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Help in dealing with dog's "skittishness"

February 5th, 2006, 02:56 PM
I have been noticing lately that my dog seems to be getting increasingly "skittish"/nervous. She has been a nervous-ish dog (rotti) since we got her a year and a half ago (as an 8-week-old puppy). She was always terrified of the vacuum (although she's become better with this), and any other loud noise (fans, power tools, etc.). Lately, though, she seems afraid of seemingly wierd things, like baby gates, a foam puzzle mat we have on the floor, when we move our chairs out at the dinner table. Just normal things that you do everyday. She takes off downstairs and hangs out near her crate, and it takes a lot of coaxing to get her to re-join us.

I'm wondering if there is something that we can do to try to improve or eliminate this behaviour? We feel so badly that she seems so scared of mundane things. Any thoughts?

Lucky Rescue
February 5th, 2006, 05:55 PM
This is a problem that could be genetic, possibly a result of bad breeding. Rotties should NOT be skittish or fearful in any way. Did you get her from a breeder?

Have you always taken her lots of places, to see new things and new people? How has she reacted to this?

How does she react when you walk her?

February 5th, 2006, 07:31 PM
Yes, we got her from, what we believed to be, a reputable breeder. We viewed all of his dogs (four bitches and two males) prior to our consideration of him. She is registered with the CKC, and it's my understanding that this breeder does this with all of his dogs. When asked about a preferred temperament, we requested a "medium passive" pup, so perhaps you get what you ask for. Our previous rotti, however, did not show anything close to this level of nervousness.

She has not been around a ton of different people, but has been exposed to other dogs and people, and has travelled well in the car (without fear). I have to admit, though, that she has not spent a great deal of time around other people. She is very "friendly" when people come to the door (jumps up on them, difficult to control. As a result, it is pretty unpleasant for our visitors, so we have found ourselves resorting to blocking her in another room while we have visitors (which isn't all that often). We do recognize that this is training issue which we intend to remedy. When we take her for walks, it is usually at a conservation area, and so she doesn't too frequently run into other dogs/people. When she does, however, she has never displayed fear; she is very friendly (again, overly-so).

So, is there a way to alleviate this through gradual exposure to the feared stimulus? Or, will we be reinforcing her fears by exposing her to things that she is most nervous about? And, if this is an issue of genetics, do we just accept that this is "who she is"?

Lucky Rescue
February 5th, 2006, 07:53 PM
I have to point out that having CKC papers has nothing to do with quality. It merely means that the parents of the puppies are registered, are of the same breed and purebred. Even puppies way off standard, or with crappy temperaments or all kinds of genetic defects can easily be registered.

If the parents of your puppy were not shown to a title in something, then this breeder is not reputable and is not breeding to better the breed but merely to make money.

I have no way of knowing, but it does sound like a genetic problem. I can only suggest you contact a behaviorist to see first hand your dog's reactions to the things you mentioned.

Since no one here can see your dog, we just have to guess from your description.

If this is genetic, you might be able to make it manageable (not cure it) with a lot of work. Only time will tell.

The usual way of desensitizing a dog is to make positive associations to the thing it fears.

For example, the baby gate comes out and pieces of hot dog fall all around her as you gradually throw them closer to the gate.

Never force her to face her fears, never comfort her, and other than tossing good things down when she's afraid, try and ignore her fear and act normally.

Just as an aside, some rescue dogs act like this and people assume they were abused. As shown here, this is often not the case.

February 6th, 2006, 09:40 AM
I would also have her thyroid checked - sometimes Hypothyroid can contribute to temperament issues.
Other than that she needs you to provide stronger leadership. She is swimming in an ocean of fear all by herself and you are her only shot at a life raft. Because a regular obedience class might prove too much stimulation at first I would either do privates or get a video :p that permits you to start practicing at home. She needs you to get her mind on other things besides her fears. She need to build her confidence through work and build her confidence in you through your leadership. Right now she feels very alone and that no one is there to keep her safe. You need to show her that you have things under control.
We have been working tons of fearful dogs lately - some who have never known human touch - and within an hour we have them getting full body rubs and walking with manners on a leash. We believe that with the right understanding you can help her make changes quickly. She might never be 100% but you can both make great strides in helping her to trust the world.
Avoiding her fears only feeds them - but helping her get over them in a healthy way takes understanding on your part. It needs to be done correctly or you could make things worse. One big point is not to comfort or 'coo' at her when she is afraid. Do not baby her and feed her fears. You need to show confidence and teach her confidence. Having her on the leash in the house with you, helps her not go into the flight mode. Every time she runs away it perpetuates the problem. Help her stand still and get through it. There is nothing in your home that will hurt her so let her start to experience things and get through her fear to the other side. In order for anyone to get through a fear we have to face it. Give her simple jobs when she is scared - sit/stay etc. This actually calms her and get her to start looking to you for advice. The more you ask of her and she does it the better off she will be.

February 6th, 2006, 10:22 AM
Are her fears only objects and sounds. Is she good with people and other dogs?
I would find yourself a good private trainer to start and then work towards placing her into a group class.
Before anything I would go and have a full check up done and have them also test her hearing and sight.

February 10th, 2006, 03:13 PM
I have a suggestion about the jumping on visitors issue that was taught to us by the owners of the no-kill shelter where we adopted our Aussie Mix who was a big-time jumper.

They taught us that everytime she jumped up at us, we should bring up a knee and say "down" in a firm tone of voice. You should not touch the dog with your hands at all when you do this however, because the dog will see your touch as petting...a reward of sorts...even if you say "No"...they will respond to your hands touching them, not to the words you are saying. This doesn't hurt the dog at all and after a few weeks, our girl got it! She would start to jump and then you could see her little brain working and she would stop herself. Four years later we do have to do the knee trick every now and then, though very rarely.

Friends of our adopted a 1 year old lab last Winter and had the same problem with her jumping. They tried the knee trick and it also worked on their dog...which was a very good thing because the wife was 7 months pregnant and got knocked down by the dog on one of the first nights that they had her. She's no longer a jumper either....

Good luck with the jumping and the nervous issues. Our dog is nervous too when it comes to smoke detectors and any slight beeping noise. We connected with the behaviorist at our local Animal Welfare Society who gave us tips on desensitization (like "Lucky Rescue" suggested) and so far, she's doing pretty well with it!

February 12th, 2006, 10:59 AM
Teaching your dog not to jump up should only take minutes. Unfortunately 'kneeing' your dog is a common technique. It will work with some dogs but after 4 years you should not still have to be doing it. Kneeing your dog could hurt them if you did make contact, and most people cannot react quickly enough or they might set themselves off balance and tumble. Stopping a dog from jumping should happen in his brain before you ever have to deal with the body.
Here's the Tenderfoot way:
Jumping is a symptom of lack of respect. A dog who respects people will not jump on them unless they are invited to.
We teach the "off" which means four feet on the ground. It is 'off' of the couch, 'off' of me, 'off' of other people.
We can walk into someone’s home for training and their dog will not jump on us to the amazement of their people. It can be as simple as the attitude you walk in with.
When he is jumping on you and you tell him off - Do not PUSH him down - that is a game to him and he doesn't take you seriously. Make your hand flat and palms towards him and you can "pop" the air in front of him and walk towards him (making him back up). Do not HIT him that is not what this is about - setting a boundary with your hands and energy is very different than hitting him. Simply create a boundary that he is not welcome in and MEAN IT. If he jumps up and touches your 'popping' hand it will be uncomfortable for him and after a few tries it will no longer be fun and he should give up and hopefully sit asking "well what can I do?” When he sits, then reward him with praise and soft touch.
Ideally you have to stop him as he is thinking about jumping up not when he is half way in the air - he can't stop himself then. So show him your flat palms and say 'off' just as you see him thinking about jumping up. This is teaching you to read your dog's thoughts and to react in time to help him make a better choice. Always use just enough energy to get results - not so too much so you intimidate him but not so little that he blows you off. Each time and day might be a little more or less according to his mood, and as he gains respect for your word then it will be come just the hand signal or just the word and barely any energy at all.
The key is that you re-create the situation and correct the bad choices and give him another chance to make a better choice. Pat your chest with energy and when you even see him thinking about jumping, you say 'off' and show him your flat hands be ready to snap them in his direction if he keeps jumping. Back him up and have a firm tone in your voice (not loud). Invite him in again and again until he chooses to sit for his greeting.
The problem is usually people teach failure not success. A dog jumps up you eventually get them off and then the day goes on - but the dog never learned not to jump up. You have to give him multiple chances to make a better choice and then do it once more to enforce it and then reward the heck out of him for the good choice.
This can be taught in five minutes if done correctly.

jesse's mommy
February 12th, 2006, 11:10 AM
Tf thanks for the info. We too are going to try that. Jesse always jumps all over Jim. I keep telling him it's because he hasn't established the respect thing. She doesn't do it to me, but takes it to an extreme with him. She walks all over him. He is a pushover and just thinks she is too cute. Men! Big babies themselves! :D

jesse's mommy
February 12th, 2006, 04:39 PM
By the way, this works REALLY well. Jesse responded to it on the second try! My smart little baby!!!

February 12th, 2006, 04:42 PM
Smart little baby and confident leader! Good job - glad to know we could help.