Aug 10

Ask Wyatt - Fearful Dogs

Training or Behavioral Questions?  Ask Wyatt and friends!

Dear Wyatt,

We adopted our dog Sally from the animal shelter just after Christmas. Everything was fine until warm weather arrived and I started taking her for walks. She is afraid of almost everything! We did not realize this because she is usually fine at home. On our walks, she is afraid of the fire hydrant on the corner, even afraid of some of our neighbors, especially men who come up to her. What can I do?  Mandi P.

Hi Mandi,

I'm not afraid of anything, but I have a doggie friend, Annie, whom my Mom rescued when she was still almost feral (feral meaning like a wild dog, really un-socialized and afraid of everything). Here are a few of the things my Mom did to help Annie, that I think would also help your Sally:

First, give her some really good food and some supplements to make sure her neurological system gets back in tip-top shape. You don't really know how much stress Sally was under in her early life, before you rescued her. Stress causes our brain chemicals to become a little unbalanced. Certain supplements can help this and they are safer than using medicines.

The supplement that really helped my friend Annie was called Pet-Ease. It has a calming amino acid (taurine) and some other good stuff in it. If you have any trouble finding it, just drop me an email. It is a chewable tablet and it tastes really good (I stole one when Mom dropped it one day!)

My Mom also likes to use DAP pheromones products to help worried dogs. Pheromones are natural chemicals that mother dogs produce that cause their pups to feel comforted and stay close to them. You can read all about them at www.petcomfortzone.com. You can use the DAP spray to put on your hands before you take Sally for a walk, or use one of the pre-packaged wipes and rub it over her coat. You won't be able to smell it but Sally will, and it should help her feel calmer.

You will also want to teach Sally what "watch me" means, so that you can ask her to look to you for direction, instead of focusing on whatever is worrying her. Teach her this first at home where she feels secure, then gradually start asking her to "watch" while you are walking, giving her a treat as soon as she looks up at you. Annie learned this really quickly, because Mom used little cut-up pieces of boiled chicken to teach her.

Carry small bits of Sally's favorite treats with you when you go for a walk, and ask anyone who comes near to give her a tiny piece. But make sure to tell them not to stare at her. When people we don't know stare at us, it freaks us doggies out! Not me, of course, you know I am Mr. Confident. But my friend Annie, whew, she does not like it at all when strangers give her a lot of eye contact. But if they approach her sideways, not straight-on, and they kneel down without looking straight at her, she will reach out and take a treat. I bet if you start doing this with men who approach Sally, before long she will be sniffing out towards men, because she will think they all carry cookies!

As far as the fire hydrant, don't allow Sally to bark at it or back up away from it. And whatever you do, don't baby her when she gets scared, because then you'll just reinforce the fear. Just act like it is nothing, and keep on walking. If she insists on acting silly, give her a tiny collar correction just to interrupt the behavior, and say "leave it, watch me" as you walk past it. Don't walk too close to it at first, and soon she will realize the fire hydrant is not an alien and she will be okay. As she starts focusing on you and ignoring it, make sure you praise her as you walk. You can give her a treat too, but only after she is successfully past it. Never give her a treat while she is acting fearful, wait until she calms a bit and then give it.

Hope this helps!  If you need someone to work with you and Sally, you can often find a good trainer by asking your veterinarian for a referral, or checking websites for national dog training organizations, such as the International Association of Canine Professionals or NADOI (National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors).

Best wishes,   Wyatt

Have more training or behavioral questions?   We have reduced the price on one of our most popular e-booklets,  Healing the Broken Heart, How to Rehab a Fearful Dog, for only 5.97. You can purchase this booklet and have it in your hands in just moments--see all 4 of our current ebooks by clicking here (The Dogebooks link on our sister site, www.knowingdogs.com).

Wyatt is an Australian Shepherd who is also known as Slydrock's Wyatt Burp, JS-N, GS-N, CGC. He is owned and loved by the owner of this blog - Melanie Schlaginhaufen, a dog trainer and canine behavioral consultant with over 30 years experience.  Many thanks to Wyatt's  breeder, Donna Doubler of Slydrock Aussies, for the beautiful photo of Wyatt used in this article.

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Comments (5)
  • Joni  - Ask Wyatt

    Dear Wyatt - I love your advice column! And you give good advice, too. I might just try some of these things, if I can get my mom to order them. Keep up the good work, Wyatt...you've got your mom trained real well!

    Mr. Big

  • Joni  - Wyatt

    BTW, I love your photo. Even though I am a man, too, I must say that you are very handsome. Although the background is a little girly for a man's photo...but that's OK, I'm sure your mom made you do it (I know how mom's are).


  • Wyatt  - girly photo

    Yes, Mr. Big, my first Mom did make me take some flowerly photos! I have one where I am jumping in the pond, and I much prefer this one. But Mama Mellie says I needed to use one for my first article that shows my wise face....sigh. She has shown me your very handsome photos on your website. I am a little jealous, as I think she really likes you!

  • Ann Burchill  - my dog goes after my cat

    Dear Wyatt,
    My standard poodle dog is four years old and still goes after my cat. How can I get her to stop and be friends with the cat. Our previous dog was the cat's best friend!

  • Wyatt  - Dogs and cats/reply to Ann

    Hi Ann,

    That is a tough one! I'm not sure if they could ever been best friends, but with the right training, your Poodle might could co-exist peacefully with your cat, hopefully. We have a Standard Poodle here, Kate, who could probably never be friends with a kitty, due to her high prey drive. Mom says to read her article "Understanding Prey Drive" which you can find on the home page of her other site, www.knowingdogs.com. Then we can talk more via email - askwyattdog@gmail.com. Cya, Wyatt

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