First, we have a sit stay from about 1/4 mile away.
Which turns into a down stay when Sofie gets to tired.
Understanding a fearful dog has its challenges. The more I understand what makes Louise scared, the better I able to help her manage her behavior. But even after 7 years, I don’t know all of Louise’s triggers. Just when I think that she is calm and able to handle a passing dog, she lunges and loses it. For example, we walked by a parked car yesterday and there was a lady sitting in it with her window down. The dogs and I didn’t see the lady. As we started to walk past, close to the driver’s side, the lady said out her open window “hello.” That startled Louise and she reared and growled and barked. It feels like 2 steps forward, 1 step back, much of the time.
Here is my list of Lulu’s fear behaviors:
My theory about why she is so fearful goes back to her possible lack of socialization during that critical sensitive period of puppyhood at 6 to 10 weeks of age (see my recent post on this topic). I think that she was probably left alone in a barn or a field, or under a rock, with maybe her mom and sister and had very little human interaction in her early weeks. Since there was a collar embedded in her neck when she was rescued, clearly someone put the collar on her and then ignored her as she grew bigger over the weeks. I rescued her at about 20 to 24 weeks, so the lack of socialization already imprinted her fear center by that time.
Today Louise is afraid of strange people and animals. I noticed that she is more fearful of men than women (which I understand is common). She definitely does not like people in hats, male or female. She has not been around children much so I don’t know if she is fearful of them, but she definitely is afraid of adults. I wonder about racial differences, but she appears to be afraid of everyone equally. She is fine with dogs that she does not know at the dog park when off leash, but can have a fear reaction to the same dogs when walking by on leash. She has specific dog friends in the neighborhood that she is fine with and then there are certain dogs that just make her see RED. I guess experts would classify her has clearly ‘leash aggressive.’
Managing the Fear
I am a big proponent of avoidance and distraction. When I see someone walking a dog toward us, I try if possible, to turn around and walk the other way. This way Louise never gets close enough to enter what I call her Red Zone. There is a certain distance at which she will start to show stress. She can manage to hold it together only for so long and then she enters the Red Zone from which there is no coming back. The weird thing is that it is not with all dogs or people, so I never know exactly when she is going to blow. She really hates big white dogs, but one of her best friends is a white Shepard mix. She doesn’t like the little yappy dogs around the neighborhood (Havanese, Lhasa Apso, etc.) but she doesn’t mind the old blind pug or the scrappy loose mop that lives down by the river. If she knows certain dogs she can be fine with them, but not all dogs. She is actually fine at the dog park off leash.
When walking Louise I try to be very aware of what is coming and going around us. I try to anticipate what is around the corner whenever possible. The more distance I can have between us and a stranger or strange animal, the better able I am to reduce her fear and stress. When frightened on a walk, Louise tries to make the scary thing, person or animal, go away by growling, barking, and/or lunging. My method is first to try and remove her from the situation. When unfamiliar dogs are coming towards us, I turn around, walk down another street, sometimes, if trapped, I will walk up someone’s driveway and keep Louise’s focus on me. I think it is weird but many dog people don’t understand that when I turn around and walk the other way (with 3 dogs in tow), I am trying to avoid them. Many times those people will follow right behind us or cut us off as I round the street (my neighborhood streets all loop around because we are a peninsula). When I can’t avoid a strange dog there are a few things I do. First, I make everyone sit and look at me until the dog/person passes. Louise is better if the stranger is in front of us (which makes sense so she can see them). Sometimes, I place my body in her line of sight to force focus on me. Then, once they pass, I can move along at a safe distance. When a runner or walker or even a car comes by, I always have the dogs sit and wait until they pass. For me, keeping everyone under control is critical for their safety, mine, and of course, the stranger/strange animal. Having all dogs ‘sit stay’ is my key, not that I trust that Louise won’t lunge if not watched.
A mistake that I used to make was to tighten up on her leash when walking past things that I knew scared her. This was so I could control the lunge if it happened. However, I think that my tension traveled down the leash to her and reinforced her negative behavior. Now I try to be more aware of just moving along and not reacting. I want to believe that the leash is not the control mechanism between me and my dog, but, sadly, when Louise sees red, no words seem to keep calm or control a fearful dog.
I can feel the dog tension when there is an outside cat, fox, or squirrel nearby. I just keep walking and try to have them ignore the critter. Squirrels can be very stupid (as we know) and I have even had foxes come directly in front of the pack without a care. This is not so easy to handle other than using my ‘ignore’ command. When they ‘ignore’ something like this, they get a treat. It really depends on how close the threat. Too close nothing works other than to get out of the zone as quickly as possible to regain equilibrium.
Finally, I practice what I call the ‘look at me’ technique. Giving her a treat when she focuses on me. When she looks in my eyes. Every chance I get, I try to reinforce her ‘looking at me’ for guidance and direction. My hope is that by her focusing on me, which is safe, she can calm down enough to move along.
Distance, avoidance, distraction, and focus. These are the tools in my Louise bag.
If your dog is leash aggressive and fearful you might want to consider a professional trainer to help you with getting control of the situation. If a walk is not fun for you, it surely no fun for your dog.
So the girls and I were out at the school yard running around. I wanted you could see the joy that Louise has when in an open field with no scary other humans or animals to distract her. I tried to capture a moment on video. Then as I was looking at the video, I realized the probably everything I did was reinforcing the wrong things. For example. I call the dogs to me. They start to come but they don’t get all the way there. So I call them again, repeatedly. This is wrong, right? I should be able to call them once, and if they
loved me listened to me, they would be right in front of me in a good sit position until I released them. But NOOOOO!, I gave them treats anyway and reinforced the, wishy washy behavior. Then, when I released them, I kept talking.
(Note to Mommy trainer: Stop talking so much because you confuse them. Only treat when they really do what you asked.)
We were having the best run when a boy on an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) came loudly and speedily into the school yard and scared us. Thereby stopping our freedom and also causing Louise to go back into the fearful place. What is an ATV doing in the neighborhood anyway? Are they even allowed in such a populated area? After we regained our composure (Louise on leash), the noisy monster left, we walked home happy and tired. I do hope you like the little Non-Training Video, especially listen to the smacking sound when Sofie takes the cookie.
(Another Note to Mommy trainer: Tired dogs are happy dogs (or something like that). They had fun and that is important.)
I am amazed at Sofie Bear these days, I am so happy with her, she is like a different dog then the one that came to live with us 1-1/2 years ago. Sofie is at the point now that we can do a total walk around the neighborhood without the leash. She comes when called and rarely gives me any bad behavior, I must say that if I go for to many days without reminding her whose boss (me!) she can slide a little, but I would expect that. If someone told me I would be this big a fan of the e-collar method, I would have told them they were crazy, but the collar, along with 4 weeks of training (for me mostly), is what really really did the trick. I notice many people with e-collars on their dogs, but the collars are to loose or not positioned correctly. I also think that a lot of people buy them but don’t really know how to use them to get the kind of behavior modification that they are looking for. I hardly ever had to correct Sofie with the collar, which surprised me.
Watch out Lulu Belle, you’re next! Mommy likes the idea of 2 off-leash dogs.