- Pet forum for dogs cats and humans 


At my wits' end with fearful puppy

May 15th, 2009, 11:19 AM
My wonderful border collie puppy, Duffy (male, 4 months old) is absolutely petrified of "the outdoors". I have consistently taken him out for his bathroom trips for over a month now along with several trips for hours to the park and, strangely enough, in certain areas he will walk better clearly when I get him to a less "urbanized" spot (regardless that we are still in downtown Montreal) or when we walk at night as opposed to during the day when it's busy. When we near the block that has my apartment on it, he will pull and whine and pull so hard that he will bloody his paws on the pavement in a mad dash to get to my front door. If someone tries to pet him in this state he will either submissive urinate or even defecate. It's important to note that I got this puppy not from a puppy mill but, in fact, from a nice horse/duck/geese farm in the country from a loving couple that even used to cook raw diet every night for their dogs. And I never took him from his litter until he was 3 months old.

I have used many of Jan Fennell's techniques consistently and religiously and he's actually extremely well behaved and respectful of me in the house-- the real only lingering issue with Duffy is his almost psychotic urge to pull/bolt in fear towards my door even if the collar is choking him unconscious. I have tried the stop/start technique and even the changing directions technique consistently yet he homes in on my door and explodes onward whimpering and spinning his tires on the pavement to bleeding and beyond.

I really need some advice here before he does serious damage his paws and gets to a point where he may choose fight instead of flight. This is also hampering housetraining efforts somewhat because his fear to leave my apartment is stronger than his urge to please me with a "good potty" which he has beautifully done on command for weeks now.

Thanks so much!:eek:

May 15th, 2009, 11:50 AM
Welcome to Mike :).

It's important to note that I got this puppy not from a puppy mill but, in fact, from a nice horse/duck/geese farm in the country from a loving couple that even used to cook raw diet every night for their dogs. And I never took him from his litter until he was 3 months old.

Unfortunately, your little fella hasn't been desensitized to the hustle/bustle/noise of the city. The first 4 months of a puppies life are the most crucial in introducing new people, pets, noises, environments, and experiences in general. That's not to say that anything introduced afterwards will be impossible for him to get used to but, it will take some time and and immense amount of patience.

Is Duffy food motivated? Does he have a favorite treat he prefers above all others? You can always use tiny little pieces of chicken, hot dogs, ham, whatever he adores (our guys will do anything for Natural Balance rolls). Keep this particular treat only for de-sensitization exercises.

You have to practice every single day, multiple times a day. Everytime you leave your home, as soon as you cross the door's threshold, lure him out with a treat. Sit down on the stoop, sidewalk, wherever, and ask him to sit and start slowly feeding him (you can also feed his meals outdoors as well). It would also help if he's fairly hungry at this point. The purpose of this is to get him to associate the outdoor sounds/smells/people with something he loves. Whatever you do, please don't yell, lose patience (he can sense your tension), yank on his leash or use any forceful measures, or do anything that will reinforce his fears of being outside.

In the meantime, do you have a car? Are you able to drive him to the parks (or the mountain, he'd certainly love that)? You can also take him to the quieter streets of some neighborhoods such as NDG (lovely little parks there too). This is only to change his routine somewhat until he's comfortable with city life.

I think it's wonderful that you've begun some training with him and that he's respectful of you in the home. However, it's just as crucial to the bonding experience that he trusts you. Acknowledge his fears (I'm not saying baby him though) and don't force him into any situations he's not ready to deal with yet. Help him overcome them by providing all sorts of wonderful experiences to associate city life with.

May 15th, 2009, 12:07 PM
I wanted to add, here are a couple of titles that I'm sure will give you a more detailed explanation of why Duffy is so afraid/undersocialized, and provide tools for the two of you to overcome his fears.

I frequently order from as I've found it rather difficult to get such a wide variety of anglophone books in Montreal :o.

The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell

After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar

Help For Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde

May 16th, 2009, 08:30 AM
Thanks for the advice. I actually take him to the park in Westmount at the end of De Maisonneuve and as surely as you called it once we get past, say, Greene Ave. he walks like a dream once we're in the residential area.. it really is the wide open bustle of downtown that makes him panic. I've tried the treat lures-- even so far as some lean deli-sliced chicken breast and he won't go for it or touch it. My main door is a semi-basement private entrance below street level and he'll go out the main door but those first 4 steps going up to street level are the beginning of his fear zone. I usually sprint up the stairs calling "Let's Go!" in a happy voice and a "Good boy!" once he gets up there but I still need to almost drag him up the steps.

We made some headway weeks back but, of course, along comes a pack of screaming laughing children and there we go back to stage one and him back to Defcon 4 alert.

I guess I just need to be patient. I have this entire week off work for vacation just to focus on him.

May 16th, 2009, 08:51 AM
maybe try step by step easing him over the areas where he gets afraid. You mentioned there seems to be a area that once you cross it he starts shutting down, once he gets too stressed he will not accept food so start easing him through those areas with the food as a aid and keep encouraging him with the food to make him do it on his own. maybe taking hom down and sit near a cafe and have people offer him food once he is comfortable enough. I also know there is a dog obedience class on Higston in NDG and probably also in many of the doggy parlors of Westmount where you could maybe find people to meet and greet which may encourage your puppy to become more social.
How is he with other dogs? if he dog motivated? maybe trying making dog friends and walking together to ease him through desensitization. There are also about 5 dog parks in Westmount/NDG so plenty of places to improve socialization.

May 16th, 2009, 08:55 AM
My main door is a semi-basement private entrance below street level and he'll go out the main door but those first 4 steps going up to street level are the beginning of his fear zone.

Then just inside that fear zone is exactly where you need to start...right before the point he would normally panic. Keep a pocket full of treats handy on you at all times (I mean the bestest, yummiest stuff he'll get at no other time). Throughout day 1, open the door, let him voluntarily go through it and praise and treat. Then go back inside. Day 2 & 3, hold the treat over the first step he needn't actually go up it), praise and treat. You'll go back indoors after each time. Day 3 & 4, over the second step....and so on. Let's say he panics on the third or fourth step, take it back to last spot he was comfortable and treat there. Always end on a positive note. Within a short while, he should be bolting up those steps to get his rewards.

It should only take you 30 seconds each time and do it when he's most likely to be hungry ie. several times before breakfast, in the late afternoon and before supper. You can practice 10-15-20 times per day. I'd start at the quietest times and not when children are most likely to be leaving or coming home from school. Eventually, when he's able to go up the steps comfortably, perhaps you can engage some of these children to give him treats as well so he learns to trust them too. You'll have to explain to them to be calm and to not lean over him nor look him directly in the eyes to start. Best way is to ask them to squat with their sides facing him and just hold their hands out or gently toss it next to him if he won't take it from them.

Lots of teeny baby steps but it'll be worth when you're able to finally take him for walks without him reverting "to Defcon 4 alert."

Good luck and enjoy your week off with him :goodvibes:.

May 16th, 2009, 08:59 AM
:wall: Oh, and I can't believe I've forgotten to ask.....where are the photos of the little fella :D ?

May 16th, 2009, 12:36 PM
Thanks... I'll work that into the routine and see if it helps.

What are your thoughts on the "Halti" as an assisting tool for the pulling to dart out of fear? Not so much as a punishment tool (which would be silly) but to maintain control so as to get his attention focused back on me? I am 10000 times to the nth degree against choke/prong collars especially during the stages where a dogs vertebrae are forming but I can't seem to feel that a bit of control beyond the collar may be helpful in keeping him focused on me instead of the actual departure.

May 16th, 2009, 01:05 PM
Normally, depending on the individual dog, I like head harnesses (Gentle Leader Headcollar or the Newtrix Easy Walk are the brands I prefer) but only if a dog has slowly become de-sensitized to it. Many will panic and that may just exacerbate your pup's fear of going outside.

What I would recommend at this point is the Premier Easy Walk Harness for some control to prevent any injury to Duffy (a dog who has a panic attack and attempts to flee can seriously hurt themselves with a head harness). I've been able to find it at two stores in town, one in Westmount on Sherbrooke street (Bark and Fitz) and another on Boul. St. Laurent near Duluth (TooZoo).

Keeping him focused on you can only be attained through training and time. Right now, the fear stimulus is beyond his threshold so no matter what tools you may use, his "flight" response will overide his ability to focus on you. Have you considered basic puppy training classes? Or if he's not ready for such a crowd, perhaps a trainer/behaviorist who can come to your place to work with you one on one? You'll learn how to achieve that focus in a positive and fun manner, and it'll promote further bonding between you resulting in Duffy being able to trust in you that he has nothing to fear.

May 17th, 2009, 11:29 AM
Your pup might be a great candidate for clicker or focus training, if you can find someone locally that teaches this.

May 17th, 2009, 08:13 PM
If it should interest you, two in Montreal I can think of at the top of my head are:

Creature Comforts (Emily Cooper) 514-576-2667 I met Emily several years ago when we adopted our first severely anxious/fearful dog and can only say she's nothing short of excellent with focus training.

Coeur Canin 514-554-2442 You'll certainly be interested in what these folk have to offer. They're also hosting a clicker training seminar on June 6th.

June 8th, 2009, 10:41 PM

It's been a while and still Duffy needs to be drug up the stairs of my door to street level and he is enraptured with the petrified intent to bolt back to the house when he knows home is near and will bolt jarringly on the leash, whine, and even fear defecate.

Last week I had him spend 3 nights with the full puppy play classes and all at Hotel Muzo and the owner (she herself an owner of a Border Collie) took him under her wing and kept him at the reception desk and had him handled by all the staff and the groomer.

The fear seems to be rooted in the natural instinct of a border collie to carefully examine and analyze the elements of his environment to fine detail and Duffy seems to be overwhelmed with it.

He is absolutely excellent with other dogs, will now approach adults (especially the owners of other dogs) and sniff their hands, etc and even interact with them in the dog park in games of fetch, but still completely terrified of children (every time he's seen a kid I've had the misfortune to happen upon the shreiking little girl who likes to run at dogs).

The crux of the problem is based in his complete disinterest to leave the den "my apartment" to venture into the wide world-- particularly the immediate area around my place which is more "urban" that areas we go. This of course hampers housetraining efforts-- he'd rather pee inside than face the idea of going out that door.

I would like to stress that when I get him into a less urban area (less wide open) like DeMaisonneuve street west of Atwater and beyond or side streets.. he walks BEAUTIFULLY and listens to commands concisely.

I'm really running out of ideas here to start motivating him. I need to take a step forward with him insofar as he MUST feel comfortable going out my door and up those 5 steps of my entrance to the street level. After that, the other issues I can deal with.

What about feeding him his meals directly outside on the steps or street level itself?

June 9th, 2009, 01:11 AM

Could u keep windows open when u are home that face the street so that he can hear the traffic sounds? Maybe turn the tv on with cop shows? Do u carry him down the street? maybe if you carry him he would feel safer and also get use to the traffic and sounds. Could u sit with him on your front steps holding him in your arms and watching the traffic?

When u take him out for a potty break could u sit in a lawn chair with him on leash or even on a step so u would be close to his level, and he could feel comfort cause u are low where he could get into your lap if he got scared and maybe he would slowly get braver?

Have u talked to your vet about him being so scared? Maybe they could give him some meds for anxiety..though I hate that thought. But just until he gets use to things?

Just a thought. Maybe when he was on the farm kids were mean to him too.


June 9th, 2009, 06:08 AM
before you take him out, line your steps with treats? even a toy or two for him to "discover"......don't know if it will help but at least its a start, what covering do your steps have? concrete? pavement? maybe you could put a carpet runner on them to change the feel of them?