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life with a nervous rescue dog...anyone advice?

(12 Posts)
onlyoneboot Thu 29-Nov-12 16:14:36

Hi, we adopted our lovely dog nearly 8 weeks ago and it's been a steep learning curve but she's doing well. She's around 18 months and from Romania. She was found as a puppy but looked after in a rescue with other dogs for a year or so by a wonderful woman. She's got a lovely, gentle nature and after some initial insecurities around my youngest child (nearly 7) she's settled right in. But...she's still so scared of lots of things, not helped by all the bloody fireworks, and has suddenly started refusing to walk any further when the mood takes her. She's a german shepherd crossed with a bit of husky perhaps and something much smaller and she's very keen to learn, doing well with training (apart from recall which is going to take time) and very, very bouncy and playful with other dogs then very scared of some. What should I concentrate on to get her confidence up? She loves playing with other willing dogs but I can't let her off the lead anytime soon. Today I just let her sniff and wander around fields and ran with her on and off rather than trying to coax her on a walk. Is there anything anyone would advise or should I relax and keep going the way I'm going???

OwlLady Thu 29-Nov-12 16:51:31

have you got that positive dog training book? I ordered it last week (and I have over 20 yrs experience) but it has quite a lot on desensitising dogs and how to do it. Also a dog training group might help, get him/her used to other dogs?

The fireworks thing, you must ignore and not make a fuss about but there is stuff in the book about that as well.

It's lots of praise and reward and she will eventually learn to trust you. I imagine a dog that has been in kennels isn't used to normal home environment noises or outside noises (like wind for exaple)

have you got a nice long training lead? i find those helpful too, especially with a stronger dog

OwlLady Thu 29-Nov-12 16:53:48

it was this one

I am not a dog behaviouralist though, just a normal woman, I am sure those who know mopre will come on in a bit smile!

D0oinMeCleanin Thu 29-Nov-12 17:02:34

The Idiots Guide is an excellent book. I luffs it. It is on my essential reading list for my degree course in canine behaviour.

Clicker training is really good for building confidence. Try 101 things to do with a box (I think this is explained in the Idiots Guide? I've read a lot of doggy books lately, it might have been a different book) as an introduction to the clicker and encouraging your dog to use her mind.

For the walking I would let her stop to sniff, sniffing is actually a dogs way of calming themselves and gathering information about the outside world, so it's good for them to sniff. I wouldn't follow her about though. Start training loose lead walking (again explained in the Idiot's Guide) and give massive treats for walking with you.

This book is also great and will help you spot when she is starting to feel unsure and when she is feeling confident

Cuebill Thu 29-Nov-12 18:36:36

clicker training, clicker training and clicker training oh did I mention clicker training smile

Don't worry too much at the moment at what she is nervous of. Do loads and loads of clicker training in a place where she is comfortable.

The reason it is so good for nervous dogs is that they never ever get it wrong. If she does not give the desired behaviour the worst that can happen is that there is no click and treat. If she gets it right she will get rewarded.

This generally encourages dogs to try harder, to think (then less time to worry). As she gets more confident at home you will find you can clicker train in the scary places eg outside! and she is immediately back in her comfort zone.

Obviously if she has a real phobia this will have to be handled differently (but again using the clicker) but as she is in a newish situation and still young I will build up the confidence.

I disagree about not comforting when they are worried BUT and a great big BUT you do have to do it positively. If the dog is cowering from something and you give the "oh poppet is the scary thing coming to get you" in high pitch anxious voice you will make the dog worse. But a comforting stroke on the ears and a cheery its going to be fine will help to calm a dog.

onlyoneboot Thu 29-Nov-12 19:00:51

Brilliant, thanks, those books look really good. I did some one to one training sessions which was excellent because the trainer got my 3 kids involved and gave us the basics (I had scatty rescue dogs growing up but whole different story being the responsible owner!!) and she was really progressing but this stop dead on a walk is new. I've got her on a long lead and would love to work towards getting her off lead but had a nasty moment in the woods recently when I didn't have her on the harness and she slipped her collar when another dog went from sniffing to snapping very quickly (should have read the situation better) and she ran for home. She did stop eventually but it was a massive wake up call how much work there is to do on building trust. She likes to lean into me when she's scared, the pressure must be reassuring, and I think it's good comfort without a big fuss. I'm not sure about classes because her fears are around such domestic things. Just tried to take her out for a pee and the lightbulb in the porch blew and the entire house went dark. Poor dog, just confirmed all her worries! And clicker, yes, I have two...I will start using them!!

Cuebill Thu 29-Nov-12 19:09:49

Other books that could help are:

scardey dog

although titled Click to Calm aggressive dogs, this is targeted on reactive and nervous dogs

COntrol Unleased although originally for agility dogs there are some great exercises that could be carried out in other scary places

SpicyPear Thu 29-Nov-12 19:11:12

Hi only. I have had my very nervous rescue dog for almost a year and have been through very similar with her. I don't have the time to do it justice now so will come back on and do what will probably be quite a mammoth post tomorrow - other books to look at, our experience etc. We've come on in leaps and bounds in many way but not so much in others. It's hard and rewarding in equal measure smile

LetThereBeCupcakes Thu 29-Nov-12 19:16:46

Hi only, we adopted a nervous rescue almost a year ago. She was similar to yours in that it was mostly household stuff she was afraid of (ex puppy farm breeder, so probably wasn't inside much, if at all).

We focused on the things that were causing most difficulty, like her fear of telephones, and nerves around eating, and just picked one thing at a time to work on. We "managed" the rest (e.g. leaving the room to talk on the phone at first). We found that after a few months she was generally more confident. Each fear was easier to cure until eventually she just stopped being worried. I think it helps that we already have a very confident dog, and she took a lot from him.

Recall was difficult at first, and we have to keep an eye on her as she does tend to roam further than our other dog (out of earshot if you don't keep an eye on her). We recently tried her with a whistle and she responds amazingly to it. I think it's a case of finding out what makes your dog tick and going with the flow. Don't expect too much too soon, it sounds like you're doing really well so far!

If you think she finds pressue comforting might be worth a thunder shirt or TTouch wrap? I've never used them myself though so perhaps somebody with experience might have more advice in that area.

We did find training classes useful, as it helped her start the process of learning how to learn, if you see what I mean, and it was easier to transfer the skills at home.

onlyoneboot Thu 29-Nov-12 19:41:42

thanks for the links Cuebill. My xmas wishlist is now all stuff for the dog grin

Spicy, look forward to your post. Going to the park with a new dog reminds me of going to baby groups years ago. People have such opinions from 'go on just let her off the lead, she'll stay with you' shock to 'oh yes, I can tell she's a rescue'.

Cupcakes, that's what I've been trying to do, one thing at a time. Makes sense. I do think she misses other dogs having been in a yard with others. Maybe in time we will get another, just don't tell my partner! For all her nerves she's quite bold in ways. It took her 5 weeks to pluck up the courage to climb the stairs but one day I found her on my bed grinning and wagging her tail madly.

I was thinking about a whistle, will add it to the list.

SpicyPear Fri 30-Nov-12 19:04:49

Back again! Definitely relax and keep going. With a nervous dog it's a process. My top tips and things I wished I'd known are:

1) Put out of your mind all the preconceptions about what dogs are like and the things that people with "normal" dogs say. Things like, they love walks, they love chasing balls, they love a fuss, will stay with you... Look at the dog she is rather than the dog you think she should be and work with that.

2) Yes yes yes to clicker training, starting in the house where she is comfortable and with simple commands to really build her confidence and your bond. We also have a clicker word (Good) as DH is not great at remembering the clicker. This is a good book recommended to me on here.

3) I don't know how experienced you are with dogs but prioritise learning about doggy body language so you can read her. Maybe look at this book. Being able to assess her level of anxiety will help you to manage situations that make her nervous. For example, when she refuses to walk, what does she do? Does she just sit down, or does she pull back, tail between legs, perhaps panting? Will she still accept food? You'll learn to gauge her anxiety levels by looking at ears, tail, mouth etc and be able to respond before she feels the need to fight or flight. SpicyDog will also bolt for home when scared!

4) When she is below threshold you can work on counter conditioning around things that make her nervous, clicker training her with treats or games. See this book. You can also cheerfully encourage her, for example to keep walking. But, if she is very anxious and over threshold, it's important to remove her from whatever is frightening her as soon as possible as "flooding" can make the anxiety worse. Sometimes this might mean being quite firm in asking someone to stop petting her or remove their dog.

5) If something really frightening has occurred (for SpicyDog that would be gunshots or fireworks) accept she might take some days to recover initially. She has just been rehomed so even though she is settling in well, her stress levels will be elevated. One of the most useful things I read was about how long it takes for the levels of stress hormones to decrease in dogs. This helped me to be patient when waiting to try again at something she's been reluctant to do.

6) You can't reinforce fear, so it's okay to comfort her. I am converted to this school of thought, thanks and credit to Cuebill for previously linking to this helpful video.

7) Like cupcakes says, when you start addressing her fears pick your battles at first. What are the key ones that affect her quality of life? Prioritise those and manage anything else for the time being.

8) With recall, in my experience your best tool with an anxious dog is their bond with you. This takes time to build. Obviously clicker, treats and toys are important as well smile so practice practice practice on a 10m long line. Eventually you'll be able to let it trail on a harness. Body language comes into play here as well. As SpicyDog has a full blown noise phobia, there are certain times that I cannot take her off lead even though her recall is now excellent, for example very windy conditions, because no amount of recall training can override the fight or flight response of a dog in panic for it's life! If I see she is in a nervous state she stays on a flexi as back up. I know some people think they are the devil's work but I have only ever put it on her at the park, so she sees it almost as being 'let off lead' and therefore it doesn't affect her short lead training.

9) If she is craving doggy company, have you considered doggy day care? SpicyDog goes a day a week even though I work from home as this time socialising with various dogs has really helped build her confidence. When she is refusing to walk after fireworks often this is the only place she will walk too!

Not sure how helpful all this is but I've had a lot of anxiety myself worrying about whether she would ever enjoy walks or be able to be off lead. Sometimes thinking she should be enjoying certain things led me to push her too far when I now realise this slowed the process! Good luck with it all! It really is an amazing feeling when you see them progress and you are at such an early stage. In a year she will be a different dog smile

onlyoneboot Sat 01-Dec-12 18:57:37

Thanks so much for taking the time to post, Spicy, your advice and links are really helpful. And reassuring!

Had a lovely, icy long walk today and after a day of clickering the day before I felt much more confident. Will keep going with that. Also my son was with me and she loves the kids being there, definitely feels braver. Think I might need to find some dog friends locally to walk with sometimes too. Doggy day care sounds great but I imagine it would beyond my budget. I'll look into it though.

This evening she did a real stand off in the garden and refused to come back in the house. That's the battle I need to pick for now. She wants to go further than the garden and she needs to learn that sometimes the garden is as good as it gets. Tomorrow's plan is to fence off a section so she can go off lead in it. Should have really been organised and done this before we got her, the garden is huge and full of escape routes.

She's gone through many stages in the 8 weeks we've had her and I need to stop worrying and have short term goals. This new constant nervous staring at the light fittings almost makes me want her to go back to chewing the recycling! And I have to admit I love the flexi lead. Her short lead walking is pretty good and it just gives her the chance to explore without getting too tangled up.

Thanks again smile

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