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Categories: Soft Dogs and Weak Nerves

Q. My daughter's pup recently became very fearful of everyone and everything sense something happened at my daughter's work. How do you suggest we make him feel better and get past this?
My daughter has a 6 month old Black Lab X puppy, (probably part Border Collie), which is the runt of his litter. He is sweet, eager to please and very quick to learn his commands. She got the pup at 2 months and all went well until just recently.

My daughter works as a massage therapist and as teacher/leader of a steelpan band. As both activities are done in the same space and her husband's business is just across the parking lot, the puppy has routinely accompanied her to work. He is crated when she is working, but she can play with him between clients and classes and either she or her husband can walk him in the surrounding rural environments for his outside duties and exercise.

One month ago, a male family member of one of our band came to our practice session. The puppy was in his crate, but this man took it upon himself to take him out. Realizing immediately that he shouldn't have done what he did and that the puppy would probably begin running around during our practice, he attempted to grab the pup and put him back into the crate. At that point the pup let out a high-pitched, blood-curdling scream, (in my opinion), as if he had been pinched or hurt in some way. He was definitely frightened, if nothing else. For some time after our practice ended, the pup has a distinct odor about him which we attributed to fear glands.

Since that time, the pup's demeanor has changed, especially around men and in the environment of the panyard. His usual confident, social behavior has been replaced with tail between the legs, fearful, behavior, frequently accompanied by barking. Even with people he knows, he is now cautious about accepting a treat. He will take a treat from an open palm, but then quickly back away.

I had always advised my daughter to follow your suggestions about protecting the puppy from lots of people, but she felt that since she couldn't leave him home alone and he had to be at work with her, it was important for him to be confident and friendly with her clients. But it took only this one occasion, which lasted just a couple of minutes, to create a real problem. After a month, the pup is still exhibiting fears which do not seem to be abating.

He does have two other fears I should mention. One is to ramps of any kind. He refuses to go on them. The other possible fear behavior, (or could it be herding behavior?), is barking and attacking either the carpet sweeper or vacuum cleaner when they are being used. These are not as troublesome, of course, but if they are fears, we would like to address them.

The pup will begin an 8-week obedience class tomorrow night.
Hopefully, that will be a help and not a hindrance to getting beyond his fear.

Can you please suggest a remedy? We do not want this wonderful pup to wind up being one of those problem dogs we see so many of at the local shelters. And as my daughter is also hoping to begin a family soon, it is imperative that we rehabilitate the puppy as soon as possible.

A. I think the best thing to do for this puppy is to not make a big deal about it. Dogs read us like a book, and if you are all now feeling upset and shook up about this incident the dog will continue to behave in an unstable manner.

Tell your daughter to be a good pack leader, and go forward like nothing happened. If the puppy shows insecure behavior, ignore it. Reward calm and confident behavior and work the dogs' mind. Don't focus on the past, and go forward.

Obedience classes are a good idea for this dog, BUT don't let people get into his personal space unless he is acting like he is interested in meeting them. The same goes for other dogs. Many times people think that they need to have strangers approach dogs with fear issues, and in most cases this just makes it worse. Have people ignore this puppy, don't try to force it by asking people to give treats. All this does is reinforce the fearful behavior.

As for the ramps, that will just be an exercise in desensitizing him. Use food (a very high value reward) and reward any forward attempt to go near it. Too many people try to rush these things. The vacuum chasing is prey drive, I would give him a leash correction if he needs it. This behavior can become really bothersome, some dogs actually tear up vacuum cleaners as they get older and more bold.

Pack leadership is the key to all of these issues, your daughter's dog needs to know she is in charge and she will protect him. The past doesn't matter, so I would quit dwelling on it and go into the future with a different attitude. The worst thing you can do with dogs like this is to try to soothe or reassure them when they are nervous. This is actually rewarding the fearful behavior.
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