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Scared of so many things

April 16th, 2005, 04:07 PM
Although I have had many dogs in the past, this is the first time I've had a puppy.

She is 6 months old and she is afraid of a lot of things even though we've tried our best to expose her to as much as we could. She walks well on a leash until she sees one of the following:

Sewers, (round and square), granite flooring, large black objects like statues, baby carriages, people dressed all in black, bald men, stairs, people on bicycles, people on roller blades, skateboards etc., large moving trucks, cement rollers, streetcars, fountains, flying debris, building fire alarm and the list goes on...

When will the fears start to subside? She'll be walking really nicely by my side, even through swarms of walking people when suddenly she will see one of the above and she will bolt and go nuts on the leash like some kind of lunatic--she doesn't bark she just tries to run away--if she could scream I'm sure she would. It doesn't make for a nice walk at all because there are a lot of sewer grates on the road. I'm afraid that someday I may let go of the leash accidently because I can't really predict what she will be afraid of!

I've been just ignoring her reactions and walking right over the sewer grates and making her follow me anyway. Is that wrong? I've been told just to ignore her until the behaviour subsides and to praise her when she does--but to no avail. It seems to be getting worse. As for the other fears I tell her no firmly and hold her in a sit until she calms down. It's not making her better however.

I don't know why she's getting worse. I've been taking her to the downtown area to expose her to even more noise and fear objects so that she will get used to it because we live in the suburbs where it is much more quiet. Should I even bother? After her first downtown exposure she was shaking so hard it was heartbreaking because there were so many sights and sounds she was not familiar must have been horrifying. I hate to do it, but I think she needs to be exposed or else she'll grow into adulthood with those fears. I know about the fear imprinting period but I think she is over that by now.

Does anyone have any other suggestions and constructive criticisms? Is this just because she is puppy?

April 16th, 2005, 06:15 PM
There is more than one fear period, I can't remember exactly but I think the last one runs from 6 - 14 months. So don't worry yet. My dog was afraid of lots of things too, including sewer grates, plastic pools, garbage bags, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, puddles large and small, etc. She's just now actually getting over her fears and she's 15 months old. Just a couple of months ago she would not go within 2 feet of a puddle, now she's walking through them. My concern would be that you're forcing the dog to face a lot of fears at once and that will ultimately increase the trauma and make it take longer to get over them. For instance, imagine you have a phobia of spiders. Would it help you get over it by putting you in a room filled with them and having them crawl all over you? Probably not, you would just be even more traumatized. But starting small, like looking at a picture of a spider, then seeing one on TV, etc. etc. working up to actually being in the same room with one and so on would desensitize you. So with your dog's fears being as they are, I would avoid exposing her to lots of fears at once, it will just increase her stress level and likelihood to react fearfully when on a walk even when fears are not present. It's very probable that she's just going to end up growing out of them - try not to force her into facing them but at the same time don't totally avoid them or she'll never learn that they're nothing to be afraid of when she develops enough courage to investigate. Also I'm not sure exactly when you praise her - but it could become confusing if you praise when she stops the behavior only, because that could be understood as "I had this behavior, when I was done I got praised." It would be better to praise any courageous investigative acts, like sniffing something she's afraid of or walking past something without bolting. Food can sometimes be used to encourage curiosity too and is a good reward for investigating something.

Lucky Rescue
April 16th, 2005, 07:01 PM
For instance, imagine you have a phobia of spiders. Would it help you get over it by putting you in a room filled with them and having them crawl all over you? Probably not, you would just be even more traumatized.

Exactly!! (I know I would be!! :eek: ) Forcing her to face the things she fears will not make her "get over it". In fact, it will make it worse, since she now feels that you will not protect her and her only option is to flee.

Desensitization is the way to go. Take her to quiet areas, where you can see in advance what will scare her. As soon as you spot it, and BEFORE your dog freaks out, start tossing treats around her,so that she will associate the scary things with something good.

April 16th, 2005, 07:24 PM
The other way is to let them explore things that are not harmful. Like the granite floor. If you are on it playing by yourself, showing you're not afraid, the dog may decide to adventure eventually. Some aren't adventurous enough though. If you act as a base for the doggy, maybe eventually she'll think she is safe enough and have a bit more confidence...

I have to say that a lot of the things on your list are things that I would say are ok to be afraid of. Like sewer grates, people dressed in all black, skateboards, large moving trucks, cement rollers, streetcars... I would LOVE it if my dogs were afraid of moving cars or trucks.

April 17th, 2005, 11:24 AM
There is a great new book out by Temple Grandin, 'Animals in Translation'. It explains from an animalís point of view why these things are so unsettling. I am thinking your pup has heightened sensitivity, and is on sensory overload.
It sounds like you are doing a good job of not dramatizing the fears. There are 2 fears periods but she is past them both already.
Doing the Tellington Touch on her ears and tail (dogs hold fear in their ears and tail like we do in our necks and shoulders), while she is fearful can help her to release the nerves. The TTouch is massaging her skin in circular motions - about a circle and a 1/4 - and moving each time you make a new circle. This can help her relax considerably. I was working the TTouch on a dog at the vets who was shaking terribly due to a swollen eye. Within a minute of starting the massage he stopped shaking and calmed down.
If you were terribly scared of spiders and were determined to get over it. I would have you in a room and tell you there was one in the house next door. I would wait until you took an emotional deep breath and then tell you that the spider was on the deck of the house next door. I would move this spider closer to you until you could handle having it in the same room and you are breathing normally...until it could be next to you and though you may still not like it you would not be freaking out either. You would face your fears and overcome them - in due time.
Taking her to the big city and overwhelming her with scarey stuff is not her answer. She might need you to help her in more modified baby-steps. My point is to try to set up the opportunity to help her. Have a big black coat in the house and work at getting her over the fear and insecurity. Bring the coat into her living space a little more each day until she is eating off of it. Do the TTouch if she is showing fear (but don't 'coo' at her while you are doing it). For fear of sounds, play the 'William Tell Overture softly while she eats her meals and increase the volume over time as she gets used to it. Movement seems to bother her aswell, so move irratically at times. If a dog jumps when I move my hands then I move my hands a lot (in a non threatening manner), until the dog stops startling at the movement and then I praise. Then I do it again and the dog barely notices most of the time. Introduce these things gently but let her get to the point she moves past her fears. If she is showing fear and you just remove her from the fearful things then she remembers her fears even more intensely. Wait until you see her relax - but at first it might take a while to help her become relaxed. The problem is people tend to avoid problems - it's easier, so we don't create the opportunities to teach. Though it sounds like you have been trying very hard to help this little one get over her stuff.
When she bolts I would just stand still (try not to move away from the object), ask her to sit/stay, and wait until she relaxes, then praise her for relaxing. Try to get a few steps closer and do the same. Each time she is realizing that the thing is not hurting her and you have everything under control.
This is not a quick fix, and is a combination of her maturing, your great leadership and gentle exposure to the very things she is not comfortable with.

April 17th, 2005, 06:27 PM
I didn't read ll the responses so forgive me if I repeat. You are right to ignore the fear behaviour. Don't coddle her. Don't over expose her. She trusts you to protect her and if you are forcing her towards something she is afraid of she will stop trusting you and the fear will get more engrained.

On lead walk her towards an object or person or whatever she is afraid of. There will be a point where she has her original reaction. Tries to back away, cowers, leans on you, sits on yuur feet... At that point when she has become aware of the item back up a little until she is comfortable again.

So now she is aware of the object abd the fear reaction is subsiding. Stand around and wait, eventually the dog will start some grooming activity and may lie down. Let her be a moment. She is perfectly comfortable and she knows the object is there.

Now walk her a bit closer, regular walking speed. As soon as you see any fear reaction repeat the above excercise so step by step you get closer then back off and closer until you are beside the object and there is no fear.

You may have to do this a few times.

If she is afraid of walking on a surface, if you can, but her food on the edge and feed her there, gradually move the surface back.

Also, if some of these fears are simply because they are new situations, experiencing them with dogs she is familiar with can help. For example, a dog may be timid towards going in the water. But if another dog it is playing with goes in then it may just follow right in. It may not swim right away, but it'll get wet and realize it is none worse for wear.

I had an experience with an adult dog that terrified to use stairs. It grew up in a bungalow in the country, never seen them before. :rolleyes: . It was a real pain in the butt for the first week. Until one day the dog was on the balcony on the second floor at the top of the fire escape stairs and a cat buzzed through the backyard. Believe me, you've never seen a dog fly down stairs like she did. The dog never refused a stair again 'cause you never know when that cat is going to be at the bottom of those stairs.

I think the behaviourists call that flooding. :D