Each week of 2020, I will be choosing a question from a Rescue Dogs 101 community member. Here is our first question of the Asking for My Dog series to kick off the new year!
“Billy was adopted last February from a shelter. He is afraid of a lot. If our house cracks, he runs to the bedroom to hide.
Fireworks and thunderstorms and gunshots are a nightmare. If we are out walking, he goes into flight mode and since he is always on a leash, we have to run home.
On the flip side, he also decides when he is not moving forward in a walk. He stops and digs in his heels and that is it, we have to change direction.
He was like this when we brought him home, but he got better for a while, now the behavior is back. He doesn’t want to go up the driveway, but once we get to a certain point, he comes along just fine, or runs up the driveway because of the fear issues above.”
My initial thoughts are that your dog, Billy, was not properly socialized as a puppy.
First, I recommend reading Adopting a fearful dog and how to help.
You didn’t mention how old he is, but puppies go through several fear periods. If a puppy is not exposed to these situations in a positive manner during his formable months, he will become fearful of them. It’s the unknown that is scary.
You never want to force him to face his fears, so I would avoid being outside during thunderstorms, fireworks or around gunshots.
I suggest trying natural calming products such as compression vests, supplements, essential oils, and DAP. Every dog is unique, so what works for one dog may not work another. So you will need to experiment with what works with Billy. Here is my entire list of recommended products on Amazon.
In your situation, you need to work on desensitization and counter-conditioning Billy.
Desensitization means to gradually expose your dog to the thing he is afraid of. Starting at a low level and building up to the scary thing very slowly. At every interval, your dog should be comfortable.
For example, your dog, Billy, is afraid of fireworks. Find a sound recording of fireworks. Start by playing the sounds at a very low volume, a volume that he does not react to. You can use this time to relax with your dog, play or even train him.
Gradually turn the volume up a notch, while always making sure your dog is comfortable. Over time, Billy will learn the sounds of fireworks mean nothing more than maybe a few treats or playtime.
You can read more in detail about desensitization and counter-conditioning on Companion Animal Psychology.
In Billy’s situation, he is refusing to walk because of his fears. I gather that once you get him past his fears using the desensitization techniques above, the walks will get better.
But obviously, you still need to take your dog for walks and desensitization can take months. So I recommend trying to reinforce, using treats and a lot of exciting praise, the moment he moves forward.
You can toss a treat a few feet away so he has to move forward, if that’s too far, move only a few inches… just enough that he has to move one leg… and keep moving forward.
Do NOT take him for walks during times you know fearful activity is happening. Always make the walks positive, make them fun in any way possible.
I truly hope this helps Billy become a more confident pup! Please remember to always be patient with your dog. It takes time to overcome our fears.
If at anytime you become frustrated because you aren’t seeing progress, think about something you are afraid of… maybe it’s spiders or heights… what would it take for you to overcome that fear?
Put yourself in your dogs paws, think about how he feels. Even if it seems irrational to you, it doesn’t feel that way to him.
If you and your dog have struggled with fear like Billy’s, please let me know in the comments below. Share how you have helped your dog overcome his fears, it could help someone else in a similar situation.
Have a question of your own? Email me with the subject line #AskingForMyDog and I may choose to feature it in our next Q&A!
Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, two dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.