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Shy dogs

You are your dog’s best (and only) advocate!

Apology card image hi resI have a huge soft spot in my heart for shy dogs or ones who have had a less than ideal start on life. Often times these dogs find even the simplest things in life to be overwhelming. Life is hard, often scary, and it might be asking way too much of a shy dog to greet a visitor to the house or to be petted by a stranger on a walk. Your job, therefore, is to be his advance man, running interference and protecting him from the maddening crowds.

The first rule of thumb for a shy dog* is: No one touches Fido unless Fido seeks it out or permits it, and this includes his owners as well! Dogs view the world in terms of safe and unsafe. We all feel safer when we feel as if we are in control of a situation. Allow your dog to decide who he does and does not meet, and you will help him to be more comfortable and secure in his world.

Brad and Friend

This fellow ran up to my husband at a cafe in France, asking to be petted.

This dog doesn't know me well, so leans away to create more space.

This dog doesn’t know me well, so leans away to create more space.

So, how do you tell when she wants physical contact with you or anyone else? If he leans away, looks away or otherwise moves away from you or others, he is saying you are too close at that moment, so give him some more space and allow him to make the move towards you if he so chooses. If he moves towards you, leans on you, gets up on the couch and snuggles, or puts his head on you, this is him making the choice to interact and should be rewarded (with praise, food, gentle petting, but not on the top of his head!).

2) When you are walking him and you meet someone who may want to pet your shy guy, I suggest you say: “It’s fine with me, but you’ll have to ask Fido.” This will generally make the person pause long enough so that you can tell her to put her hand down by her side. Then, Fido can make the decision whether or not to approach her. You can also add: “If he comes over to you, you can pet him.” If Fido doesn’t move towards her, say something like: “I guess he isn’t feeling very social today, perhaps another time.” Then, prevent the overly eager dog lover from moving towards him by stepping in-between her and Fido, or moving away.  This will help Fido to feel as safe and in control as possible.
HenryandGolden

This dog is comfortable with my grandson partly because he can move his head easily.

3) Pay close attention to the space around his head. Most dogs are very sensitive to the area around their face and head and if you crowd them they get stressed. Let him make the decision to bring his face or head close to you.

4) When strangers come to the house, be sure that they do not try to pet him, but instead, keep far enough away from him that he will take treats in their presence. We want to pair the presence of a stranger with the presence of wonderful treats so that we begin to change his emotional response to strangers from one of fear/discomfort to one of “hey, this is pretty cool! New person, great treats!” Another thing to keep in mind: It is critical that the treats are only available when strangers are visible. If the person leaves the area, so does the treat. If the person is far away, the treats are fewer and farther apart. As Fido’s nemesis gets closer, the treats start coming in great quantity and frequency. If the person should get really close, Fido should be getting fistfuls of treats (think in terms of trucks backing up and unloading sides of beef for him) until the person moves away. As the “threat” recedes, so do the treats.
 

5) Once again, distance is critical. Work below the threshold point where Fido loses it, (freezes, hides,

 Run away! Run away!

Run away! Run away!

growls, or bolts, for example) and will not take treats. If you get too close to a person while walking, then do your best to remove him from the “threat” (and reinforce him when you get to a distance he can take treats again). This is the time to keep escape routes in mind! Some ideas for adding distance: back up, turn around and go in the opposite direction, cross the street, move into a yard, go behind a bush or tree. 

Shy dogs rely on us to be their first line of defense in a scary world. Being your dog’s best advocate will help him to learn that life need not be so hard, it might just be okay. Possibly even good.

People are good things for me!

 
 
 *Blogs on shy dogs:

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Shy dogs0 comments

Fearful puppies, biting adults, an unfortunate alliance.

 

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close.

This puppy was quite fearful of new people and would stiffen and growl if you got too close.

I have referenced Reisner Veterinary Behavior & Consulting Services in past posts as they have a terrific way of succinctly stating canine problems, their causes, and their solutions. On Facebook they have a “Tuesday’s Pearl” that is always worth checking out and this last week was no exception. The topic at hand is fearful puppies who graduate to become fear biters, an all too common story:

Tuesday’s Pearl: Nervous, fearful puppies often grow into adults who bite.

It is notoriously difficult to predict a puppy’s future temperament. This is the case even when the temperament of both parents is known – though, then, the odds are much better that predictions will come true. There is one pattern that emerges again and again, however. When a puppy exhibits fear (even without aggression), she is more likely to show fear-related biting as an adult.* 

     Unfortunately, owners often guess that the opposite is true. Puppies, they assume, just have to learn to navigate the world through socialization. The sensitive period for socialization is approximately from the time puppies can see and hear (about 2-3 weeks) until the age of 3 months, and exposure to both social (mother, littermates, human hands, children) and environmental (temperatures, surfaces, noises, crates) stimuli is necessary. But, like humans, puppies come into the world with inherited predispositions as well. It’s the combination of genes (traits) and environment (learning) that create the sum of adult behavior. Ignoring the fear will not help.*

      Fearfulness and worry have a common trajectory in dogs. A nervous puppy may show reluctance or active avoidance when she’s exposed to new stimuli. This may appear ‘cute’ as the puppy hides behind her owner’s legs in Petsmart, but should very quickly change to curiosity and engagement with friendly dogs and people. If it does not, by four to six months, fear can be manifested through arousal – the puppy’s hackles may be up, her body language defensive, and she might start to show mild aggression through growling. By nine months her fear may become more preemptive as she stands her ground. Barking, pulling towards the stimulus and even lunging are common; in fact, the sensation of being held back (and trapped) by a leash can contribute to classically conditioned reactivity. Young dogs who act this way with unfamiliar people or dogs are at high risk of biting when they become behaviorally mature at 1-3 years of age.

     Behavior is plastic and responds well to gentle handling, encouragement and training (learning), but it’s important to recognize that biting as young adults is a very common outcome for nervous puppies. Common does not mean inevitable – however, recognizing the course of behavioral development can make a big difference in helping an anxious puppy to feel safe and to navigate the world.

Should you have concerns about your puppy’s shyness or other behavioral issue please do not wait for the problem to resolve on its own. If you are uncertain as to whether or not there is an issue, check out my blog “This is not the dog I wanted…”  for The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Indoor Pet Initiative list of red flags in puppies. Or, call me (740-587-0429) and together we can decide on the next best step for your pup.

This guy could be a bit shy and nervous with new things and needed some special handling at times to keep him comfortable.

This guy could be a bit shy and nervous with new things and needed some special handling at times to keep him comfortable.

 

*Text emphasis mine.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Informational or Doggie Demographics Shy dogs Your new dog or puppy0 comments

Why your puppy should be a social butterfly.

 

Huddy at 10 weeks old with Emma

Huddy at 10 weeks old with Emma

When my daughter got her Golden Retriever, Hudson, in January of 2005, she was determined that he would be well socialized. Her previous dog, Molly, was adopted when she was about 1 year of age and was most likely grossly under-socialized to people, places, pets, and the rhythms of life in general. She was quite leary of people and aggressive towards dogs. Try as we might, we were never able to get her past her behavior issues.

Emma kept a detailed log of everyone that Hudson met by 4 months of age. At that time we lived in Spotsylvania county Virginia, a fairly rural area surrounded by the Chancellorsville battlefield. Getting him out to meet people required some planning and creativity on our part. Nonetheless, by 16 weeks of age he’d met 750 people. As a result of this intense effort to socialize him, Huddy adored people and could work a room better than most seasoned politicians. 

In general, you should aim to have your puppy meet at least 100 people by four months of age. Consider keeping a log of the type of people your dog meets: babies, boys, girls, tall and short people, men with beards, people with hats, sunglasses, and/or both, etc. All these people look different to your pup and the greater the variety of people he meets the more comfortable he will be as an adult dog. Colleen Pelar has a wonderful Scavenger Hunt for Puppy Socialization on her website Living with Kids and Dogs that gives you a checklist of people, places, and things your puppy should encounter.

Any behaviorist or trainer worth their weight in dog biscuits will tell you: the very best way to have a socially sound, well mannered, and stable adult dog is to socialize him, in a positive way, during this critical period. Once the socialization window closes at 16 weeks, it does not reopen, and you are no longer socializing, but counter conditioning. So, when you get your new puppy, commit to introducing him to a variety of people, places, substrates, and objects, when he’s open to it, so you won’t have to hire someone to try and fix him later. 

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Some veterinarians will tell you that you should not get your dog out until his puppy shots are complete. I understand their desire to reduce your baby’s exposure to diseases such as parvovirus, I do not want your dog to get sick either. However, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Position Statement on Puppy Socialization, “[b]ehavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond. In fact, behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters. Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.” (Emphasis mine.)

While puppies’ immune systems are still developing during these early months, the combination of maternal immunity, primary vaccination, and appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death from a behavior problem. Enrolling in puppy classes prior to three months of age can be an excellent means of improving training, strengthening the human-animal bond, and socializing puppies in an environment where risk of illness can be minimized…In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.

In addition to a good puppy class, your dog can be introduced safely to a variety of things, if some guidelines are followed:

1) DO NOT take him to the dog park, or to places like PetSmart where the dog population is not regulated before he is 5-6 months of age as his shots and his socialization are not complete.
2) DO take him to puppy class with a positive reinforcement trainer.
3) Have friends over for margaritas and puppy socializing. Be sure to invite friends with kids.
4) Take him to Home Depot, Lowes, or Tractor supply to meet people. Most of these brand stores will let you take dogs in, but you can always stand outside and meet people as they head in.
5) Find out Mass and service times for your local churches and synagogs and stand outside as the service is letting out. You will meet the entire world.
6) Ask a friend with preschool age children if you can bring him to meet the kids.
7) Stand in the foyer of a Barnes and Noble and greet people as they go in and out.
8) Stand in front of your local Starbucks and greet people.
9) Allow him to approach people, places, objects, etc at his pace. DO NOT allow anyone to overwhelm him or to pick him up without your permission, as this can be uncomfortable or distressing to your pup. If someone asks to pet him say, “It’s fine with me, but you will have to ask Fido.” Then tell her to put out her hand. If Fido goes over to her, then she can pet him. If Fido does not go over to her, do not force him (Fido may be tired of meeting people right then) and say, “Sorry, I guess he isn’t in the mood right now.” Build your relationship with him by protecting him and allowing him to explore novel things (people included) in a way that is comfortable for him. See: http://apositiveconnection.com/2013/08/beware-of-cement-pigs/.
           The AVSAB sums it up nicely, “During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over- stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal, or avoidance behavior.” In other words, be smart about how you socialize your dog. You want him to experience the world as much as possible, but in a way that accentuates the positive and minimizes the risk of disease and fearful experiences. Help Fido to be the very best version of himself as a puppy and as a happy, well adjusted adult.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Puppies need pals as well as people.

 

Behavior or "What the heck?" Informational or Doggie Demographics Shy dogs Your new dog or puppy4 comments

Stand back Earthling!

Being forced to meet someone who scares or intimidates you is not fun, at all, ever.

For naturally extroverted people, this may be a rare occurrence, but ask any shy person (who you know well) what it feelsIMG_1275 like to routinely encounter someone who descends upon her with a boisterous voice, an overly eager handshake, and a million rapid-fire questions. Chances are this is her worst nightmare, and being told to “just get use to it” probably isn’t helpful, at all, ever.

The same is true for your shy, worried, or fearful dog. I once met a lovely woman with 2 small dogs, who were rather shy with strangers and not eager to meet me. So, I sat quietly at the kitchen table, ignoring them (waiting for them to make the first move to meet me), when all of a sudden the woman said, “This is Violet, she’s a bit shy but will be just fine.” Then, in one quick movement, she grabbed the little dog and plunked her in my lap. Violet and I were both caught off guard, and we both froze in place. After a moment, I gently petted her side and let Violet jump off my lap as soon as she could move again. Although I appreciated her attempt to help Violet get to know me, it didn’t help, and Violet never became comfortable with me, at all, 316073_288083711209743_119922748025841_1095669_199129324_never.

Forcing your shy dog to participate in the big, wide world, without the necessary support, can make her fears and anxieties worse. Reisner Veterinary Behavior and Consulting Services posted this on their Face Book page in January 2013 and I think it is a good reminder of what nervous dogs face and what our good intentions may actually mean to them:

If your dog is worried or nervous, especially if she is an adult, taking her to public places to ‘socialize’ her is not necessarily a positive thing to do for a few reasons: (1) it is not possible to control what other people do; (2) unfamiliar people may come too close, too quickly or touch and interact with your dog inappropriately; (3) it may be scary for her to be given treats by strangers; (4) it will not give your dog an opportunity to gain confidence at her own pace. This is a kind of ‘flooding’, which is not recommended for anxious dogs (at all, ever…). Instead, keep your dog at a safe (for her) distance*, using food (from you, not from strangers), voice and movement to counter-condition her anxiety. (Italics mine)

If you have a dog that is anxious and uncomfortable, call me, 740-587-0429. While I cannot promise that your dog will be nominated for “Socialite of the Year”, I do know that together we can help your dog become more comfortable with her world now and, perhaps, for ever.Apology card image hi res*A good rule of thumb for measuring a comfortable distance for your dog is the closest distance that a stranger can get and your dog will continue to take treats. For example, if your dog stops taking treats when a person gets within 6-7 feet, then a comfortable distance for strangers, for your dog, is 8-10 feet.

 

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs6 comments

Rin Tin Tin wannabees…

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Stranger Danger, or “I want my dog to be like Rin Tin Tin, and protect me!”

Ah yes, the “I want my dog to protect me from strangers, dangers, and things that go bump in the night. I want him to be like Lassie (or Rin Tin Tin, or Benji, or any other fictional heroic canine) and be able to recognize the bad guys and protect me.”  That’s great! Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, those dogs (or more precisely, the roles that they played) are fictional. They do not exist in the real world and to assume that you can train your dog to be protective only when necessary (and to determine the need on its own) is highly unrealistic for almost all dogs and their owners (including yours truly).  When I mention this to people wanting protection dogs, they often reply that Police dogs can tell the difference and only attack on cue. Exactly! They only attack on cue from their handlers. We do not have lone Police dogs (or even Police dog pairs) patrolling the streets of cities and towns assessing potential wrong doings and protecting the general public from odious characters. These highly trained dogs are always with their handlers and are trained to be very responsive to exact cues.
Therefore, when the subject of protection arises, I ask people to define, carefully, what they mean by protection, as this can be a very dangerous place to wander with your dog.  Ask yourself honestly: Do you really want your dog to be aggressive to strangers?  And, how is the dog suppose to know who is a good stranger and who is bad one, especially if you are not there? What if someone comes to your 24_dog_zombie run awayhome when you are not there and the dog is in your yard, or your back door is unlocked or left ajar by mistake? Perhaps it is a child whose ball was knocked into the yard, or an old friend stopping by spontaneously to say hi? Or a different UPS guy? Or a new neighbor coming over to introduce herself, or use your phone? These people are strangers to your dog. Do you honestly want  him to be aggressive and to take matters into his own paws to protect the homestead?
I propose that what you probably want is your dog to have a strong social drive to people. Why? Because the vast majority of people you meet will be people with whom you desire your dog to be friendly. Moreover, who wants to risk a dog biting someone who is not a threat? And, believe it or not, a well socialized dog is more likely to be able to react to real dangers or concerns. Because he 35_dog_adoringpublicknows what safe looks, feels, and acts like, he will be suspicious of those things which do not lie within his field of experience. The reaction may not be huge, but if you know your dog, you will know when he is uncomfortable or concerned, just as you know when all is well with him.
In the case of my sister’s condo associate who lives alone (see last week’s blog for Part 1 of this story) and wants a dog larger than the 30 pound limit, I think that she is probably motivated by two things: 1) she wants her dog to bark at the door when people arrive, and 2) she will feel safer walking at night with a large dog rather than with one that can be mistaken for a giant powdered sugar donut. I know that most persons of nefarious intent will go to another door rather than risk a barking dog alerting the owner or neighbors, and they do not want to risk being bitten. That said, a larger dog has a deeper bark and is more likely to cause someone to pause. My Bingley has a very deep bark that is kinda scary, and he has caused more than one person to re-consider coming to the door. A chihuahua, or Pomeranian is not as likely to scare someone off either at the door or keep someone at bay when walking out on the street (but it is probably better than no bark at all!). Therefore, in this instance, when you want a dog with a definite presence, you need a bigger dog. What you don’t need is a meaner dog.
Thus, the question remains: Can small dogs be protective as well as companionable? Yes. But how effective are they? It depends, again, on how you define protective. If you want a dog to bark, growl, snap at or intimidate strangers, get a small dog and do not socialize him to people, places, and things. This will create a “protective” dog who will react out of fear, and which people will avoid, but are unlikely to consider a serious threat (Which btw, is not smart. Small dogs can bite seriously, multiple times, and cause enough damage to require stitches, strong antibiotics and perhaps plastic surgery if the bite is to the face.) But I ask you, how happy is this dog and how happy will the owner be with a dog that hates/fears everyone? Far better to have a dog that likes people, and barks at appropriate times, such as at the door, or on cue. Small dogs can be very unpleasant and people may avoid them, but they seldom strike fear into the hearts of the masses.
So in summary, if you want a dog that will “protect” you or at least give the illusion of protection, bigger dogs are more likely to fill the bill. Dogs up to 60~75 pounds (most labs, goldens, setters, spaniels, other retrievers) would do well in a mulit-unit complex and are a size that most people can manage effectively, and which would provide a level of comfort (i.e. when walking at night these guys are large enough to cause someone pause) or protection to the owner. Remember however, that these dogs, like any dog, require good management, a strong relationship with their owner and training to make them successful members of society. Without those three things, the size of the dog does not matter, it will be a problem and/or nuisance to the owner and the neighbors.
11_dog_dino on watch

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere2 comments

Yelp me!

IMG_0850Imagine, if you would, a moment in your life that you were anxious, upset, fearful or just leary of what was happening around you. What did you do? Did you bite your lip, lick your lips, or press them together? Perhaps you avoided eye contact with the person who made you uncomfortable, clenched your jaw, wrinkled your brow, or stiffened as the moment became increasingly distressing. Maybe you backed up, turned away, or started sweating. All these are natural responses to stress, fear, anxiety and all of them have corresponding behaviors in our dogs.

 

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When faced with the unknown or the uncomfortable, our dogs will tell us in no uncertain terms that they are stressed. We just need to recognize the signals, both subtle and un, that our dogs display. For example, the puppy at the upper left is telling me that he is uncertain about something. I know this because his mouth is closed, his head is turned away, and I can see the whites of his eyes. The labrador to the right, does not like the camera and tells me this by looking away with wide eyes, ears tucked, a closed mouth, and a veins on the side of his face are enlarged.

Irish Lip licking

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Another sign that your dog may be excited, stressed, or aroused (higher energy and awareness of his surroundings) is lip licking when no food is around, or yawning when he isn’t tired. (Left two pictures).

 

 

Interestingly, even as our dogs smile (as I mentioned last week) so do they also frown! Patricia McConnell, PhD, describes it in For the Love of A Dog,

When humans frown, we move the centers of our eyebrows down and toward each other. Dogs frown, too, and it’s another relatively easy signal to read once you learn to look for it. It’s clear that these are important signals in social communication – in both species the muscles above the eyes are accented, by hair (in our case) and coloration changes (in the case of most dogs).

329034_274672889217492_119922748025841_1041722_1158631897_oIn the case of Roxy (black dog to the right), this was one of the first times that her owners were away and she was getting to know me, as well as trying to figure out what I was doing! Her wrinkled brow tells me that she is not altogether certain that what I am doing, right then, is “okay”. (As an aside, I took her picture and then let her sniff my phone. A few treats also helped to assuage her!)

There are many signals that our dog use to communicate to us that they are uncomfortable, and I have illustrated just a few of the more common ones.  Some others include stiffening, sweaty paw pads, and leaning back or backing away from something. (We humans do these things as well when nervous or leary, though we generally do not sweat through the bottoms of our feet!) You can begin to recognize the way your dog communicates his or her feelings by watching what they do, and what their bodies and faces look like when you know they are experiencing particular emotions such as excitement, uncertainty, or fear. Knowing how to read  your dog’s body language will also help you to know when your dog is asking for your help to better manage the unexpected.

 

 

 

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This picture is in response to the comment by Laura below and is Roxy (the dog immediately above) doing her round head look. In this instance she had not done anything wrong, but I think I might have shouted to one of the other dogs to come and she was right next to me when I raised my voice so the other dogs could hear me across the fenced-in area. She looks guilty (or pitiable) but I really think it was in response to me raising my voice, not anything she had done. It is, however, very cute and is sure to illicit a treat from me every time!

 

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs Stress: signals, management, & warning signs6 comments

Beware of Cement Pigs!

small_heroic_bingleyIMG_2679

When my dog Mr. Bingley was about 6 months old we walked past a neighbor’s house where a cement pig resides in the front yard. We’d passed this house many times, but for some reason, on this particular day, Bingley noticed the pig and froze, staring at it and puffing up like a bottle brush. He didn’t know what to make of this strange and apparently dangerous object!  To help Bingley overcome his seemingly irrational fear of concrete porkers, I kept his leash loose and gave him a treat as he looked at the pig. I stepped toward the pig and waited, offering him another tasty morsel if he took a step closer. He did. I repeated this procedure until he was able to sniff the offending swine and easily take a treat from the top of its head. This whole procedure took less than 10 minutes and from that day on Bingley has ignored the cement beast. Because he was able to approach and explore the object at his pace and he got rewarded for doing so, Bingley learned that there was nothing to fear.

In working with dogs, cats, and horses, I have noticed that they are most comfortable with new things when given the opportunity to explore novel items at their own pace. Temple Grandin describes this phenomenon nicely in her book Animals Make Us Human, “[N]ovelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it is presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don’t want new things shoved into their faces, and people don’t either.” Bingley and his encounter with the cement pig, is a classic example of this.

If you need to introduce your cat, goat, dog, guinea pig, horse, or bird to something novel, especially something that is going to be in the animal’s life for awhile, remember that forced novelty is frightening. Give your pet the time and space it needs to explore the item, reward it for its efforts to engage the object and you will likely have a happy and non-traumatic encounter.

Behavior or "What the heck?" Shy dogs2 comments