Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Training Rant - Fear

There are so many people out there who think it is ok that their dog will cower behind them when other dogs/people approach. What's wrong with it? The dog is physically managed - beside / behind the owner ... so why is there a problem? Never mind that the dog is nowhere close to the place mentally where she should be!

I get so frustrated when people say something along those lines! I just want to bang my head on the closest hard surface and leave the world behind ...
If the dog can't deal with different stimuli, than you will begin to see fear-biting when you remove her security blanket. It will happen; it's a natural progression. This is a dangerous behaviour and one that many dogs have been euthanized for.
We saw the behaviour turn into fear aggression with the dog we were sitting over the weekend. Funny thing when you remove an emotional crutch ... the dog has to deal on her own! This particular one can't seem to deal with anything approaching her or walking towards her (like another person/dog on the sidewalk opposite).
This is not a behaviour the owners see because the owner is the crutch (or security blanket). The dog leans on them for support and is not able to stand on her own. When you remove that security, you see the dog's true colours and you can begin to understand a bit about how the dog feels. It is really sad for me to see a dog like this with so much potential ... especially one who has been with the same owners from a pup because then you know the problem is with the owners and their training.
Fear can be a strong motivator. Newsflash. It is NOT ok for your dog to cower behind you (or between your legs)! She is NOT a trust worthy, stable dog! This is a very serious behaviour that could develop into something dangerous!
This is something that could be fixed so easily and quickly in the early stages ... if only the owners will commit.
It's too bad that not every dog owner has the opportunity to have someone take their dog for a few days for a test run. Then you can easily figure out which behaviours are fanned by the owner and which ones are dampened (there will always be some on both sides of the fire).

I spoke with the owners about this issue (and a few others) at which point I learned that they only walk her twice a week (on a good week, OFFLEASH) ... otherwise, she just goes out to the backyard for bathroom breaks. Of course we don't walk the dog ... we don't have time for THAT! (No wonder she was absolutely exhausted after three days worth of running with my dogs plus a petsmart visit plus long walks every day!)
I hope they do something about it, though I'm not overly hopeful.
(I'm not hopeful because I have the castoff dog from the same family (brother's house) and he obviously started with the same issues - it's like looking at a young him. We are still working through his reactivity, though he no longer tries to attack cars and he's pretty good with people now.)
Fear is something that can turn very quickly into a worse behaviour. What seems like some simple submissive behaviour can actually manifest into something terrible. Most of the dogs that I get start out with simple fear. The problem becomes more than most owners can handle when the dog gains the self-confidence to go with the fear; then they have a real problem.


GoLightly said...

Great post!

So true...

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that a dog like this needs training and a desensitization program. However, I totally disagree with your line about the dog having been with the same owner since puppyhood, and thus the temperament being the owner's fault. I have been competing in eleven dog sports since 1977 and my dogs have worked in TV and as models. I have an M.S. in animal behavior, and worked full time as a behaviorist for seven years. I used to believe as you do, but I have since done a 180 degree turn. I now believe that 90% of a dog's behavior is GENETIC. A lousy temperament can be modified by a good trainer, but the dog will always have a basically unsound temperament. Conversely, a dog with a good temperament will be non-aggressive even if unsocialized and kept in an abusive/neglectful home until eventual recue and adoption. I have had dogs from each circumstance. The good ones are good despite horrible conditions and no socialization, and the shy/fearful/bullying/aroused dogs keep vestiges of that bad temperament no matter how much training is put into them.

mytwh said...

I'm dealing with similar situation with our new shelter dog right now! Although, I really think his "fear" isn't true fear, it's a way for him to get attention and to try to get us to coddle him. Example: last night my husband takes off his hat (which he's taken off at least 100 times since we've gotten this dog) and Dominic suddenly drops to the floor in "fear", shaking, the whole bit.

I've caught on to him by now. My husband starts running his hat all over Dominic to desensitize him and then FINALLY my husband realizes that this "fear" is Dominic's way of getting attention. He's not afraid of the baseball hat that he's seen a million times, he wants to pet and loved on and he gets that when he acts a certain way.

This is a very needy, needy dog. He weighs 60 pounds but would sit in your lap all day if he could, follows us everywhere, and always has to be with you. He has pretty bad seperation anxiety. So we've been making him sit before he gets attention, making him go lie down when he's following us, ignoring him, etc. I really think Dominic has figured out that if he acts scared then he doesn't have to do what you're telling him to do (sometimes if you tell him to sit he'll start shaking like he's terrified) or as a way to get attention and people petting him and telling him he's ok.

Anyway, I usually just make him go through the fear inducing thing (suddenly, one day after walking every day for 3 weeks he was "scared" of the mailboxes), initially giving him praise and maybe a treat and then go on as business usual. Now when we walk under a mailbox and I see a certain look in his eye I just snap the leash and tell him COME and he does it. I'm so glad my husband is FINALLY catching on so we can work together on this! Hopefully we can nip this behavior in the bud and make him confident in the process :)

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

anon ...

The owner has had the dog for over a year ... they don't think this is a problem behaviour ... the fear is also not a new behaviour. How is that not a problem with the owner?

The reason why I suggest the owners are responsible for this is because they should be working with her and not encouraging the behaviour. When she does this, they talk in a encouraging voice, patting and praising. They think it is good that she is physically there - many owners do.

mytwh ...

Great insight! It doesn't take long for them to figure out that they will get the rewards they want if they display certain behaviours (like patting or stroking or even simply attention). He sounds like a dog that may wrap you around his paw if you're not careful :)

You are crating him, right?

When he's sitting and shaking, rather than petting him (which will encourage the shaking behaviour), why not try putting your hand on him without moving it? Sort of like a sturdy, reassuring touch rather than a praising one? I have tried this with my guys and found that it actually calms them more!

(suddenly, one day after walking every day for 3 weeks he was "scared" of the mailboxes)

I get that a lot with the dogs I foster. I've found a few reasons that cause this (including overstimulation, attention issues and the "honeymoon phase").

Good luck with him! He's going to be a great dog when you're done.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh! My budgies don't cower! And they all weigh about 30 grams!! Living with humans isn't "natural" exactly (more true for exotic bird than dogs and cats, granted). I guess a lot of pet animals have their socialization ignored/mismanaged and end up psychologically perturbed. It's really too bad.

GoLightly said...

You raise what you praise, anon.

It's 100% up to the owner to get to where the dog needs to be.
And yes, for sure there are indeed bad temperaments out there. Bad dogs are born, for sure. Very few of them, at least in the good 'uns.

Depends on how they start, and how sound they basically are, inside.
(puts bag over head anonymously:)

Cyndi and Stumpy said...

I always tell people socialization is so much more important than training...

You can have the best rained dog in the world, but if the dogs not socialized all that training is a ttotal waste.

RuckusButt said...

I don't even know what to say, that's how much I love this post. I suspect that owners/caretakers of fearful dogs feel pity for them and they don't recognize the seriousness of this behaviour.

I foster dogs for our local shelter and I learned the importance of fear issues the hard way. I too did not think it was "a big deal". Until I had a dog who just would not improve with socialization. Oh, she was great with dogs and learned to be okay with us as long as we didn't make any sudden moves (you know, like getting up out of a chair, lol). But she just shut down or cowered whenever anyone else was around, even people she had been around countless times.

I STILL thought she wasn't too bad! She wasn't aggressive, after all. Fortunately, I got a very gentle and thorough education from the wonderful staff and I understood not only how unstable and stressed this dog was but also that, after all the time and effort with zero change, that she was not adoptable. Whew, that was a hard thing to accept, but totally right.

I recently had another fear case who at first seemed quite bad but did improve with socialization. I don't think she'll ever be an outgoing dog, but stable and happy? Sure.

And it's refreshing to hear someone else who takes their dog's exercise seriously. Even my vet thinks I'm a little nuts :)

mytwh said...

Anon-I thought about your comments all last night. The thing I keep coming back to-how can it NOT be the owner's fault? Case and point: my new shelter dog (we'll call him D) and my parents dog (we'll call him C).

My parents have owned C for 4 years, since he was an 8 week old puppy. We always "joke" that he's neurotic, needs a dog psychiatrist and meds. He's your classic unsecure dog that needs a strong leader, which my parents do not do. He barks at everything, barks until you give him what he wants. ALWAYS needs to be with my dad and freaks out if my dad leaves him for a only a few minutes, lunges at other dogs AND people, has bitten at least 1 dog and 1 person that I know of. He's very unstable, but my parents don't give him the exercise and leadership that he needs, so he's a complete and utter nut that no one can trust. His fear overtakes him and he has no one to rely on so he snaps, literally. My parents ALLOW this behavior to continue and do nothing to stop it. In desperation I've tried to get my dad to watch Casear Milan or Victoria Stillwell, to no avail. I tried to send him websites detailing how to deal with his fear and agression and he tells me that he doesn't think C is agressive (even though he's bitten people and other dogs and tells me he's afraid he'll attack another dog!)!

Enter D, about a month ago. His personality so closes matches C's personality. However, I do not let him do ANY of the things my parents allow C to do. And you know what, it's working! Slowly but surely he's becoming more confident, less needy, he's realizing that he can't demand attention and get whatever he wants, realizing that I'm (and more slowly my husband) the boss and if he just chills, I'll take care of him. I know for a fact that if my parents had this dog, he would be exactly the same dog as C.

So, how can this NOT be the owners fault? I'm not trying to bash you, I really, truly want to know. I'm still learning a lot about dog behavior and training so I'd like to know your take on the situation.

DDF-yes we are crating D. I've read different things about crating, how you should crate them when they have speration anxiety and others say you absolutely should NOT crate them. Personally, I think it's better to crate him and keep the behavior contained while we work on this issue than have him 1. push out the screen, run away, get caught by the ACO and have us have to pay $35 to get him back (actually happened, while I was at work, on my birthday!) 2. eat the basement door, 3. scratch the front door to pieces, 4. defecate and urinate in the house, all these behaviors which just piss my husband and I off. So, I figure it's better that he be in a crate and deal with it than be out and us mad at him all the time. I didn't want to crate him all day because he has luxating patellas and I thought it would be better for him to move around during the day, but at this point, crating is the best for all parties involved!

Re: the shaking, I find even putting a hand on him rewards the behavior for him (he takes any attention as good attention). I just ignore it, once he sits or does what I ask I then say good dog and walk away. The shaking has reduced greatly, he only does it once in a while now.

Yesterday while on a walk he became "terrified" of a trash bag. I made him confront the issue calmly and reasonably, rewarded him for good behavior and moved on. When we came back by the scary trash bag he dealt with it a lot better, so I feel like we're making progress. Slowly but surely!

mytwh said...

I want to add that I understand dogs are born with certain traits, as people are, but my point is that it's what the owner does with those traits that makes or breaks the dog.

And DDF, any ideas on how to "get through" to the people with dogs like the one you babysat and my parents, when they don't do anything about the real issues? I just can't get through to them. I'm waiting for the call to tell me that he had to put down because he bit someone. Sigh...

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

GoLightly ...

I like that ... "Raise what you praise". Nice ring to it.

GSC ...

Socialization training is where so many people fall down. I've met dogs with great obedience and agility training, but their manners and socialization are just dreadful.

RuckusButt ...

Glad you liked it! I'm also glad you came by my blog - hope to hear from you again. You're probably right, pity comes in. I usually find they treat them as they would children in these situations forgetting that dogs aren't children and require different support systems.

I've run into those situations with fosters too. Because of this, I'm very careful about how much stimulus I introduce at one time to a dog and I try to control the environment as much as possible to prevent overstimulation (which always results in bad behaviours).

mytwh ...

My opinion is that it is all about the training. Plain and simple. Yes, dogs can be born with predispositions, but that is not the be-all and end-all ... though I have found many people use it as a good excuse!

You can take a dog with predisposition to be fearful and teach him that it is safe to be outgoing ... it takes longer, but you can do it.

You're right about the crating too - would you rather have all the damage done?? If that is your option, then it's not a very good one. Separation anxiety is NOT my favourite thing to work with and it takes a lot of time. Were I you, I would crate him too. That being said, you should work a lot with him with the crate (getting used to it, associating it with good things like cookiefilledyummies, etc)

The best way I have found to "Get Through" to them? Explain exactly what is going to happen. Point by point. Point blank. Here's an example since I'm not being very clear:

I would tell the owner these things in order ...
- dog has fear issues
- dog has lack of self-confidence so leans on owner to 'save' them

(this is where we are now. what will happen follows)

- as dog grows and learns, he builds self-confidence
- there will be instance where owner won't 'save' dog in the way dog expects
- now that dog is more confident, he deals with it himself (show teeth / fur raises / ears back / etc)
- owner doesn't correct verbally (since dog is hiding behind or under) and if fearful thing backs off, dog learns that owner won't do 'saving' but he can do it himself

- there will be a time when the show of teeth doesn't work to make the scary thing go away.
- at this point the snarl will turn into a bite.

How long before it is a child and not another dog that is the scary thing?

mytwh said...

Thanks for the response. D actually really loves the crate and spends a lot of time in there (sleeps there at night, goes in on the weekends to sleep). I think he was either crate trained before we got him or he just wants his nice soft bed instead of the floor (not allowed on furniture at this point. Maybe some day in the future). He just doesn't like being left alone. He's getting a lot better about it though (was destructive in there when we left but fingers crossed he's gone over a week with no destruction). We had a really good weekend but Mondays are always the worst.

Thanks for the tips. I really think it would be a good idea to just confront them about it. I've been "hinting" for a while and it's just nor getting through, I need to be more direct.

BTW, we started our obedience class this weekend and it went pretty well. The trainer said a lot of things I've been "nagging" my husband about so I thought that was good :)