“My dog is fearful of everything” and I’m at my wits end with what to do. This is so stressful.”
A fearful dog can be quite overwhelming, as my client was finding out with her Greyhound. I work with Greyhound Pets of America, Houston Chapter on “on the rare occasion” they need me to help a rescue Greyhound work through some personal issues. Greyhounds are usually no issue dogs and my wife Leila is one of their biggest champions. To say she loves greyhounds would be a gross understatement!
This case involved a female Greyhound named Gypsy with a fear of new people being close to her – especially at the vet’s office when she needed vaccinations, nails trimmed, etc.
Gypsy wanted no part of this important vet care and would bite when she felt trapped.
Not all fearful dogs have issues like Gypsy. With others it can be about being afraid of and being startled by different sights and sounds throughout the day like: loud sounds, anyone walking behind him on the street, men, angry voices on TV, the clicking sounds from soda cans, cameras, or ball-point pens and sometimes anything remotely shaped like a stick.
Gypsy’s issues were more about space, being touched and being restrained. With this in mind, I set out to meet her for the first time.
Meeting Gypsy or, the first hand shake/pouch sniff
I first met Gypsy at her foster home where she had settled in nicely with her foster parents and the other Greyhounds in the house.
When I got there, Gypsy approached cautiously – probably because of the trust of the other “home Greys” coming to sniff me out. Gypsy was the last to sniff me and even stayed at my side for a few seconds – almost as if she had forgotten she was afraid.
Was Gypsy’s willingness to come forward and sniff a testimony to the foster’s good work on desensitization to date or the lamb loaf in my bait pouch?
More likely the foster family’s letting her slowly get used to things was at work but I would dare say that my stuffed bait pouch has distracted many a dog while I get ready to deploy my “at the ready” stuffed Kong.
I worked my way to a side chair next to the couch and asked to hold Gypsy’s leash. I then brought out a stuffed Kong and put it on her dog bed next to my chair. Gypsy loved her Kong and her familiar bed helped to relax her!
I was careful to be aware of my body language – sitting in the chair sideways and not making eye contact – all to assure her with a “no harm-all is well” message.
Before I began my review of the home structure for Gypsy, I asked the foster parents just how I could specifically assist them with Gypsy’s issues.
They described the first vet visit as a total disaster. At the first vet visit Gypsy was really traumatized as they tried to muzzle her so no one would get bitten. When they finally got a muzzle on her she had thrashed about so much and was so overwhelmed and anxious, the vet couldn’t complete her examination or give her vaccinations.
A complete program was needed for Gypsy
Working with a dog like Gypsy that is fearful to the point of biting requires more than just working on her fear issues. Other parts of a good solid program are just as important – such as:
• Proper food and nutrition with a good pro-biotic supplement for dogs if needed
• A solid exercise program – meaning exercising with you – builds a confident bond and trust in you teaching her that you will do the right thing by her.
• Providing structure and dog obedience training for Gypsy will keep stress and anxiety down in other areas of her life.
• Working on specific exercises to desensitize Gypsy to her fear triggers; i.e. muzzle, small rooms, multiple unfamiliar people around her.
• Understanding how “alternative” therapies such as Dog Appeasing Pheromones, homeopathic remedies for dogs, Anxiety Wraps, Thunder Shirts and/or vet-approved drugs can be used in conjunction with specific dog training exercises to move things along more quickly.
Getting Gypsy used to all things that send her over the edge would just take time so the first thing I did was to put Gypsy’s training in perspective for her foster parents:
This could take upwards of 6 months to a year – sometimes longer to reach your goals. And most of it is going to depend on exactly how committed you are and how much you work the program each and every day, and the amount of structure they gave her by using my ground rules for structure and guidance.
As we talked throughout our first lesson, Gypsy’s foster parents also came to understand that “comforting” behavior on their part (lots of doting, petting, saying “it’s ok, it’s ok, just reinforced for Gypsy that there “really was” something to worry about.
The reality with most fearful dogs: They aren’t likely to “just get over it.” Adjust your expectations. With the correct guidance, your dog’s confidence will likely improve over time allowing him /her to enjoy life much, much more. And who knows, you might bring your dog all the way back to being normal.
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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog. His Ground Rules for Great Dogs is every dogs owners roadmap to success in raising a new puppy, raising a family dog, or helping a dog with behavior issues. It’s the culmination of 25+ years of teaching people how to have a great dog