Jessica Hoskins called me feeling distressed about her fearful dog. Tosha, a golden retriever, felt fear in the outdoor environment. The owner felt anxious every time she took her dog outside. When Tosha heard noises she wanted to dart back inside the house.
She couldn’t take her to public stores and parks because she didn’t want Tosha to have an awful experience.
She purchased the Calm Dog Program. Click on the link to learn more.
Jessica’s Review of Four Legged Scholars LLC
“Johanna was helpful in getting to better understand what worked and how to work through my dogs fear issues. Johanna is knowledgeable in and explained to me behavioral aspects of dogs and how their brains processed things.
My 1 & 1/2 year old golden retriever (Tosha) was unable to go to the park without showing anxiety, scared of large objects and anything unfamiliar. When Tosha was in her heightened anxiety getting her to listen and focus was almost impossible.
After working with Johanna Tosha is able to go the park and relax in most cases, doesn’t fear some of the things she used to or to the extent she used to and overall able to focus on me when something does scare her or is unfamiliar.
Johanna provided ways to calm and acclimate Tosha to new things and situations and I now have the tools and knowledge to continue working with Tosha on these things.” – Jessica Hoskins with Tosha
Tosha, a fearful dog, came to us with numerous problems
Jessica lived in the country in Windham. As a result, gun shots would happen from nearby farms and hunters.
When Tosha was outside and heard these noises, she lowered her body posture and her body became stiff. She then would strongly pull on the leash to escape. When Tosha was in the neurotic state, Jessica was afraid of loosing her.
At a store or park, Tosha felt stressed and shut down. As a result, she ignored commands. When she was stressed, she pulled hard on the leash looking for the nearest escape route.
Whenever a box arrived on the porch or near the garage, Tosha became skittish and wanted to avoid the box at all costs. Due to the on going process of internet shopping, boxes showed up quite regularly.
Reading fearful dog behavior
The first step was to teach Jessica about fearful dog behavior. Most of us have a general idea of what a fearful dog looks like. However, only a few of us can actually describe this behavior specifically.
When a dog feels scared, they want to look small. They may arch their back and will keep their body weight unbalanced. The bulk of their body weight will be toward their rear legs especially if the trigger (the fearful stimuli) is in front of them. That way they can easily dart backwards at anytime.
Their tail and ears will lower. Again making themselves look smaller. Sometimes the tail will be in between their legs.
They will generally lower their head. Their eyes may get big and round. Their pupils may dilate.
The mouth will generally remain closed. Panting may also occur.
The dog’s movements will be slow or jerky and fast. Freezing is possible too.
Tosha showed all of the above signs except the panting and eye dilation. However, if she panicked enough she might show those signs as well.
Training the basics
Tosha barley new any obedience commands. She definitely ignored them when she was stressed.
We taught her a few basics:
- name recognition
This command is great for fear issues. Target teaches the dog to touch your hand on command. With Tasha, when she felt fear she would freeze sometimes and not want to move. Asking her to target was a way we could get her to move toward or away from a fearful situation in a slow manner.
Name Recognition and Come
These commands go well together. Getting Tosha to look at her owner and pay attention was crucial. We didn’t want her to block-out her owner when she felt scared. Instead, we want her to choose to listen.
She learned to look at Jessica when she heard her name. From there we could ask Tosha to do another command.
However, a common option would be to ask her to come. Tosha needed to learn this one as well. When she came to her owner she received high valued chicken. We wanted her to realize that this command was very powerful and to listen.
As a result, Tosha will be more likely to come to her owner instead of run off when she feels scared.
Most dog’s feel relaxed and safe when they look into their owner’s eyes. Just like we feel safe when we look into a lover’s eyes. As a result, this command can be very calming for a dog to learn.
We wanted this command to help Tosha decompress when she felt stressed. As a result, we taught her to follow a treat to look into her owner’s eyes. Once, she understood the meaning of the word, we took away the lure and had Tosha look into her owner’s eyes with just the command “watch.”
Counter Conditioning for a fearful dog
This is crucial for progress. Pairing something positive with negative situations changes the brain. The dog begins to feel more relaxed and happy about the previously stressful situation.
For Tosha, we again used chicken. We did counter conditioning and systematic desensitization with boxes and loud noises. We started easy and then increased the criteria gradually while maintaining a positive association.
For noises we started with softer gun shots. Every time she heard a gun shot, Tosha received a piece of chicken. Eventually, the gun shots began to predict that chicken was coming. This drastically reduced her stress. Overtime, we gradually increased the volume of the gun shots.
For the boxes we started far away from one box. When she saw the box, she got chicken. Then chicken stopped when she was out of sight. We did training set ups so that we could make direct and consistent associations with the box and the chicken.
Then, we began to close the distance until she could walk right by the box calmly. Next, we generalized the behavior to boxes in other locations.
Remedies can help fearful dogs too
For Tosha she really benefited from “Mylo Dog Anxiety Relief Calming Treats.” It had Suntheanine in it. Jessica would give this to Tosha twice daily. If Jessica new a scary situation was arriving, she would give Tosha the remedy a few minutes before the scenario happened.
We also tried the thundershirt which did not help in this particular case. It can help some fearful dogs.
Dealing with the outdoors with a fearful dog
After working in the home environment, we wanted to ensure training in the yard and at dog parks. As a result, Jessica’s homework was to take Tosha in her yard and massage her to help her relax on a blanket. She also gave Tosha a bone to chew. Chewing decreases stress. Still, she practiced the counter conditioning exercises, stated above, in the yard, as well.
We then went to Eagle Creek Nature’s Preserve in Garrettsville. At first, Tosha barely wanted to listen to any commands. Jessica brought the bone, and the blanket. We massaged her. We also played classical music which can lower a dog’s heart rate.
Overtime, she gradually begin to listen to commands in the outdoor environment. The progress was slow and gradual. Target, down and sit were the easiest for her to respond. Overtime, she became more responsive with come and watch as well.
Jessica learned to gradually help Tosha become more comfortable. She kept taking Tosha to Eagle Creek and practicing the above scenarios to help Tosha feel more relaxed. Tosha recovered from her fears slowly and felt much safer overtime.
Jessica now knows the tools to keep moving forward to help her dog learn that the outdoors can be safe as well.
Johanna Teresi, a Middlefield dog trainer, loves working with fearful dogs
I am Italian so my behavior tends to be loud and
boisterous. Of course, fearful dog’s hate that kind of energy. As a result, I love working with them because it teaches me to be something that doesn’t come naturally to me.
I can also relate to the owner’s when they become distressed about the gradual slow process. Even still, I love training fearful dogs because I have learned to be more calm and patient.
Breathing, yoga, meditation, enjoying the moment and being conscious of my actions have helped me be able to work with fearful dogs successfully in Middlefield. I teach owner’s the same tools.