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Advice on extremely frightened barn puppy?

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  • Advice on extremely frightened barn puppy?

    Sorry this is so long. Hoping to get some advice or ideas on how to desensitize a new terrier/spaniel puppy. She's roughly 12 weeks old, and we've had her for the past 2 weeks. She has been figuring out the walking on a leash business fairly well, but has had a serious setback and is now extremely frightened about leaving the security of "home" to go outside. She stays in the barn office in a crate when we're at the barn, and she's quite happy to nap in there between periodic play sessions and potty breaks. Last week she was being walked, and my sister lost her grip on the leash and it fell behind her, spooking her. Unfortunately she was using one of those retractable leashes, so the plastic handle dragged behind her and scared her to death- she ran screaming like a bullet back to the office. The leash got wrapped around her hind leg, but thankfully didn't do any damage- she was physically fine but very, very scared. Luckily she was on the right side of the property and didn't cross any roads and even better she knew exactly how to get back.

    Now though, she doesn't want to go out at all- doesn't matter if you take her out a different way than the "scary" walk, or if you're taking her out at home. With or without the other barn dogs along doesn't make a difference. Every walk now is met with extreme reluctance, and she almost seems like she has a panic attack- panting hard, crying the entire time and trying desperately to turn herself inside out to get back to the door and inside. Even to take a 1 minute potty break involves a meltdown. If I pick her up and carry her 40 or 50 feet from the door, she will walk a bit better, but she's still crying to herself and trying to decide whether to try and turn back. Once we get somewhere fun, like the horse trails or the park, then she forgets about her trauma and is happy to play for a bit. But the minute we turn back to go home, instant nervousness, and she wants to sprint back the entire way, getting more and more panicked the closer she gets to home or office. If we have to stop along the way to wait for a light, she completely melts down.

    Other than feeling horrible, and certain that I am going straight to hell for letting her get scared so badly, is there anything I can do to get her over this? She is going to her first puppy class next week, so I'm hoping that will be a fun experience and help her learn that leaving home can be nice. She's submissive to meeting other dogs, but not frightened, and is tentative with new people, but usually secure enough if you're with her to say hello. She's met a few of the friendly horses, and isn't frightened of them, although she's not allowed near the aisle when a horse is present.

    Any ideas would be appreciated! (And yes, that awful leash has been thrown out).

  • #2
    Did you switch to a regular leash?

    I think the retractables are not good for puppies, because they don't "get" where the leash will become taut, and can take off running only to hit the end.

    She sounds like a very sensitive dog who might require a trainer to help you with a program to give her confidence, since she becomes overwhelmed so easily.
    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That's how the light gets in.

    Comment


    • #3
      Puppies go thru fear periods and your puppy may be in one now, that she will hopefully outgrow soon.
      That may be contributing to her over the top reaction to what happened and that she is keeping that up.

      Hard to say what to do without seeing the puppy and how you respond to what it does.
      The puppy classes will help and the trainer there should be able to help you with that problem.

      Until you get on the spot help, keep training your puppy where it is not freaking out, so it is learning to communicate and so, when the scary moments and places happen, you will have a way to reassure it that it will be familiar with.

      If your puppy has a stable temperament, it should get over that as it grows and becomes more secure with the world around it.

      Don't beat yourself, something can happen here and there any time, to anyone, that is life.
      That you are working to remedy this bump on the road to a good solid, trained citizen dog is what matters now.

      Any pictures?

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Yes, she has a regular leash that we use with her. I don't like the retractable ones either, and especially this one- since its for small dogs, the handle is tiny and you can only get a couple of fingers through it. I'm sure that's why it was dropped- you can't get a decent grip on it.

        She wears a harness, rather than a collar.

        She is a really sweet puppy, and was doing pretty well with learning how to walk until this. I know it was a stupid mistake to even let her be walked on that leash in the first place.

        And of course, I should have added photos. Better sit down before you look though- I don't want anyone fainting from cuteness overload.
        http://i165.photobucket.com/albums/u...es/Peaches.jpg

        http://i165.photobucket.com/albums/u...s/Peaches1.jpg
        Last edited by Cammie; Jul. 16, 2010, 09:13 PM. Reason: add photos

        Comment


        • #5
          Get rid of retractable leash. I've only ever seen them teach dogs to pull, anyway, and even a relatively sane adult dog can freak out if they get loose and the plastic thing is clattering along behind them.

          My approach would be:

          Get a decently long training leash (or heck, just use a lunge line if you have one around the barn) and attach one end to puppy. Giving her plenty of slack, move yourself just slightly into the 'scary area' while leaving her where she feels comfortable. Proceed to ignore her. (Or at least, you know, pretend to. You don't want to ACTUALLY be totally unaware of what she's up to, but fussing will just serve to reinforce that there's something to be scared of.) If you have something with you that she finds super-interesting, like smelly tasty treats or her favorite toy, even better. Let her know you have it, but don't try to actually tempt her with it. If she comes out even part way, reward her. Repeat, moving out of her comfort area a little bit each time, until she has realized the scary area is not scary. (If you wanted to use a retractable leash on her at some point in the future, once she was nice and secure I'd probably do something similar with the leash - first put the handle out where she can sniff it. Then have someone move it a little and let her check it out. Then move it more. Etc.)

          Anyway, the key is to be calm and act completely oblivious to the fact that she's so worked up, so that the message you're giving her is "there's nothing to be scared about, what are you so worked up over?" while chopping the scary thing down into smaller pieces so you're not asking her to have to have TOO much courage in any one session.

          At least, that's what we did for Pirate when he'd develop anxiety when Foxy play growled, or when my dad was gardening. (He's pretty bonded to me so I didn't have to have any treats or toys to tempt him with, because being close to me was enough, but if he hadn't been that kind of dog I would've probably used either the Most Beloved Toy - with restricted access to it other times - or a smelly tasty treat like small pieces of chicken or something else really high value.) He's still not entirely certain about larger guys with garden tools, but he doesn't freak out about it now - he's just not quite as friendly and exuberant as he normally is. (Which is still pretty friendly.)

          Anyway, if nothing else, I'd make sure not to fuss over her when she is getting all wound up. I wouldn't punish her, either - but I wouldn't baby talk/give lots of cuddles/etc. Just pick her up in a matter-of-fact way and transport her over the scary area as if there's nothing exciting about it, and let her calm herself down before giving her attention. (I mean, if you normally pat her on the head when you take her into the barn, then do that, but don't do anything specifically because she's upset.) Fussing over a nervous/scared dog tends to just reinforce that they're doing the right thing in being nervous and scared. (At the same time, punishing a nervous or scared dog... gives them something else to be nervous or scared about! So you don't want to do that, either. )

          ETA: AWW. What a cutie. (I bet she's HEARTBREAKING when she's upset.)
          Last edited by kdow; Jul. 16, 2010, 09:24 PM. Reason: Puppy pictures!

          Comment


          • #6
            No, no, don't start blaming yourself. Dogs are individuals, just like all of us. Some are timid, some are bold. I only dislike the retractables as a training issue--they don't set a clear boundary for a puppy. It seems to encourage pulling.

            For an older dog who walks well on a leash, they are fine.

            She may not have been out and about much as a younger puppy, and like Bluey said, her brain is going through the phase of developing a fear reaction. That's why dogs can be domesticated and wolves generally can't--wolf pups brains develop the ability to fear much earlier than dogs. If she was kept indoors all the time, she didn't get exposure to the Big Wide World when she didn't know what fear was.

            It IS fairly important to get her out and about now, before she gets much older. Weeks do count at this age, because her brain is developing. That's not bad news--it means she still can develop easily in a more confident direction.

            The puppy class, and taking her anywhere you can, keeping her close to you so she feels more secure, perhaps? And doing some (very very easy) training with treats in the areas outside the house where she IS more relaxed too.

            There are many more resources now than there used to be for dogs, so don't get worried. You worrying won't make her more confident!
            Ring the bells that still can ring
            Forget your perfect offering
            There is a crack in everything
            That's how the light gets in.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by MelantheLLC View Post
              No, no, don't start blaming yourself. Dogs are individuals, just like all of us. Some are timid, some are bold.

              It IS fairly important to get her out and about now, before she gets much older. Weeks do count at this age, because her brain is developing. That's not bad news--it means she still can develop easily in a more confident direction.

              There are many more resources now than there used to be for dogs, so don't get worried. You worrying won't make her more confident!
              I agree with all of this, but particularly about not blaming yourself. When Foxy was a puppy she jumped out of my arms with no warning, landed on the floor, and made such a fuss you'd've thought she was dying. (She was not injured at ALL.) I felt awful, because I wasn't really watching for that because she was settled in quite calmly and then - bip!

              We've had her for almost eight years now, and while she's still a drama queen (snag a snarl in her hair combing out burrs - omg, she's DYING!) she has no problems at all being held or picked up and is quite cooperative about it. If you're calm and confident, dogs get over things.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Thanks

                Thank you for the advice and support- lord knows I can't afford a miniature couch and doggy psychologist sessions for her, so I hope I haven't traumatized her for life.

                I bet she's HEARTBREAKING when she's upset.
                You better believe it. Not only is everyone within a 100 foot radius wondering who in the world is murdering a puppy, but the absolute panic meltdowns she has are SO hard to watch. Before she was mildly worried about leaving home on walks, but just crying softly to herself and some reluctance. Then the great leash terror happened, and now its full on hysteria.

                I have been ignoring her hysterics, and just keep walking forward. If she flings herself to the ground, I don't drag her along but wait until she decides to panic sprint towards me a few feet and start to move on again. I've been trying not to let her go backward towards safety. I have also been picking her up and carrying her further away from the door- it seems if you get far enough away she isn't quite as adamant about getting back. She tries, but isn't as physical about it. I do talk to her, but in a regular conversational tone- not excited or pleading. Just "come on, let's go". I was really hoping bringing one of the adult barn dogs along on walks would help as a lead by example, but she doesn't care at all and isn't reassured.

                Not really sure on the early history- she was left in a box at the vet's office. She spent 2 weeks at a foster with another puppy, but I don't know what type of set-up they had there and how much she got out and about.

                The immediately scary areas are right outside wherever "home" is at that moment- the office, my apartment, the dogsitter's house. Which sucks, because when its late at night and you just want to do a last minute potty break, she completely flips her lid. Should I carry her 50 feet down the street with her to get away from the door, or just let her throw a fit for 5 minutes trying to teleportate herself through the door before she gives up and pees?

                And then coming home from an outing is hard to deal with too- she gets more and more stressed the closer she gets, and I feel like I'm reconfirming that fear by allowing her to ramp up the anxiety. But I don't know how else to get back home though- I can stop and try to wait for her to calm down, change directions and go back the other way for a bit......but eventually I do have to get back to the office or home. It feels like its rewarding the behavior- freak out, yet you're still rewarded by reaching safety, you know?

                Comment


                • #9
                  I'd try some basic counterconditioning. Is she food motivated, or are there toys she REALLY likes? It sounds like you can identify the "danger zone" where she begins to react. You need to sort of rewind and figure out where she starts freaking out, and reward her for moving toward the danger zone BEFORE she gets to the point where she is over threshold. For example, if you open the door and she orients toward the door, reward that. Do it over and over and over again (short sessions, but lots of them). The start upping the ante slowly, rewarding for walking out the door, five feet past the door, ten feet past the door, etc. Baby steps. Don't put any pressure on her to go farther than she can without being frightened and avoid the trigger situation if you can -- go out a different way, carry her every time if you have to while you are working on this, otherwise, she may backslide.

                  It may progress faster if you start clicker training her and use the clicker to mark the good behavior (i.e., orienting toward the door, going out the door, walking down the scary path, etc.) before you reward it with food/toy.

                  Here is an example of how counterconditioning worked for me and my anxious dog. I have a dog, now 11 years old, whom I adopted at 16 months. I am his fifth or sixth owner. At the time I got him he was petrified of strangers, and it was a problem because he would sometimes growl and lunge at them, and I lived in the middle of Philadelphia, so it was impossible to avoid walking past strangers. I determined about how close a person had to be for Solo to be worried (it was about one block). I carried treats on every walk and would start feeding him every time I saw someone about a block away, before he started being worried. I stopped feeding him the second the person passed us and was going in the other direction. After some time (most dogs will go faster but Solo was VERY weird when I got him) Solo began to associate the approach of strangers not with danger but with "oooh, yummy treats!" The same sort of technique works when dogs are afraid of things, or places.

                  Two good books to take a look at for fearful dogs are "The Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell (more of a pamphlet) and "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson. Both contain desensitization and counterconditioning exercises that are invaluable for anxious dogs.
                  MelanieC * Canis soloensis

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    LOL, Cammie, I feel your pain. My Great Pyrenees puppy would not let me out of his sight. Oh he cried and screamed when I left the room where he was penned. And of course I "knew" I should not come back until he stopped crying for at least 30 seconds, or I'd be reinforcing it, right?

                    So I'd go to the bathroom, and then get trapped in the bedroom, staring at my watch. He could make it exactly 10 seconds between screams. I never EVER got a full 30 seconds out of him. I mean, one has to go on with one's life.

                    And I think, in the end, that's it. You have to just go on with your life. This is a puppy. He's not going to Harvard. The things that you do over and over, he will adjust to doing eventually. So coming in and out of your own home will become routine. That day WILL come.

                    I can recall my sister's worries about potty training my oldest nephew. It began to become quite an ordeal, and I finally said, "Look, eventually he'll get it. How many high-school students aren't potty trained?"

                    Did my pyr turn out to be a brave, well-adjusted dog who never blinks at anything (like my previous pyr?). No, at 2 years old he is still an oddball who will suddenly look up at the ceiling fan that's been in my husband's study all along and decide it is a vampire hanging there in disguise. He will refuse to walk under it, and bark at it, and look up apprehensively.

                    One night a few days after he developed this interesting theory, my husband had gone to bed. (I was out of town.) The dog was barking in some other part of the house--not uncommon for a pyr. But it went on and on. Finally my DH got up, and found our dog trapped in the far end of his study, afraid to go under the ceiling fan to reach the door. DH opened the outside door, and the dog rushed out, terrified.

                    But hey, I can leave and go the bathroom now and he could care less.

                    Dogs! The only thing worse is horses.

                    ETA: totally agree with Melanie, too. You can counter-condition to make it quicker. Just have faith that eventually it will all work out.
                    Ring the bells that still can ring
                    Forget your perfect offering
                    There is a crack in everything
                    That's how the light gets in.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      It'll be okay.

                      I'm glad you got rid of the retractable leash. doG only knows who thought up that idea. Someone who hated dogs and the people who walk them, I reckon.

                      She was probably just in one of those unfortunate fear periods when this happened. If you'll walk her on a regular flat leash, with a flat collar, make things fun for her, and most importantly: don't reward drama on her part - she'll get over it.

                      My poor DH managed to step on Faith Border Collie's foot when she was about the age of your one. OMG. Much screaming and drama and limping followed. Poor DH was sure he had maimed the puppy for life. She got over it. And so did DH.

                      I hope for a similarly happy ending in your case.
                      I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        the McConnell books are excellent (J. Donaldson might be overload).

                        I would do the counter conditioning in the house, AND I would sit just outside the door and allow her into your lap. Traditionally, ignoring is what has been suggested but this is a baby puppy and I would reassure her. Your lap should be a safe place to veiw the world. I would not croon or do much other than sit and hold her, I'd be as normal as I could be and still be her safe spot.

                        I adopted a tremendously fearful dog once, we went to the park and a couple of parking lots where he hid under a chair or bench and we watched the world go by. If he stuck his nose out, I offered a treat. There were days he could eat and days he could not, I simply offered it. After a week or so he could creep out and let his head rest on my foot, then gradually over a month or so he began to come further and further and could take treats more often.

                        He became a really good demo dog for people with fearful pets. Eventually, he became a demo dog for my classes. Once he was able to come out where I could touch him I would stroke his head and talk softly to him....it seemed to help.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Dogs move in packs, so multiple people and multiple dogs will help tremendously. "pony" her with a dog that walks well. any response remotely correct should be grossly rewarded, any resistance or fear SHOULD BE IGNORED. If you coddle this you will make it 10x worse.
                          www.destinationconsensusequus.com
                          chaque pas est fait ensemble

                          Comment

                          • Original Poster

                            #14
                            Many, many thanks again to everyone for the advice. We will stop at the store in the morning on the way to the barn to try and find an appropriate smelly treat. Hopefully one yummy enough to make bravery seem worthwhile!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by threedogpack View Post
                              the McConnell books are excellent (J. Donaldson might be overload).

                              I would do the counter conditioning in the house, AND I would sit just outside the door and allow her into your lap. Traditionally, ignoring is what has been suggested but this is a baby puppy and I would reassure her. Your lap should be a safe place to veiw the world. I would not croon or do much other than sit and hold her, I'd be as normal as I could be and still be her safe spot.
                              I third the McConnell recommendation - I haven't read that particular book, but all of what I have read of hers has been excellent.

                              And what's described here would fall under what I would consider 'ignoring' for the purposes of training her - in that case, being able to sit in your lap in a safe place is the reward. I just wouldn't make a big deal about trying to GET her there - sit yourself right on the edge of her comfort area, watch her out of the corner of your eye, and when she climbs in your lap, pet her as you normally would in a non-scary place. Maybe after a bit she'll decide she feels up to exploring a bit around you, so long as she can come back to you - that's fine too. Then next time you repeat it, you go a tiny bit further than the last successful attempt, and repeat.

                              Basically you're saying "I'm here and I'm safe, but you have to take one step to get to me." And then two steps. And so on. More than likely eventually she'll have a lightbulb moment and you won't need to take her step by step ALL the way.

                              I didn't mean ignore her like just let her weep and wail and carry on while you drag her along - I think that would probably be reinforcing the whole thing by adding another upsetting situation to something where she's already clearly in way over her head and not thinking at all - you really have to give her the opportunity to 'solve' the problem for herself by breaking it down into bits she can manage.

                              This kind of training should also help develop her relationship with you while at the same time rewarding her for having self-confidence. And particularly with dogs who are prone to anxiety in general I think those two things - a good trust in people and some degree of self-confidence - are KEY to avoiding a dog who develops things like fear aggression issues. You want the dog to feel like it has the 'tools' to say 'I'm freaked out, I'm going to Mom' and at the same time have the confidence that if he or she gets to Mom, Mom will take care of it, so he or she doesn't have to.

                              Does that make sense?

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                You have to feel no anxiety or sympathy when you handle her. Pretending won't work. She'll pick up on it and it will make things worse for her. She needs for you to be strong and just go on about what business needs to be taken care of. She'll eventually get over it, mostly, if you don't dwell on her being soft. Don't talk to her with baby talk but talk as you would to another person. Don't reach down for her, but lower you hand and come in level below her chin for a while.
                                www.HistoricHousePreservation.com

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Where did you get your puppy and how long have you had her? What is her background?

                                  Deirdre Marr
                                  Dallas, TX
                                  Proud Native Texan!
                                  owned by 3 Cardigan Corgi's + 3 wonderful horses!

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    No advice to give, but I just wanted to say how absolutely freaking adorable your puppy is!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Another thing to consider-check her thyroid. Seems to go hand in hand with fearful episodes.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        OH, Bless her heart! She is so cute!
                                        I will say, I have a dog who was tied up and kicked. She is 8 and been with me 7 years and has never gotten over being on a leash. I think you are smart to try to help the little cutie get over her fear.
                                        Good luck.
                                        www.ncsporthorse.com

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