way, Sunny was going to win any ensuing altercation and there were a few bullying fights.

      I noticed that Sunny would give Bugs little muzzle punches, and so I marked and rewarded them, and they started to become controlled ‘target’ touches. And Bugsy’s approach became an opportunity to play the game. This would not necessarily work with all dogs, and could escalate the problem in some I suppose, but for us both dogs could handle the contact without it being a problem, both were interested in getting treats, so instead of guarding me when Bugs approaches Sunny can easily be flipped into playing the targeting game. The ‘problem’ has never completely gone away, there is still no love lost between them, but it’s easily managed, and I never leave them home alone with access to each other, just in case.

      I can also tell Sunny to ‘knock it off’ if he’s getting territorial about stuff. If he’s got something he’s guarding like a bone or food bowl I might take it away. I don’t do it angrily or loud. I don’t ever want to take away any communication he has to use. In his case he’s mostly just talk anyway.

      I think that our heightened energy is easily either misinterpreted by dogs, or just serves to get them more aroused as well. Like when I used to shout at my cockers to get them to stop barking, they’d stop for a moment, look at me and then it was as if they thought, wow she’s loud, we can be loud too!

      Just more thoughts. I like to see how I can manipulate their behavior without punishment.

  139. honeysjourney on

    Oh what fun car rides!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Wasn’t sure if it was just excitement or a bit of a power play. Mom was cool about it. Miss those dogs. Just normal, fun, easy to live with pups.

  140. honeysjourney on

    Sometimes it’s very confusing to both Maggie and me. When I leave the back door open, working to get Honey back inside, and Maggie happens to be in view, Honey will bark at Maggie to try and get her outside to play. Then other times it’s the snapping and charging not in a playful mood. When I’m treating them at the same time, Honey stands not more than a foot away and waits her turn for treats, first the Mag gets one then Honey and so that goes nicely.

    A second thing that is puzzling is: sometimes they are both outback and will play nicely and when Maggie stops playing, because of her bad back, Honey will run back to her kennel door and stand guard. Maggie will not pass the kennel door unless I stand between the two in order for Maggie to pass and come inside. Also Maggie doe not look at Honey unless they are playing. Maggie will not go outback unless I’m present, she chooses to potty in the side yard away from Honey’s kennel. Honey will come in the side yard and help Maggie piddle.

    • honeysjourney on

      Just a follow up, I tried something new a couple hours ago regarding the two. I let Maggie out which resulted in Honey coming to see what’s up. I just stood there with a high valued Honey treat in my hand and let things progress. Maggie wonder the entire place then headed back. All the while Honey just sat and watched my treat hand. As Maggie climbed the steps to go inside I dropped the treat for Honey and pronounced “good” and that was that. no big deal, so we’ll see.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Sometimes figuring out how to get the behavior we want to begin with (so we can reinforce it) is most of the battle! How about getting eye contact from Honey instead of her watching your hand?

  141. Donna and the Dogs on

    I’m so glad I found your blog and website and can’t wait to dig in and start doing some reading. We adopted a Vizsla who had been running wild in upstate NY for 3 years before she was captured. They felt she escaped her original owner at around 6 months old and was on her own ever since! She has improved drastically since we first adopted her in June, but there is always more to learn. I’m also going to add your blog to my blog roll, so others can find it too. Thanks for all your hard work!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I’ll be interested in hearing how it goes with your dog. By 6 months of age a dog should have already developed an attachment and ability to be cool with people. A dog that escaped from an owner and then chose not to seek out people has to make you wonder what skills they had to be comfortable with people to begin with. Then add to it 3 years with no work on those skills and you’ve got a project on your hands. But improvement (subtle as it may be) is always an option πŸ˜‰

      • Donna and the Dogs on

        It is a puzzle why she wouldn’t go to people. Many people were feeding her and trying to nab her, but Vizslas are fast! She even had pups while on the run, and she was captured 1X but scaled a fence and escaped again!

        She is a big time flight risk in new places and tends to completely shut down, unresponsive when frightened, but she is now very comfortable with us and in our home and our yard. We feel our other two dogs had a lot to do with this, as she tends to mimic.

        Here is some video of her if you are interested, it is from her first few months with us:

      • Debbie on

        I checked out the link but it didn’t look like a vizla.

        Sent from my iPod

  142. Donna and the Dogs on

    Hi. I didn’t realize the link took you right to my video channel – The video that comes up in the main screen is my dog Leah (also fearful, but not to the extent that Meadow is!)

    However, the link is still correct – Meadow’s four videos are located on the sidebar, “Introducing Meadow” is the first, followed by Months 2 – 4.

    Sorry for the confusion!

    • Donna and the Dogs on

      Just following up and wondering if you ever had a chance to check out Meadow’s vides (our Vizsla resuce), and if so, what you thought of our special girl?

      • fearfuldogs on

        I did watch some of the vids Donna, what a story! She’s quite a confident and biddable dog by the looks of it. The fellow working with her is so sweet. Can he come over and throw frisbees for Sunny?

  143. Donna and the Dogs on

    Glad you had a chance to see our sweet girl.

    LOL! That’s my husband in the videos – he adores our newest addition – and loves to play with the camera.

    Yes, Meadow is extremely biddable and intelligent, and she is adapting well to places that she is familiar with. The biggest fear issues we are having are changes in her environment(moved furniture, items out of place, etc.,), visiting new places, and loud noises like thunder or fireworks. Any of those trigger either a total shut down or a flight response, so we are trying to acclimate her slowly to new places and things, and just recently dug out a noise desensitization CD to try as well.

    I also wanted to say thank you for work you do to help fearful dogs and I look forward to checking out your book in the near future as well.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Does she react the same way to changes in the environment when she is outside?

      It’s not easy for us, who have spent our entire lives in houses to fully appreciate what it must be like for an animal that hasn’t. Sounds that we probably don’t hear, smells we likely don’t notice, etc. bombarding their nervous system. Look for speed of recovery, not just a decrease in response.

      • Donna and the Dogs on

        Interestingly, she doesn’t like changes outdoors – at least not to her people. For example, a few weeks ago I brought a mug of coffee outside to watch while my husband worked with her and she completely shut down. At first, we weren’t sure why she was not responding to him, and on a hunch, I placed the coffee mug on a table out of sight, and she was immediately back to her old self! She is a puzzle, this one. Thanks for the tip on watching for how fast she recovers, as well as the responses. I will keep that in mind.

  144. Lizzie on

    Hello Donna,

    Interesting reading about Meadow, she sounds very much like Gracie, my ex breeding Lab. She has the same flight or shut down behaviour outside when confronted with anything she can’t cope with, which is mainly people. She’s been with me for over two years and although she now lives a happy life around me and my husband, (to a lesser degree) her reactivity around others has barely altered.

    Needless to say I learnt very quickly, with the help of Debbie of course, not to put Gracie in situations that she couldn’t cope with and that’s really how I have to manage her day to day living.

    But interestingly she has other weird, to us, behaviour that is similar to Meadow’s. Her behaviour is obsessive and repetitive, and she likes me to be the same, even when I change my clothes she has to come and sniff me all over, if I have something in my hand she has to check it out. When I’ve been shopping or away from the house, if I’ve sat in a chair at the doctors or hairdressers, she knows and she’ll even back away from me until I reassure her that it is ME.

    She clearly sees the world through her nose and now that I’ve gotten used to her special little ways, it’s no big deal accepting her for the way that she is. As you say, they are a puzzle these fearful dogs, but mighty interesting too.

    Good luck with yours!

    • Donna and the Dogs on

      Hi Lizzie,

      I love Labs, we have one of them too – except, he’s my brave guy. So glad you found Debbie to help you with your Gracie. Her little quirks actually sound endearing! I definitely agree with accepting them for who they are, we knew what we were getting when we adopted Meadow, and have been working diligently to make her more happy with her world, but we know there is the possibility that she may never come fully around. Either way, she is loved, and no longer running wild in the woods, having pups, and getting hit by cars, so that’s really the most important thing.

  145. didiwright on

    Hi, Debbie! I’ve just given you an award for your awsome blog! You can pick it up at my blog: http://mylittledog.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/and-the-stylis…-award-goes-to/



  146. Donna and the Dogs on

    Hi. In one of your posts, you had recommended that I might consider medication for my dog who is extremely noise phobic. At the time I was not interested, but we just had a major setback because of a firework yesterday and we are now considering it. I have been reading about possibly trying Clomicalm for the thunderstorm – firework season, but was wondering if you had any other medicines that you would recommend I research and then speak with my vet about? Thank you so much for your time.

    • Donna and the Dogs on

      Hi Debbie Well, we ended up going with Fluxoteine, and I just wanted to let you know that Meadow has been on it two months, and has actually been doing phenomenal. I had hoped to see some change, and while she is not of course ‘cured,’ I have actually witnessed major change in my fearful dog. You and several other trainers suggested it was worth my time to give it a try, and I just wanted to say thank you. I really needed the push, and I’m so glad I got it when it was most needed. Thanks! – Donna

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Yay! Better living through chemistry. I wish more people would take advantage of the benefits these meds can have for fearful dogs.

  147. […] first response after speaking with my brother was to contact my friend, Debbie Jacobs, over at Fearfuldogs.com and share his story. I asked her to please continue to spread her […]

  148. Ruth on

    Anyone tried a Thundershirt or similar pressure product for thunderstorm, fireworks, or other anxiety?


    • Debbie on

      A thundershirt or other body wrap is worth a try. I use it with several sound or storm phobic dogs.

      Sent from my iPod

  149. Ruth on

    I saw this blog entry on Venice’s laid-back dog population and while I don’t think any place is a dog utopia free from fear, abuse or neglect from humans, or other mishaps of man or nature, thought I would pass it on: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/ny/at-europe/the-animals-that-rule-venice-italy-152116.

  150. Xavier on

    Hi. I have a question. There’s a stray dog that’s been sleeping near my neighbour’s house for about two weeks now. I’ve been feeding it and I’ve tried to convince it to stay in my house, but the dog is really afraid of most people (except my neighbour). I’ve been able to pet it for a few minutes and it knows that I’m going to feed it, so it follows me when I leave the house, but I can’t get it to stay in my house. It wants to stay in front of my neighbour’s house for some reason. (I think they feed it there too sometimes)

    I have a huge fence around my house, so I closed the main entrance to keep it inside the front yard, but I started almost howling because it wanted to leave and go back to my neighbour’s front yard. I think it’s a female and it already had puppies, but some cold-hearted freak just left her there. It looks like a young dog and it has wolf-like features.

    Please excuse my english if I wrote something wrong, I’m from Mexico.

    Should I keep feeding it? or is there something else I can do to make it stay in my house? … I can’t think of anything else to do and I hate watching the poor thing freezing on the street at night.

    Thanks in advance.


    • fearfuldogs on

      Feeding the dog is probably the only shot you have of winning her over. You might try splitting up the meals if it works for your schedule so that she comes into your yard more than just once or twice a day, gobbles up the food and leaves. Perhaps you can hand feed her, tossing or handing her bits of food to increase the amount of time you are in each others presence. Can you leave the entrance open so she can come in and know she can leave if she wants to? How about creating some kind of dog house or enclosure for her? Maybe the neighbors would let you put it in front of their house. It would also be good if you could have her spayed.

  151. dogdaz on

    I enjoy your blog and have awarded you a Versatile Blogger award: Her is a link to the post.

  152. For the Love of My Dogs on

    Hello! We found your blog through DogDaz and we love what you do for dogs πŸ™‚ We adopted a fear-aggressive Vizsla/Pit mix who came from a very bad past and was fear aggressive. Now though continuous training for months, she’s coming out of her shell! She loves dogs, cats and most people and we are working on the rest. It is sooo gratifying to see the change in dogs like this and we are so happy we have her. She’s truly amazing!
    Thanks for all you do to help dogs!!
    Our blog, http://loveofmydogs.com is our blog featuring my four rescue babies.

    Nice to meet you!
    -Deanna and the Crew: Harley, Scarlett, Chelsea and Roory

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to introduce yourself. I’m glad you enjoy my blog. You might also find ideas to help you with your dog on my website fearfuldogs.com

      Best to you and yours.

  153. Murphey on

    thank you
    finally got your writing, seeing you blog, etc for Madra, 6 month old Wheaton frighten by 3 screaming kids (ages 2 – 6) in his puppy home, where he was in a basement enclosure with very little human socialization
    has learned the NO command to a fault there and will find the farthest corner to get awayeven when it is not directed to him

    so we have just rescued him…saw his playful side with his 1st snow fall
    what a treat to see him go absolute devil-dog playful… hope springs
    as for ‘rewards” the playfulness and voice are coming

    but he will now take any ‘treats’ from hand, even in playful moments
    I feel it’s hard to reward only on the voice/hugs/petting level
    any suggestions

    • fearfuldogs on

      Do you mean he will ‘not’ take treats by hand? If that is the case try tossing the treat away from you. Say whatever happy words you’ve been using just before you toss it.

  154. Donna and the Dogs on

    Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I passed along the One Lovely Blog Award to you today at: http://www.donnaandthedogsblog.com/blogengine/post/A-Few-Fairly-New-%28and-some-overdue%29-Awards.aspx

  155. Trace on

    Back story: we got our girl from the rescue, who told us that she was 7 weeks old. The vet assessed her at 4 weeks. She had been attacked in the face by another dog, and she was extremely fearful. She would get triggered by something and throw herself into a paw sweating panic! Over the 8 months that I”ve had her, we’ve been able to work through her fears by addressing them head on. I realized that I could distract her from her fear,give her a job to focus on and she would settle down and either touch it or allow it to pass.

    We’ve not had an incident since the fall. Until three days ago. She backed herself into the electric fence we have for the poultry and was shocked. She wouldn’t let me near her.( It seems as if I become her most feared object when she gets in this state, even if I’m nowhere around when she is triggered .And, when it’s all over, she wants to be right beside me.) It threw her into a full paw sweating panic. She would be distracted by food or if one of the kids would call her to them, but I was the most feared. By late afternoon, she’d come around, and then she relaxed enough sit with me. But Tuesday, something scared her. Same pattern. Then again today. And, let me add…these are now things that would have never scared her before. And she acts petrified of me!!! Only me, no one else in the house.

    So we are back to square one? Probably not, but it sure feels that way right now. I’ve read several books on fearful dogs ( I think all that are available!), and we are following the protocols. She isn’t aggressive at all…she shuts down completely. I don’t baby her, and I won’t let any one else do so either . I make her come outside or go in her kennel, just as I ask our other dog to do. I am trying not to take it all personally, but wow! My question is this: Why am I the source of fear for her??

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hello! First caveat emptor, I haven’t seen your dog or you with your dog. While I am all too willing to share my thoughts with you, finding a good trainer with a solid foundation in reward based training methods is probably a good idea.

      A couple of thoughts come to mind given what you’re written. They may be or are connected. When something scares us, anything associated with that event, whether it contributed directly or not to the fright, can cause a fear response in the future. So the smell of a particular food may cause us to feel sick even if it was a flu bug that prompted nausea and vomiting in the past. It’s the same kind of conditioning that Pavlov wrote about. Anything closely associated with either a reward or punishment, will elicit the response of the actual reward or punishment. So you being there whenever something really scary has happened created this association with the dog.

      Your mention of not ‘babying’ the dog sends up a red flag for me. What most people mean when they say this is that they do not protect their dog from things that scare them. Essentially the dog is expected, with the skills for it or not, to interact with ‘triggers’. In some cases a dog will learn that those triggers are harmless, but for dogs with phobias they can become even further sensitized to them. Dogs are not in cognitive control over their emotions (neither are we most of the time, as attested to by your comment about trying not to take the dog’s response personally). If something scares them, it scares them, period. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t hurt them or has never hurt them. Plenty of people break into a cold sweat at the sight of a spider or snake, and never had a bad experience with one. Simply exposing a dog to things or situations that scare them and expect them to learn to ‘deal’ with it is risky. There are dogs who despite the outward appearance of being able to perform all the tasks we ask of them, are walking on an emotional tight rope. They’re coping, but not all that well. It doesn’t take much for them to go tumbling down.

      It sounds as though at this point you are a ‘trigger’ for this dog and should probably take a step back and slowly begin to gain her trust again. Every time a dog repeats a behavior or emotional response it only helps to beat down, so to speak, the neural pathways associated with those responses making them more likely to occur, and more efficiently, in the future.

  156. Trace on

    Thanks for the reply, Debbie. I’ll clarify some points. First, I only train my dogs only using positive reinforcement. I’ve had dogs my whole life, but this is my first fearful dog.

    Second, I think my choice of using the phrase “I don’t baby her” was not a wise choice. What I meant by that is that I won’t reward her behavior of cowering or turning her head away from me. But if she looks at me, I give a reward mark and a treat. I definitely go to great lengths to protect her from what scares her…I spent yesterday ripping out the poultry fence and replacing it with a wire fence. (And I understand you meant no criticisms…you don’t know me.) What I do allow is for her to express her fear, but I try to not let her become consumed by it, ie cowering and shaking in her crate. I try to redirect her thoughts by playing some games with my other puppy, and then she tentatively comes out to play. I never expect her to “deal” with anything….I work really hard to prepare her for situations that may scare her or worry her. Usually, if I notice either dog getting close to the fence, I will say “OUCH!” And that’s the command to stop and look at me. Then I call them to me. I missed her over there because I was picking weeds.

    I get your idea re: me being a trigger…and it unfortunately includes our other pup. He’s was outside with us when the incident occurred. I’ve not been forcing a separation, but I encourage it by sending him off to another room.

    What tugs at my emotional string is that I have woken up the past three mornings with her plastered to my side. (They sleep in our room with their crate doors closed but not locked.) She’ll sigh, lick my face, and then we start another day. This morning was a much better and she asked me to take her out. So, we go onward….and I so appreciate your input.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It often just takes time for a dog settle back down. My own dog, who was very confident got zapped by a neighbor’s fence and refused to even turn in the direction of the house, 1/2 mile away for weeks when we went for walks.

      Are you familiar with the Look At That game?

      One thing that may be helpful to keep in mind is that we often get caught up in thinking about ‘behavior’ -rewarding it or punishing it. However when working with fear based behavior issues we may be better off not focusing on the behavior, so for example if a dog barks or growls at something, or turns away from us, instead of waiting for an appropriate behavior to reward, we can seize the opportunity to counter condition and affect the emotional response. Change the emotion and we often see changes in the behavior.

      It sounds as though you’ve been working really hard with your dog. Hopefully this latest glitch will be over soon. Dogs don’t ever completely ‘forget’ when something scary happened to them, but if they can begin to repeat other behaviors and continue to build skills they can cope and it takes a lot more pressure to see the original fear reaction again.

  157. Dai-Z Doodle on

    Hi Debbie,

    I came upon your blog while searching for information on dog anxiety. Really great information! I am hoping you can shed some light on my issue.

    Here’s the background: We purchased a 1 year old female mini schnauzer 2 years ago. Since practically the day we got her home, she has reacted with barking, charging behavior, and nips at the pant leg – toward my son, just about any male that walks into the house, and any female that walks into the house unless the female is a repeat visitor and she gets to know them.

    She behaves better when I am not home – she will let my son leash her for walks, etc, with minimal to no growling, barking or lunging. But when I am home or my daughter is home, she exhibits those bad behaviors. She is so reactive to his presence that if he pulls into the driveway and/or hears the beep for his car alarm, she immediately starts barking. If he opens his bedroom door to come downstairs, she immediately starts barking.

    We have had 2 trainers come to evaluate her and give us behavior modification suggestions. In all honestly, our follow through and consistency is far from stellar (and I KNOW that’s a problem). These suggestions included calm stroking to quiet the dog, clicker/reward training, and a sort of repetitive behavior exercise where she would approach me several times in a row with the dog at our feet, sometimes behaving badly, until that behavior subsided. She also suggested a broom stomped in front of her (as she seems to be fearful of brooms) when my son approached, which really didn’t work.

    I believe that my son needs to be an active participant in her rehabilitation, (I could be wrong about that) but at this point is not really invested. And though I admit this is a lame excuse, finding a time when we are all available is really hard to do. My kids are 19 and 22, have jobs, social lives, etc.

    We have since gotten another mini schnauzer – a male dog, what I call the consolation puppy – for my son. We got him from a different breeder, but a local competitor, of the breeder we got our female from. Making a very long story short, the breeder we got the male from said that we should consider ourselves having rescued the female. It seems evident to me that something happened to her before we got her to trigger this behavior.

    What I am trying to understand is whether or not I have an anxious dog, a fearful dog, a reactive dog, or all of the above. Because I feel that I can’t really begin to modify her behavior until I kow what she really is.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You have brought up a very good point, one which many owners ponder, but which I can assure you doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. The definitions of fearful, anxious, shy, reactive, timid, aggressive may have text book explanations in a psychology manual, but ultimately how we label the dog is less important than how we respond to them. And how we respond to a dog with ANY of these labels is very much the same if we are using modern behavior mod methods to change how the dog reacts. But the point you bring up is important, HOW WE THINK about a behavior effects how we respond.

      I would recommend that you think about this dog as being fearful. Certain people scare her. She may then behave in a reactive, aggressive way. Certain things in the environment may cause her to feel anxious in anticipation of being exposed to the things that are scaring her. Why she behaves the way she does may always be a mystery, and again does not really change how we work with the dog. It can affect the progress a dog is capable of, but the process is remains the same.

      What to do? Find a good trainer. Easier said than done, I know, sounds like you’ve been trying. Maybe one of the trainers you have found does know what’s going on and your expectations for the dog are unrealistic and implementation of what has been recommended has not been adequate. I couldn’t say. I can say that you should not do anything that scares the dog into stopping their behavior. This is a quick, usually ineffective in the long run, fix. It also can contribute to making the problem worse. If every time stinky aunt Jane comes over and you don’t want to be hugged and kissed by her, you might stop crying and making a fuss because mom and dad slap you and make you do it, it doesn’t make you feel any better about aunt Jane. As soon as you have the chance you are either going to avoid any situation which might include an interaction with aunt Jane or one day you may decide to give her a pop in the nose when she leans in for a kiss.

      To help any dog with fear issues we must first make sure they feel safe and we help them build the skills they need to be able to behave appropriately around triggers. Our goal of having them end up loving triggers may never be realized, but they can learn to feel comfortable and confident around them. I do offer phone consultations if that’s something you’d like to consider πŸ˜‰

  158. Dai-Z Doodle on

    Hi Debbie,

    Thanks so much for your quick response. I understand everything that you stated above, and I appreciate you setting me straight. In addition, let me just say that I have spent the better part of my morning here at work reading through everything on your ‘About the Blogger’ page (and NOT getting any work done). Not done yet, and still need to tackle the archives! But I have learned more than I have from anyone else.

    I understand that part of my problem is acceptance. Acceptance that I will likely never have a dog that will be normal. But I can actually be OK with that. There is also great comfort in knowing that I am not the only one out there. It seems we all set out with expectations high with the hopes that the dog we are getting will be happy, outgoing, great with people, a pleasure to walk, etc. You never expect to end up with a dog that just may not be quite ‘right in the head’. But my daughter and I love Daisy, quite unconditionally, and she it truly a great little dog when no one else is around ;).

    Just wanted to add a few other things about her behavior. She can be left with other people to watch her and she does OK. Prefers to be around the woman and not the man, but she manages it with no obvious regression in her behavior.

    When I take her for her vet visits, she cannot be examined with me present. She exhibits the same lunging and nipping behavior. The vet can take her out of the room and examine her with no problems, and return with her in her arms. What is that?? Protective behavior?

    On walks she gets very excited when she sees another dog, to the point where she pulls and tugs at the leash. But when we get up close and the sniffing starts, she immediately becomes the submissive. As for the neighbors dog next door (a much bigger chesapeake bay retriever) she ignores him entirely. When people approach she is very growly and pulls and would lunge if I didn’t have the leash completely choked up in my hand, or cross the street entirely. But on rare occasions she keeps herself in check. Yet she seems to do better with my daughter. I can’t help but think that I am a lot of the problem, yet I don’t know exactly what I’m doing wrong.

    She does OK with the new dog. They often play and rough house, and this was great to see when he came along. But if he climbs up on me or wants to greet me when I get home, she goes after him. Not in a harmful way..there’s never biting, but she gets growly and all up in his face. We have tried (but as usual, not followed through with) having treats at the ready by the front door, so the barking and jumping is replaced with good ‘sits’ and ‘downs’ and treat reward. We need to do that more.

    Is there a difference between a dog behaviorist and a dog trainer? Because after reading what I’ve read so far here on your website, it seems I really need someone who understands the fearful dog. I could go back and speak with the trainers I worked with in the past, but I am feeling like I need to go in a different direction. And yes, I think I could be very interested in a phone consult. πŸ™‚

    I will also say that she does pretty well with clicker/tasty treat/reward based training. We have tried it with her in the past (of course, not following through…see a theme yet?) When we tried to clicker train the puppy, it was she who responded more immediately to the click. She comes running before he does. So maybe with the appropriate behavior modification techniques, we can pick up where we left off with the clicker. I just don’t know where to start in terms of those behavior modifications.

    You said above that we must first make sure they feel safe, and that made me start to think about what safe REALLY means. She is very much loved by my daughter and I. She has a warm home, is fed and watered, walked and run outside daily, and has been taught the basic commands. She is snuggled and rubbed and kissed to a nauseating degree. But does that really equal safe? I think it equals loved and well care for. Can she ever really feel safe as long as my son is in the house and appears to cause so much anxiety within her? Or when anyone walks in the house? How do I begin break that cycle? I have a lot to learn about having a fearful dog.

    Thanks again for your response and this so very informative blog. I actually feel that a bit of a weight has been lifted. And my name is Jodi πŸ™‚

  159. Banu Qureshi on

    Hi Debbie,

    I have been fostering a fearful dog since January 2012. She is a purebred smooth collie who was sold by her Tennessee based breeder at 14 months to a family of four, who had no idea what they were getting. She escaped and was caught by animal control twice, the second time with a broken leg, probably from being hit by a car. So they gave her up to the local collie rescue less than two months after getting her. She just turned two years old and has made a lot of progress with leash walking (I don’t have a fenced-in yard) and is generally very calm indoors as long as she is in her safe zone, a large comfy open-door crate, in the middle of the room where up to 7 other dogs live depending on how many I am fostering at the time.

    Early on, I was giving her natural OTC products, bought a DAP diffuser, gave her the rescue remedy drops, and calming pills and chews and treats, etc… but, as you can imagine, it got expensive, and I didn’t see marked results. She attended 4 days of a 6-day T-Touch seminar in June, and next week, I am signed up for another one, so that is really good for her (and me too!).

    Mostly she has trust issues with people. When I am not in the dog room, she will come out of her crate and shyly interact with the other dogs, and she seems to adore puppies (not boisterous ones). But if I want to pet her, I have to work my way up the leash, trading off between tension and loose-leash (tension to approach, loose-leash to reward), and move sideways with no eye contact and then reach out to the absolute end of my reach and start to slowly tickle her or T-Touch her, or pet her. She does like the petting, and occasionally will lean just a tiny bit into the petting hand, especially if I am doing T-Touch. But if I stop, she doesn’t prompt for more. I was not trying to pet her much for the first 5 months, and didn’t have much time to work with her over the summer, but this month, I am carving out time almost daily to habituate her to petting so that she becomes just a bit more adoptable, since Fall is the busiest adoption time. The only reinforcer I can use is a bit of verbal praise (doesn’t do much), placing treats or dinner inside her crate and then moving away, and unclipping her lead indoors to let her slip into her safe zone. Otherwise, she won’t take food (not chicken, hot dogs, cheese, liver) from the hand, toys, or petting as potential reinforcers.

    Obviously I am going to be a real stickler about screening her potential adopters, and I have a thorough description of her on Petfinder, as well as “what Kylie needs” guidelines, but I am wondering if I should consider putting her on meds. I am generally not a big fan of meds for dogs and kids, unless it is really necessary, but this summer, I put an extremely anxious foster dog on Chlomicalm, and it really helped. She is getting adopted this weekend (yay!) to a pretty knowledgeable couple, who loves everything about her, and is ok with continuing her behavior work. And I know that the Chlomicalm will be a big aid in helping the dog through the transition of rehoming. So, now I’m thinking, maybe the collie could use something too, even though when she is indoors in her safe zone, she is very calm and seems to be having a good quality of life. Before I go through the expense of visiting a veterinary behaviorist (I have covered everything out of my own pocket so far), I thought I would ask you if you have any suggestions or recommendations for a dog who is generally fearful of humans and human touch, and when outside, is a bit oversensitive to stimuli (generator noise, leaves blowing, airplanes overhead, people walking outside, loud cars/trucks going past) causing her to pace, head-bob, pull back on the leash, try to escape, etc…


    • fearfuldogs on

      Sounds like a very difficult to place dog. Most people will not fully understand what they are getting into, nor are they likely to be able to help her develop the skills she needs.

      I would speak with a regular vet, they are generally less expensive than a vet behav, and ask about behavioral medications. If you buy them in generic form from an online pharmacy like costco.com or big box store they are quite inexpensive, often less than $20 a month for many dogs. Meds do not fix fearfulness but unless a dog can perform behaviors we can’t start rewarding them. I’m going to guess that praise is not a potent enough reward for effective counter conditioning.

      Few of us who use meds with our dogs are ‘fans’ of them, but we are fans of the positive impact they can have.

      If you haven’t yet you might look at the blog posts in the Nibbles category. Several have videos. It’s good of you to take this dog on. I hope you can find ways to help her feel safe and learn new skills.

  160. Banu Qureshi on

    Thanks Debbie. I will try the regular vet first. I have been watching all of your videos of Nibbles. Very cute little guy. I had not thought of putting PB on my finger to lick off, but that is something I could try. Only thing is, it would require her being very close to me, so I would have to work my way there. Next week is the TTouch training seminar, so I will see how much progress we make. My main goal right now is having her take treats readily, so that I can start using that as a reinforcer.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      One of the benefits of being in a confined area with a crate to retreat to is that Nibbles understood that I would not be able to touch him. I think this helped him get close enough to do the finger targeting work.

  161. Ruth on

    Hi, I apologize if you have covered this idea/project. (I didn’t see a search function on your blog, so could not check for previous coverage.) A note about The Yellow Dog Project (http://theyellowdogproject.com/The_Yellow_Dog_Project/Home.html) was shared by a friend of mine on facebook. I decided to tie a little yellow ribbon on my reactive dog’s leash, though it is too early to know if people get the meaning.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Ruth, I am familiar with the yellow dog project. It’s a good idea but it’s no replacement for an owner being responsible for their dog. If the yellow ribbon is the catalyst for a conversation about why a dog needs space, that’s great, so long of course that the conversation can be had without stressing out the dog needing space. πŸ˜‰

  162. Lori (Bella's Mom) on

    I just found your site. I plan on reading it “cover-to-cover.” I have a 62 lb, almost 7 year old boxer/chow who is affraid of just about everything including feathers lying on the ground :). I’ve had her since she was about 4 weeks old, so she’s never been abused; but the environment she came from was loud and dirty and chaotic. I cannot leave her with anyone or have anyone come in to walk/feed her — it’s too stressful. An old neighbor and I used to trade off taking care of each others dogs with no problem but we have both moved. Once she knows you, she will love you forever — it just can take a long time for her to be comfortable.

    • fearfuldogs on

      So glad you found my blog Lori and I hope you check out fearfuldogs.com as well. Sorry to hear that Bella has so many challenges but hopefully you’ll get some ideas for ways to make her life easier for her.

  163. Jessica Farmer on

    My boyfriend and I have 3 dogs; a 4 year old English Springer Spaniel, Male, named Leo; a 3 year old German Short haired pointer mix, female, named Pepper; and a 1 year old lab mix, male, named Hide. About 3 months ago Leo and Pepper got in a fight about a bone. Leo was chewing on the bone and Pepper wanted it and tried to take it away, all of a sudden they are in a massive dog fight resulting in a huge chunk of Pepper’s forearm missing and a ton of stitches. After the fight they were fine, snuggling on the couch together even. Last night after installing a dog door into our garage and training them how to go though it with treats on the other side, both dogs tried to enter the dog door at once, realized they both couldn’t fit and broke out into a fight again, this time again resulting in 2 big gashes in Pepper’s forearm. And again resulting in them snuggling on the couch after. Meanwhile, Hide is just cowering in the corner the whole time. I am in desperate need of help. Pepper and Hide are both rescues from the humane society and Leo is pure breed. We really don’t even know what to do about this. People have told us to get rid of one of them, its like getting rid of child. That is not an option for us.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s not unusual for dogs to have fights, often looking and sounding very scary, but without any harm done, because each dog inhibits their biting so as not to inflict any damage. That is obviously not the case here. Find a trainer locally who can help you come up with management and training plans for your dogs. It’s likely you are going to see this kind of behavior again if conditions arise that are upsetting to one, or the other, or both dogs. You also need to be aware of how this might be effecting Hide. It is a tough situation and I understand your distress. You should look for a trainer with solid skills in reward based training methods. You don’t want to add any more stress to the household by starting to punish or insert some kind of dominance hierarchy into the mix. At this point you need to look at how to manage the dogs so that they are not put into situations in which this is likely to happen again. There are no magic cures for this. Management is where I’d start.

      If this is a new behavior for the dogs you should have a complete vet check up done, with blood work. A dog who isn’t feeling well may be more reactive than they normally would be. Rule out diseases, infections and thyroid imbalances. Keep an eye open for any ‘odd’ behavior however insignificant it might be. It might be a clue indicating something to a vet.

  164. Laura Bailey on

    I love your blog. However, I’ve been searching – with no luck – for guidance in one particular area regarding fearful dogs. If we cannot find help soon we will have to euthanize our beautiful Jack Russell.

    Our dog is fearful, hair-trigger explosive, reactive and aggressive – but WE’RE the ones he bites. Since we adopted him in May 2012, he’s bitten me four times. All of the bites broke the skin. He’s bitten my partner Christopher twice, and air snapped many ties. Two of my bites were severe enough to require stitches, and I’ll have scars.

    A bit of history: We adopted Linus because he bit me, and we knew we couldn’t re-home him. We committed to helping him overcome his fear aggression. At the time of adoption, we knew nothing about dogs (I foster cats) and when he came to us, I agreed to foster him for a friend. He’d been found in a nearby creek bed, nearly drowned. I now realize that when he arrived, Linus was “frozen.” He was with us for about three weeks as a foster and during that time we both fell in love.

    I’d just lost my mother, and Linus brought a little joy back into my life. I was so grateful to him.

    Anyway, he started demonstrating aggression after a few weeks, as he “thawed out.” The first time he bit me, we were trying to fit him with a gentle leader. It was then that we decided to keep him – we knew we could not re-home him. He’d be abused or euthanized.

    After that first bite, and after we decided to keep him,I began to research training obsessively. The most common training advice was brutal: dominate, alpha roll, shock, pinch, restrain, etc. Chris and I were both shocked. This advice seemed so misguided and counterproductive that I couldn’t understand where it came from,and why it made sense to so many people.

    We soon learned that we were the only ones advocating for our dog, and it was up to us to find proper, productive training methods. I continued to read obsessively about dog behavior, training,and then found positive reinforcement training. I learned of Cesar Milan (I don’t have cable, so I’d never seen the so-called “Dog Whisperer” in action. I admit, I have developed a profound hatred for Milan, whose brutal techniques were likely used by Linus’ “before-us people,” and probably caused Linus’ fear in the first place.

    Reams of advice exists on dogs who fear cars, other dogs, noise, other people, strangers, etc. However, nobody talks about training a fearful dog that bites its owners. Linus is so anxious that he cannot learn, at this point. So far medications haven’t worked.

    Now, our vet behaviorist is trying a second medication (generic celexa) after a fluoxetine/buspirone combo failed . Indeed, after she doubled the fluoxetine in one day, it caused a serotonin reaction that resulted in severely heightened aggression and rendered Linus virtually unapproachable. During that horrible couple days, our vet behaviorist wasn’t available to advise us. After two days, we made an executive decision to stop the double dose, immediately. Again, it seemed we were Linus’ only advocates. I couldn’t help wonder why she didn’t get back to us immediately.

    Our cats live in the basement now. (We are repared to re-home them, as they can be re-homed, but Linus cannot.) We live in a state of anxiety and stress, which of course affects Linus. Positive reinforcement behavioral techniques have helped immensely, and I can read Linus’ body language a mile away. For the most part we know his triggers.

    However, we still cannot predict all of them, or when he’ll explode. And that is the only way to describe it – explosive.

    Two days ago, he exploded again, biting my hand deeply as I rounded a corner. I did not see him and approached him on an angle. So, my bad. However, other times we can approach him, slowly, from behind, and he’s learned that it’s OK.

    We cannot continue to live with this kind of reactivity. He gives us no warning – no growl, snarl, etc. We’ve nothing to reward, because there’s no “in-between” behavior. The biting makes it impossible to reinforce positive behavior, because there’s no “below threshold” from which to work.

    He’s afraid of the clicker noise. We cannot get a basket muzzle on him, nor can we fit him with a halter for walks. I’m worried about his trachea because he pulls so hard. He loves walks, and we take him on at least three, sometimes four, a day. He’s MUCH better, much more relaxed and happy, when he’s outside. We don’t have a fenced yard, and cannot afford one.

    I wish we lived someplace where he could run and run, and perhaps outrun his demons.

    I love this dog so much, as does Chris. We’re willing to work with him, and we have. However, we’re at impasse. Sooner or later Linus will bite one of us in the face. One of us will lose an eye, or worse. Linus does not nip. He bites as hard as he can bite. He doesn’t hold, latch on, or thrash, but it’s still extremely damaging.

    Our fear of him is beginning to outweigh our confidence that we can help him overcome his past – the brutality that I know he must have endured to cause this behavior. Our gentleness and love are unwavering, but we’re both beginning to fear him so much that we have discussed the unthinkable – having him euthanized. The thought of it nearly makes me vomit.

    What does one do with a dog like Linus?

    Thank you for any help, or advice. Because he is biting, we do not have a lot of time. We have unending patience, but this situation is urgent.

    (I have started a blog about Linus, which gives a bit more background.
    However, I’m so devastated over this last incident that I cannot even write about it.)


    Laura Bailey


  165. Annie on

    Hi Debbie,
    I came here because I have a wonderful dog I rescued a year and a half ago named Bella. She is terrified of thunder and gun shot noises. I have tried the thundershirt, pills the vet gave me, massage, really the list could go on for miles. I tried a thunder tape played for an hour while giving treats and love and guess what? She knows it is a tape, she knows it is not thundering, so it has no effect. Here in Taos we have thunder all Summer and now facing another Summer I am desperate to find a way to help Bella. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
    Annie Coe
    You can reach me through my blog, http://blissful-bohemian.blogspot.com/

    • fearfuldogs on

      I apologize for not seeing your comment for so long. It ended up in the spam folder for some reason.

      I do have a link on the fearfuldogs.com website for info about storms and sound phobias. And I’m working with another trainer to come up with a webinar. We’re trying to have it ready before thunderstorm season starts up here in the northeast.

  166. Pam Garland on

    I’m thankful I found this site. My reactive, fear agressive dog has become a biter (not a nipper but a bite till the end dog). I’m working on changing his reactions but when he sees someone he is fearful of and that person( a part of his everyday life) is not willing to make changes for a dog I think that the solution (for now) is to keep him in a “safe room.” How do I make seeing this person a good experience? Would being in a room and giving him treats every time she walks in be a way of doing this? He does have an expensive behaviorist who has yet to actually address this issue instead focusing on the training of him. However, he is trained and he still reacts so I need a backup plan for now. Also, is there a point where a dog cannot be helped? How would I know what that point is? He does not try to hurt me, only people he feels are a threat to me (angry or tense people).

    • fearfuldogs on

      There are certainly things you can do to try to change inappropriate behavior. You need to get your head around triggers, thresholds, desensitization and counter conditioning. It’s best if you have the support and coaching of a trainer skilled in reward based training. It’s rarely as simple as giving a dog treats in the presence of a trigger. If you’d like to schedule a time for a phone consultation with me, I’m happy to help you arrange that. You can also visit fearfuldogs.com for more info.

  167. lvitanova on

    I’m wondering if you can point me to some specific posts on your blog or other resources about bringing home a very timid rescue dog for the first time. We are finalizing our new puppy’s adoption and will hopefully be able to bring her home in a week. We are trying to arm ourselves with as much information as possible before we actually bring her home. We would like to make her transition from her foster home to us as smooth as possible with as little stress as possible. She is very people shy but seems to do well with her foster dogs. We’d like to do all the right things in the first weeks of getting her acclimated to her new home so that she feels comfortable and safe without overwhelming her.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Check out fearfuldogs.com for lots of information to help you understand how we help these dogs feel safe and learn new skills.

  168. Mike on

    Hi, great blog and a great cause.

    We took on a very scared 1 year old rescue dog. The vet said he had probably been abused including kicking when younger as a rib bone was mis-aligned, He originally cowered if you went near him (an indications of being beaten) – which was heart breaking – and although he started to trust us more and more within weeks by using only reward based methods, it was three years before that ingrained cowering response was completely gone.
    We’ve had the dog 12 years now, and he’s been a fantastic companion.

    If you haven’t seen it before, this website has some interesting and relevant info from the main UK animal welfare charities:

  169. Beth on

    We just rescued an Aussie mix female, and her half brother who definitely has lab in him. They just turned 7 months and are adjusting very well to their new home and family except for the girl, Maddie. She is afraid of my husband and will bark and even growl at him. She will run out of the room when he first comes into it. She has on an occasion or two allowed my husband to pet her, but overall seems quite scared of him. I’m very concerned that this behavior will only escalate, and I’m looking for suggestions on what we can do to make her less afraid of him. Her half brother has no problems at all with my husband.

    • fearfuldogs on

      You are right to be concerned. Fear can easily morph into aggression. Please visit the fearfuldogs.com website for more information on how to deal with your dog in relation to your husband. Bottomline is she’s afraid and he has to stop scaring her (not that he’s trying!!) and you have to counter condition his appearance. To start, he should just ignore her.

  170. Brittney on

    Hi Debbie,

    I stumbled upon your blog and fearfuldogs.com this morning and they are just great! I’ll definitely be reading a lot the next few days to gain some more knowledge for my fearful girl. One thing I can never find a lot on is dealing with people with a fearful dog. How do you get people to understand what your dog needs to feel safe when being introduced to new people? When I tell people what to do and they listen, she is like a completely different, confident dog. When they don’t listen, which is usually the case, she is nervous and tries to flee then people tend to make it worse in one way or another. The people that tend to not listen seem to think they know best, but usually have no knowledge of behaviour or dogs. Any suggestions or suggested reads? Thanks!

    • fearfuldogs on

      All you can do is be directive. If someone is not likely or proves to be unable to behave as requested, end the encounter. I will coach people who seem like good candidates for this. I will tell them just a few simple instructions: do not talk to him (I even tell people his name is Bosco, it’s not, but if they say it, it means nothing to him), do not try to touch him, and if they catch his eye turn their head. Then I watch and manage.

  171. dogsliketraining2013 on

    So nice to see people like you out there who truly care about dogs and their well being! There are many of us, but clearly not enough or the cycles of abuse/ crowded SPCAS would be a thing of the past. I have worked with rescues over thirty years and try to give special attention in my classes to those with troubled dogs. We work with that dog’s fears to overcome by giving a class designed for them. Recently a young couple signed up with a huge dog from Louisiana puppy mill. He lived his first year or so of his life in these deplorable conditions and then went on to be locked in more cages at various SPCAS. Well here he is now over two and does not even know how to sit and is afraid of the outside world. I am happy(actually delirious) to say that this couple worked so hard and he just passed his Novice Obedience. He no longer has to be carried in and out of the car, doesn’t poop when he hears a noise. I gave them the tools and they did all the work. Keep up the good work and please follow my blog as well. I love to read what other trainers are doing and we often bounce ideas off each other. Bless you!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reading and good luck with your work helping these special needs dogs.

  172. danikaharrison on

    I’ve been reading your blog and really love what your doing! I’ve added your link to my website http://www.trickmypup.org(also wordpress blog). Keep up the good work!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks! Good luck with your site. Trick training is all training! πŸ˜‰

  173. Katja on

    Debbie, love the blog and it’s really helpful. You are talking a lot about medication, is there any resource on medication for fearful dogs? I think we are at a point were we have to try it for Sammy, purely positive training for nearly a year as helped to make progress, but not much and he still is often to stressed to keep on learning, even though we are very careful to manage his environment. It also changes on a daily basis, what is ok on one day scares him the next, even in the house, example broom: normally by now no problem, today he started to cower in a corner.I have a great vet here, but he is no behaviorist and therefor I want to do my own research.
    Thanks for any help or tips you can give.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks for writing Katja, glad the blog is helpful. The best resource is a vet or vet behaviorist. If your vet is not experienced they can consult with a vet behaviorist. There are meds that are available from vets and they are worth trying, though many of the meds used by people are also being used for dogs. Some vets are more comfortable than others trying them. But they should have info about Reconcile and Clomicalm since they’re packaged for dogs.

  174. Katja on

    Dear Debbie,

    Thank you very much for your reply.
    I’m living in the UAE and there is no vet behaviorist around. He is happy to prescribe Clomicalm, but I wanted to see if I can find more literature or other resources about medication.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      You’re welcome. Not sure what I shared earlier but Dr. Karen Overall’s book is one that many vets have.

  175. Katja on

    I just ordered the book, was on my to read list anyway.
    First day for Sammy today in doggie day care and finally found a place who would cater to his needs. We only spend an hour there, but he did pretty good. Keep fingers crossed, the problem with him is that I never know how the next day will be.

    Thanks again for all your help.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Hopefully as time goes by you will begin to see patterns and won’t be taken as much by surprise.

  176. KDKH on

    Looks like its award season again! I’ve nominated you for the Liebster award. I’d love for you to participate, but don’t mind if you don’t. It’s just a way for me to introduce my blogging friends to each other. http://peacewithmylife.com/2014/01/26/looking-for-my-liebchen/

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thank you that’s very nice of you!

  177. Musa on

    I need help with my puppy. When i picked her up from a farm full of dogs because they were going to impound them she was very friendly and happy to greet me as a stranger, tail wagging and ears down. I took her home to our city life, she is wonderful at home with the family greets all of us and plays with us all and licks us all over our faces. She seems good with dogs seeing as she always greets the neighbors dog and shows no fear even though it is a huge mastiff and even makes the mastiff roll over or cry. But she is scared of all strangers. Especially men. When strangers come over she sounds the alarm which is fine and awesome but is scared to approach and bolts when coming close to a stranger on walks. She sits or runs nervously. Never showed signs of aggression or attack, but barks when strangers or dogs trespass onto our property which is good to me. She doesn’t bark anywhere else, I honestly would rather see her bark at strangers on walks then to see her cower, I just don’t like seeing her scared. All i do is keep walking pulling the leash and saying no when she shows fear. No other problems at all. Just strangers. What should i do when she shows this re-activeness when we are walking to help her overcome this ? She walks with me just fine anywhere and eats from anyone but doesn’t like coming close to strangers or contacting. 6 month old akc Akita. She came untrained and socialized to one family and was living in a kennel. She sleeps anywhere in my room she chooses, eats healthy, does all basic commands and I didn’t even have to house-train her.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Please visit my website fearfuldogs.com for more information about how best to help dogs like yours. I also offer phone or Skype consults if that is ever of interest to you.

  178. Blair on

    Hey there! I adopted my dog just over 2 years ago! When I adopted her, she was extremely people shy, and your website was one of the places I checked out to help correct her behavior. Happily, she turned out to be a great dog and has MINIMAL issues these days! At any rate, since I adopted her, I’ve been fostering fairly actively for our local shelter, and I started a blog to chronicle my adventures, as well as advocate for responsible pet ownership. It would be so great if you could check out my blog,and perhaps even guest write a post! I’m looking to reach out and connect with others in the animal rescue/animal advocacy community, and I’m keen on getting some other voices on my blog. Please let me know your thoughts, and thanks again for all the great work you do!

  179. myveganvalentine on

    Hey there! I stumbled upon your blog just today and I fell in love with the positive, helpful advice. Keep up the good work! I myself have a rescue dog who I am still rehabilitating her to a point where she can live life without fear. It’s a difficult journey, but I trust it will be fruitful in the end.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Be sure to visit the fearfuldogs.com website as well for more info!

  180. Jenny H on

    I am VERY pleased to be here.

  181. sisterswithpaws on

    OK, so, reading your blogs, I discover your name is Debbie. I believe you to be the living example of how most people can learn to play the piano but not everyone will have what it takes to be a concert pianist. I believe you to be the gifted concert pianist. You take the time to add a lot more important advice as a dog trainer than merely dog training. Many going through a lot of confusion, frustration, and desperation need more than just dog training advice. We are so thankful to have someone who truly understands to vent to, to cry to, to share with, but someone who gets it and who takes the time to share or be totally supportive. You take the time to also listen to what the pet owners are going through. That makes you even more valuable and needed. I simply feel you are in the niche you were born to do!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I feel that way too sister! I am glad that my experience can support others on the journey.

  182. sisterswithpaws on

    Emotional support for the mind broken pet owners is just as needed and just as important for those who took on owning, adopting, or figuring out the gravity of taking on a fear based rescued dog. I believe once that is conquered we become just as I’m powered to offer the same support and understanding to others just starting to go through the same emotional drama roller coaster ride we, veterans, initially went through—for those who finally got over that hump of the worst of it, for others, I totally understand not wanting to “go there” and relive a lot of it over again, because it is a very emotional experience, and sometimes costly, in many ways.

    I simply feel like I got free awesome therapy from hanging out and reading info & posts on your blog. Thank you to not only you, for existing, but to those who share their experiences, too! I wish I had found all of this last year. Instead of feeling alone, because we were on our own.

  183. Lisa on

    Hi Debbie! Thanks again for a wonderful seminar in Danvers on June 11th. I was wondering if you would share the name of the animal behaviorist who consults online. I’m working with my vet to try to get Allie’s medicine adjusted, and he’s a little out of his depth on this. Thanks!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Wow. Sorry for not seeing this sooner. Dr. Christensen via vetvine.com offers distance consults.

  184. Em on

    Help please!! I rescued a Miniature Pinscher/Boston Terrier about a month ago and ever since then, I cannot sleep at night. My little fur friend paces up and down the halls of the house, scratches at the walls, tries to hide in places he does not fit and will not rest for longer than 4 minutes (timed). I tried leaving the radio on, television, ‘forcing’ him to sleep in bed with me, sleeping on the couch and having him sleep on a blanket or crate…nothing seems to be working. I brought him to the vet multiple times and they prescribed medications that he seems to be fighting off. His behavior at night is indescribable – It seems as though he goes in a ‘fight-or-flight’ rush. Anything helps…

    • fearfuldogs on

      You should speak to your vet about this issue. If they can’t help you a vet behaviorist will. You were right to get meds but they may need to re-evaluated for dosage (too little can be worse than none) or to change the med or add to it. Some meds take weeks before you see their impact. I offer phone or Skype consults but getting the meds sorted out to help with this poor pup’s restlessness and anxiety is an important first step.

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