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Rescue dog - will she become less anxious

(20 Posts)
diplodocus Wed 13-Nov-13 22:18:10

Hi all. Need some advice and reassurance. We've had our rescue dog nearly 2 months now, and she's around 6 months. When we got her she was extremely anxious and scared of anyone outside the family (she was also quite wary of DH). She was always happy around the DDs. While I knew it would take time for her to settle, I'm beginning to get a bit despondent. We still can't really take her for a walk down the road as she pulls like a train due to anxiety. Walking to heel works OK in the garden with treats, but she is completely uninterested in food once beyond the garden gate. She's still frightened of adult visitors / people in the street, especially men. She also doesn't really focus on us at all when out.

She has many good points - she has never shown the slightest hint of aggression, and is really sweet. She can be left alone without howling the place down, and to my surprise is unbothered by fireworks and thunder. She loves other dogs and is fairly happy travelling in the car. I just really feel for her as her life isn't that enjoyable at the moment. She loves being around us but can't be out and about with us as she is so anxious - she even seems quite anxious around the house much of the time, and has started barking, which is a bit of a pain. She goes to a training class, where the leader is very good at giving advice, and we've tried a Thundershirt (which did nothing). We're taking it very slowly with her and letting her go at her own pace, but I'd really like some reassurance from anyone who's had an anxious pup. Is it likely to get better or will she always be crippled by this anxiety? We don't know her history but don't think she was actively abused.

Imsosorryalan Wed 13-Nov-13 22:27:17

I really feel for you. No advice as such but to say, our dog was a rescue stray from abroad and we've had her a year. Like your she was / is scared of everything, inc. other dogs. She is better now than when we first got her but is still nervous of new things. Crate training helped as it gave her a safe place, as was asking all visitors to ignore her, even if she plucks up the courage to sniff them. Good luck. It's a long road. Our behaviourist told us that even though she would get better, she would most prob always be a nervy dog as it could be in her genes.

Whatdog Wed 13-Nov-13 22:46:48

This sounds to be what I am dreading. Just trying a puppy, but he's very nervous though lovely.

diplodocus Wed 13-Nov-13 23:11:55

Thanks both. She loves her crate - another positive. I'm not expecting miracles - it would be just nice if she could trot along on the school run (or indeed enjoy any walk on a lead) or greet visitors (who are often desperate to meet her).

AnABumDanceofVampireVipers Wed 13-Nov-13 23:16:00

Are you able to run with her? Maybe the pace could help to help her mind focus on something else. It would help to tire her out and hopefully that could ease some of the anxiety. It is just an idea, obviously it could be a terrible one!

Suepooh123 Thu 14-Nov-13 08:34:05

We have a rescue dog, and as other posters have said it's a slow process. We found that a set routine, familiarisation with his surroundings and just allowing him room to feel secure worked. A space of his own, in our case a kennel in the corner of the garden for him to 'own' helped although this isn't always practical. Our vet was very helpful too, having had rescue dogs of her own. Good luck and keep persevering - the rewards are worth it smile

diplodocus Thu 14-Nov-13 10:28:24

Vipers - this is a good idea but I think she's too young to run yet on the road? I trot around the park a bit with her for a bit on a long line which she enjoys (until she tangles the lead round either herself or me!). Sue pooh - whats your dog like now? She has her crate which I think is really important to her and I agree about familiar surroundings, but I'm beginning to panic already about her having to stay somewhere else when we go away on holiday- hopefully not until next summer and a lot may have changed by then, but if not she will be utterly miserable.

Booboostoo Thu 14-Nov-13 11:12:05

Try Adaptil collars/diffusers and Zylkene tablets. They mimic the mother dog's pheromones and can be helpful for a lot of stressed dogs.

I would also get your trainer to come assess the dog in her home environment and give you some specific tips on how to overcome the problems. At the very least you need to be able to walk her because otherwise you will get all sorts of other problems from the pent up energy.

diplodocus Thu 14-Nov-13 11:57:10

Thanks booboo. Have you had good results with these? Our trainer has already done a home visit and basically suggested we took it slowly, which we are. Agree though that we do have to able to walk her properly. She's OK in the park on a long leash but we've been advised not to do that too often and to concentrate on training her in or garden.

moogalicious Thu 14-Nov-13 12:23:33

I used zylkene for my dog as he was barking in the house a lot. It really worked for a while (about 4 weeks) but he seemed to become tolerant and reverted back to barking. They were great short term - we also used them when he went into kennels. But aren't really a long term solution imo. And they're bloody expensive!

My behaviourist suggested cutting the dose to one every other day or something.

Booboostoo Thu 14-Nov-13 14:16:48

The pheromones do work for many dogs so they are worth a try, but not all of them. They are not going to solve your problems but when they work they make the dog less stressed and more amenable to training.

Weird advice regarding the walking. I've never heard of anyone suggesting the dog be kept solely in the garden even in seriously reactive dogs (muzzle them and walk them). Might be worth getting a second opinion on that one.

diplodocus Fri 15-Nov-13 09:28:26

Thanks - will order both. The theory behind not walking her is twofold - apparently if we walk her while she continues to pull we'll never get her to break the habit, and also just not stressing her too much at once. She's OK in the park, but we have been told to view this as very much a learning experience (i.e. learning to greet other dogs without jumping on their heads) and not do it too often rather than exercise per se. Our trainer said to concentrate on training in the garden as it's the mental exercise that tires her out - not physical. I feel quite mixed about it as I do worry she's bored and under-exercised (our garden is moderate sized)- she's quite jumpy and chewy in the house (although not excessively so) and do think with more exercise that might improve.

Booboostoo Fri 15-Nov-13 10:58:59

OK a couple of things. I don't agree with all the advice you are getting from your trainer but of course I appreciate I am a random idiot on the internet! It may be an idea to get a second opinion from another trainer and see what they say.

When you say she is not interested in food outside of the house have you tried high value treats? So if she normally eats in the morning don't give her any food at all, but take her for a walk with a lot of things like liver, cheese, chicken and sausage (experiment to find what she really likes). Also try to click and reward for loads of different things, e.g. if she looks at you, click reward, if for a second she is not pulling, click reward, if she responds to her name, click reward, if for a second she is near your legs, click reward. At the moment you just want her to realise that you are the treat dispenser for good behaviour, getting the specific behaviour will come later. If she really is not at all interested in food (it happens!) how is she with a squeeky toy, or a tug toy, or a ball?

Training is great mental exercise and to an extent it does help a dog expend energy but I think you'll only have more problems if you do not give her enough opportunities to expend her physical energy. The pulling takes a while to sort out and your trainer is right that if you walk with her when she pulls you are rewarding the pulling but how about using a headcollar or the new halter type collars (the ones with the lead attachment between the front legs) to gain enough control to be able to walk her now, while doing loose lead walking at other times in the garden as a training exercise?

The chewing could well still be teething at this age, try to distract her with appropriate things to chew, but it could also be a sign of stress.

Are you meeting random dogs in the park? See that for me is something I would not do with a stressy dog. I would put her in a sit stay and reward her for staying calm, waiting until she calmed down and not encourage her into other dog interactions. Interactions with other dogs should be taking place during your training sessions, so your trainer has selected the right dog for yours to interact with and is on hand to talk you through your reactions and body language.

diplodocus Fri 15-Nov-13 11:52:42

Thanks for your thoughts. In some ways I feel intuitively that you're right in that she should be out and about more. She'll do anything for a specific (hand made!) liver treat in the home / garden but isn't interested when on the road - she's just too stressy and busy. Having said that it's getting better - yesterday I stood at the end of our drive with her and treated her every time she stayed calm when a car went past , and she did take them so think we are getting there a bit. We have a chest harness with a front D ring but that hasn't stopped her pulling - I can physically control her on the lead (she's not a huge dog) so that isn't the problem. I've thought about a face collar (e.g. a gentle leader) but feel a bit uncomfortable doing this if the pulling is based on anxiety rather than control / general over-exuberance. However, maybe will think again unless things improve in next week or two. Chewing is reasonably under control and yes, she is teething. Until recently she was on an exclusion diet on the advice of the vet for skin problems which was a bit of a pain as she couldn't have anything other than her (shockingly expensive) hypoallergenic kibble, but now we've relaxed that and she can have rawhide chews etc. rather than just dog toys we're much more able to direct her chewing.

Interesting what you say about other dogs - she's not at all nervous with other dogs and her social skills are improving a lot - she seems to now know which ones to be bouncy with and which ones to be a bit submissive to. Meeting dogs at the class is great, but obviously they're all young pups who are as bouncy as she is, so she doesn't get practice at reading body language for older, less playful dogs.

I think I will try and get her out more and see how we go. From our educated guesswork of what her parentage may be she is likely to be quite a high energy dog (which is fine with us) and I do wonder if lack of exercise is adding to her stress.

Booboostoo Fri 15-Nov-13 15:13:32

Ah sorry I misunderstood. I thought she was stressed by other dogs, but if she's happy around them that's great. As long as they other dogs are well adjusted I'd leave them to it to play, older dogs will (rightly) tell puppies off when they have had enough!

Been there with the stomach problems, it's a nightmare isn't it! Glad to hear she is more settled though!

I think you are right to extend the training to the edge of where she feels confidence, e.g. the driveway. Slowly slowly you should be able to move further as she gains in confidence.

picnicinthewoods Sun 17-Nov-13 13:41:56

Good luck Diplodocussmile sorry no advice to add as I am in the same boat with my 5 and a half month old GR pup! Only difference is, he is not rescue!!!! I think it's a long road & we just need to be patient and do things at the pups pace. You are at least lucky that your pup likes your children, that's a good start! Walking out and about was virtually impossible with our pup to start with, but things have improved. I take him to quiet places & he loves to run off lead. I keep it to 20-30 mins max, but I think depriving him of this would be cruel. I try to make sure every time we go out, it is a positive experience & I do not let people (without dogs) approach him (although he is fine with people with dogs). We are seeking the advice of a behaviourist atm. It's hard work, hope it improves for yousmile

Rotkehlchen Mon 18-Nov-13 11:31:05

We adopted a rescue in the summer. She sounds very similar to yours, but unlike yours was much older. We were also getting very dispondent with the anxiety, pulling etc. - our dog wouldn't even walk off our drive she was so terrified of loud noises and traffic (and we live in a very quiet cul-de-sac!). To be honest I'm not sure what caused the breakthrough but recently she has been a different dog.

I was very sceptical of the claims re. Adaptil diffusers etc. but bought a collar and diffuser in desperation. The change in her definitely coincided with this, so I do think it made a big difference.

She also pulled and refused all food when out. However, the pulling only occured on the way home; when trying to take her away from the house we had the opposite problem - she would lie down and refuse to budge. As I said we couldn't even get her out of our drive. We spent a lot of time with her on a long lead in our front garden watching traffic. At first she wasn't interested in treats, but gradually, over a period of weeks, we could coax her onto the pavement and past a couple of our neighbours' houses. If she wanted to return to the house we would let her (in a way, being able to return to the house was her reward for being brave). After she got to the house we would start the whole process again.

When we wanted to walk her we had to drive her to the local fields. Then we would walk her home from there. Every time she pulled, we'd stop and wait before carrying on. At the time it felt really cruel as you could see that the pulling was anxiety based and she was desperate to reach the safety of our house. Gradually she realised that she got there a lot quicker if she walked nicely.

We really worked on her recall and did a lot of clicker training to try and get her to bond with us. Eventually I suppose she realised that she enjoyed the walks in the fields so much because she got to go off lead. By this stage she was walking home much better, so one day we just stopped driving there and insisted she walked. I used the clicker to reward her whenever she walked nicely, but yes, those first few times were very difficult! After a few days she started to walk much better, so gradually we varied the route adding in extra roads etc.

She's still an anxious dog and we have to keep her away from busy roads. However, the change in her is amazing. It seemed to take forever before we saw any progress, and it was so frustrating at times. I'm hoping that in another 6 months I might even be able to walk her to my kids' school past the main road! (Fingers crossed!). I wish you luck with your dog.

Frettchen Mon 18-Nov-13 12:05:43

I got my 4 month old rescue pup this summer (he's 8 months now) and when he arrived he was so scared of so many things. The first time i introduced him to other people he hid behind my ankles; his ears were permanently down, and he seemed desperate to get onto my lap at all times (because he'd figured out that I was fairly safe... he's definitely more of a lady's dog than a man's!)

Anyhoo - I took him out almost every weekend (I volunteer for a small charity who fundraise at a lot of village shows) with a crate for safety. At first I just encouraged him to be with me, near the crate, but meeting new people. Then, started walking him round the show grounds (aka village greens!) and eventually he grew more confident.

Last month I started bringing him in to my office daily so he's now dealing with a lot of people, and often a group of other dogs, and his confidence is continuing to grow.

However, I don't think there was much more of a trigger to my boy's fear than just being young and being somewhere new (he was rescued from Eastern Europe, so had a long and scary journey from there to the UK - this I think was the root cause of his temperament) so I don't think the confidence-building through exposing him to busy situations method would necessarily work on all dogs. You may have to go a lot slower with your girl, but she's young and it doesn't sound an impossible task.

My training tips would be;
1 - don't go over the top in comforting her when she appears afraid. Try to act normally, as if you scoop her up and fuss her you're teaching her that her fear reaction was the correct reaction.
2 - try not to anticipate her reactions; If you're tense, waiting for her to react then you're teaching her to be wary.
3 - set her up for success - start with something small which you think she should be able to deal with;
Maybe try taking her out to the front garden, then returning to the house and treating/praising on getting back inside. Then repeat, but treat/praise whilst outside. Next time take her out to the front garden, wait/walk around in circles, then treat and praise - always reward any relaxed/happy behaviour. (I've just re-read and realised Rotkehlchen went into much better detail on this one!)
4 - Use really high value rewards when out and about. Make liver cake, or take out some cold cooked chicken (my boy loves this so much more than reg'lar dog treats)

Rotkehlchen Mon 18-Nov-13 13:03:50

Agree with Frettchen re. not comforting her when she's scared. ignore, ignore! Somebody mentioned earlier going jogging with your pup. In our case we felt that running with her also reinforced her fear. The kids were banned (and still are) from running with the lead!

diplodocus Tue 19-Nov-13 15:35:34

Thanks - just catching up with this thread. Great to hear of people's experiences and it does get better. We've started letting her run around int the front garden with a trailing long line in case she tries to vault the fence which isn't that high. This seems to really be helping and today I managed to take her for a walk of about 200m - she pulled intermittently on the way there (and I stopped every time) but not on the way back which was great. I think this thing about not reinforcing anxiety is an issue - our road is very narrow and I have to stop and pull right over into the verge when two cars come in opposite directions (which really freaks her out) which I think makes her believe I think it's something to be frightened about. not quite sure how I'll manage that, but I do think we've made some progress. Interesting about the running - when I run she's very attentive but not sure if that's anxiety or pleasure! Unfortunately her recall is still pretty ropey so we can't let her off the lead, but she enjoys going off with a long line.

Am ordering adaptil and Zylkene - thanks.

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