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Old 09-29-2006, 02:07 PM
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Default Getting Over Fears

I'll try to make this as short as possible, but it will be long. There have been a few situations recently where Meg has become frightened by something, and I have been shocked by how she shuts down. I am looking for any advice people have on dealing with this, and making her more confident to try to prevent it.

Quick background: I've had Meg since February '06. She is a little under 2 years, and is a Mountain Cur. She came from a very crowded shelter in West Virginia, and was shipped to my friend's rescue here in Vermont. The only background I've been able to obtain is that she was an owner surrender. She was a bit timid when I got her, but not frightened (if that makes sense). I don't think anybody has ever abused her, but I get the feeling she was an outdoor dog. She didn't know stairs, and wasn't housebroken. She wouldn't go across wooden foot bridges when hiking. She got over all of that very quickly thanks to the clicker and treats. She's turned into an absolute monkey, climbing on everything she can. I've encouraged it because I knew I wanted to do agility with her. She has no problem with the equipment, including the banging see-saw. I don't think anybody intereacting with her would describe her as timid anymore.

The three recent issues:

#1 - She hit the electric fence at the barn. I wasn't at all surprised by her fear to that. She spent a couple of days refusing to come out of the barn unless it was to go to the car. She has gradually gotten to the point (with treats and following the other dogs) where she will wander pretty freely around the parking area, but still will not go near the fields.

#2 - Occurred about 5 days later. We were working on the weave poles at agility class, and I stepped on her paw. Not hard, mind you. She didn't limp for a second, and didn't seem bothered by any palpation. Her reaction was extreme. She crawled on her belly towards the gate, rolled onto her back whenever anybody reached for her, and basically just shut down. She wouldn't take treats (I use roast beef, hot dogs, and turkey) and wouldn't do even the most basic of commands. After about fifteen minutes, and finally getting her over a couple of jumps (on leash, but not pulling her), we put her in the car. When I got home, she was 100% normal. Happy, loose, tail-wagging. She ran through the weave poles perfectly.

The next morning, she refused to get out of the car at work (the barn where she got shocked). She stayed shaking in the backseat, wouldn't take treats, and tried to crawl away if I reached for her. I called a trainer friend of mine crying, and she advised leaving the truck open, not reassuring her (which I knew, and hadn't done), and just matter-of-factly handing her treats every once in a while to try and boost her confindence. After an hour or so, and a few treats, she slunk into the barn, and pretty quickly started acting like herself.

That afternoon, I brought her back to the agility field. She was still "slinking" and not taking treats. I turned her loose with her best dog-buddy, and Meg warmed up and starting playing a bit. She ended the session by doing most of the equipment and taking her "special day" treats (McDonald's double cheeseburger ). No more issues with agility since then.

Yikes, it's getting long. Quickly - #3 - Last week, I was housesitting. She and their two dogs were snacking on manure in the paddock (yum) when the horses got spooked and started running. None got anywhere near her, but she bolted for the backdoor of the house, and for the rest of the week, would not come back out near the barn, even for treats.

I now live with a constant, nagging worry that I'm going to make her shut down. I've never seen a dog react as severely as she did at agility, and neither had the trainer. I'm looking for advice on a)How to boost her confidence so it doesn't happen again, and b)how to deal with her when it does happen.

I know not to reassure her and feed into the fear, and I don't. I now know that in all but the most extreme of circumstances, she will take cheeseburger. She never gets snappy or aggressive when she is scared. She is normally very clicker-focused, and she is very focused on me. She's darn near perfect when she isn't panicked.

Thank you to anyone who read through this whole thing. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:16 PM
Brattina88 Brattina88 is offline
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Here is something that I have used in the past with success on a couple foster dogs with "paralyzing fears"

It has a couple of different names, but I call it targeting. Targeting can be a very versatile and useful training aid IMO.
You may use any object for a target. Some agility trainers use a plastic food container lid, placed on the ground or obstacle wherever they want the dog to stop. Post-It notes make good movable targets, that's what I used before. The first time I taught it I used the palm of my hand!

You need to decide whether you want your dog to use her nose to 'touch' or her paw. Here's some training tips for touching with the nose...

Rub some food on the target and encourage the dog to sniff it. Click for any 'correct' behavior; such as, looking at the target, for nosing it, licking it, and bumping it. Give the dog a treat after each click. Repeat several times, putting the target an inch or two from the dog's nose each time.

Once your dog is doing that well start to move the target left, right, up, or down and praise for following it. Move it away a little, and click if the dog takes a step toward it.

See if you can get the dog to stand on its hind legs to reach the tip of the stick, or bow down to reach to the floor. Settle for small movements at first; make it easy for the dog, not hard.

Keep your sessions short; three or four minutes is plenty. Keep the target and some treats handy, perhaps in the kitchen, so you can do a little target training several times a day. Some dogs will catch on in a single session, and begin racing for a chance to touch the target; others may take five or six sessions just to touch it with confidence.

Watch for signs of understanding, and then add the word. I say "touch," some say target, or hup or something (it doesn't matter). When she's doing that then start asking her to touch it two or three times for a single click and treat, or to follow it for several steps.

Once this is learned you can use the target to teach other behavior. You can use it to desensitize her to the things that she's developed fears of.
For future reference, if something is to happen like your example of the agility incident I would let her take a break. Maybe go back to the car, or leave her alone for five minutes or so, that way she isn't in total 'freak out mode'. Then I'd return and end things on a good note.
As for the electric fence - these are very hard for some dogs to see, is there something on the fence that would make it visible to the dogs? The targeting would probably work well for this. Teaching her the boundaries (where its okay to go, and where she should stay away from)

The targeting has a funny way of boosting confidence. Practicing obedience (what to do) and socializing her to very positive situations (sounds like some unfortunate accidents, but I doubt you'll make her "shut down" ) will probably help. When they're not sure how to act, your there telling them to touch something... it usually plays out pretty well.
8mos isn't that long... she's probably still adjusting to you and your surroundings, and all of the things (agility, work barn, house sitting, ect) may be a little overwhelming.

Some work, time, and love will bring her around Hope that helps a little !

(woo... sorry so long!)
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:29 PM
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Thank you for such a thorough response. Targeting is a great idea - she already targets to both my finger and a food lid for agility, but I never thought to apply it in that situation.

Quote:
As for the electric fence - these are very hard for some dogs to see, is there something on the fence that would make it visible to the dogs?
Our fence is two inch wide white electric tape. It is pretty visible. When she got shocked, she stepped on a gate that was left laying on the ground (the fence is supposed to be off when the horses aren't out, but clearly someone forgot).

Quote:
When they're not sure how to act, your there telling them to touch something... it usually plays out pretty well.
This idea I love. I was thinking along the same lines - getting her to do a simple behavior so I could reward it. I think the "touch" will be even simpler to work with than the sit/down etc. She gets such a boost from the *click*.

Thank you again, Brattina, and I would still love to get other ideas. Meg is normally such a happy, attentive dog that it broke my heart to see her just shut down.
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:41 PM
silverpawz silverpawz is offline
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Quote:
This idea I love. I was thinking along the same lines - getting her to do a simple behavior so I could reward it. I think the "touch" will be even simpler to work with than the sit/down etc. She gets such a boost from the *click*.
I used this method with a few extremly nervous/shy dogs and it worked very well. Gives them something else to focus on.

I also can't stress enough how important it is to be matter of fact about the whole thing. I know you said you don't coddle her, which is great, but it sounds like maybe you're hovering a little? Maybe trying too hard to get her to take treats? That in itself may be enough to make her think "why is mom making such a big deal about this....there must be something to be afraid of..."

If a dog won't take a treat because they are too stressed, I simply ignore it and stop offering for a while. I focus instead on getting them moving, (walking in a big circle, etc.) and then getting them to perform a behavior they know well. I used the target for that, but it was a 'moving target' I'd have the dog touch their nose to my palm as we walked around.

Movement helps to de-stress. Keep moving. Be matter of fact. Stand up straight and act like this is no big deal.

It really sounds like the electric fence triggered these other behaviors for her. That is a HARSH correction for a dog, one that came 'out of the blue' and for a previously timid dog it may make them think another such correction could 'come out of the blue' anywhere else.
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Old 09-29-2006, 07:41 PM
Brattina88 Brattina88 is offline
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Your welcome! I hope that helps

I'm also hoping that Dr or doberluv or Melanie see this thread and post
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Old 09-29-2006, 08:27 PM
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Quote:
I'm also hoping that Dr or doberluv or Melanie see this thread and post
Me, too
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Old 09-29-2006, 08:34 PM
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Such great ideas already. I'm sorry this has happened. Its especially hard when you don't know what her history was. She may have not had a wide variety of exposure to things and novel situations which are abrupt or scary seem especially scary to her. Maybe she never learned how to deal with stresses or pressure. It can also be her temperament to some degree.

What did you do when these things happened? How did you or anyone else respond? Sometimes the slightest body movement, voice or look can mean something to our dogs that we never imagined. They are extremely intuned to our moods and can sense the darndest things. Sometimes our reactions can inadvertantly reinforce feelings and behaviors the dogs have. And they learn to stay in that "box"...that familiar, comfortable place which has now become associated with comfort given by you. The fears or phobias become a conditioned emotional response, not easy to over come.

Since you don't know what her life was like during her critical period (birth to about 16 weeks) it is hard to say if that is the cause of her timidity...not getting enough socialization and exposure to all kinds of things, perhaps not being worked with much with her people which helps a pup build confidence...just by doing things together. That critical period cannot be brought back and if their brains develop a certain way, it's very hard to over come a lot of it. But I think you could help with it somewhat. I'm just guessing since I don't know the dog's history.

I guess along with what was suggested, I'd work on a desensatizing and conditioning (from a distance at first) to some of the scarier things and not make a big deal or fuss over her when she's afraid, but try to be confident yourself and get back into the scary things a little gradually...introducing some more new or novel things, but trying to be sure she has a pleasant experience with those new things. You have to be very observant of her body language and behavior. When she is seeming more brave, that's when you make a fuss over her and give her treats. When she's shrinking, don't. Just try to keep on moving and getting onto something else. I'll keep thinking and maybe there will be more ideas to come from others as well.

Look online. I think there's a place where they tell about some other confidence building games, like tug, hide and seek and the like.

Last edited by Doberluv; 09-29-2006 at 09:01 PM.
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Old 09-29-2006, 09:13 PM
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I think that you've gotten some great ideas so far, the only thing I might add is to try and increase the distance to her trigger and start the targeting there.
Like everyone has already said I'm sure, you've lost your opportunity to desensitize if you've come so close to the trigger that she's not excepting treats or shutting down in any way. I'd work at a threshold just prior to where she reacts and start the exercises there. Once she's interested and you're starting to really involve her, slowly decrease the distance. You'll have to really be watching for signs of stress and you might want to use some calming signals yourself to help her through...yawning, sneezing..etc..
but of course never comforting.
Let her see how much fun you're having and she'll begin to calm too as long as you're working at the right distance.

Targeting is a great way to pull a dog out of "box". I use this method on feral dogs with great, while sometimes slow, results.

I would also save some of her favorite things in life, maybe some treat balls or kong...favorite bones etc.., to give to her ONLY in the places you feel she may have an issue or prior to entering those zones. That way, you're turning these scary places into places where great things happen.
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Old 09-29-2006, 09:29 PM
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Quote:
I also can't stress enough how important it is to be matter of fact about the whole thing.
Of course, I know that. And of course, I constantly need to be reminded. I know not to pet, or soothe, but you are probably right that I hover. Definitely something to keep in mind. And movement is good. Hopefully the targeting will help with that.

Quote:
What did you do when these things happened? How did you or anyone else respond?
I think that my response was good with the fence, because honestly, her response seemed "normal". Of course, I feel horrible that it had to happen, but running back to the barn seems like a normal dog response. She was pretty much her normal self inside the barn, and it doesn't really matter to me if she stays there rather than following me when I turn the horses out.

Probably not such a correct response with the agility incident. The whole thing just seemed so extreme that I was shocked (and I believe the instructor was as well). And of course I felt even worse that I had stepped on her. There was certainly a minute of "Oh, god, I'm sorry! Come here and get a hug" before I pulled myself together. Bad me, I know. Then I put her back on leash, since she wouldn't leave the gate, and got her over a couple of tiny jumps, rewarding each time.

Quote:
I guess along with what was suggested, I'd work on a desensatizing and conditioning (from a distance at first) to some of the scarier things
Do you mean like working near the (turned off!) fence? It's hard for me to think of other situations to train her in, since these seem like such isolated incidences. As I said, she really doesn't respond timidly to much now. It doesn't really affect my life if she wants to stay away from the fields, but should I still work on the desensatizing there in hopes that it will boost her confidence should anything happen again? Is there a cumulative effect for dogs (Wow, I conquered my fear!)?

http://devinefarm.net/articles/submiss.htm Is this the site you mentioned? I've been trying to teach her fetch and tug; this could give me more reason to work on it!

Thank you again!
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Old 09-29-2006, 09:33 PM
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And just to show she doesn't always have a miserable time at work!

Her favorite game is cat-hunting in the hayloft.
[IMG][/IMG]

Just to show how high she goes - she can scale up the straight stacks like a spider!
[IMG][/IMG]

Playing with a few of the many dogs who come and go throughout the day
[IMG][/IMG]

Any time someone sits, she insists on being right there. Her nickname is the "Touch Junkie".
[IMG][/IMG]
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