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Categories: Soft Dogs and Weak Nerves

Q. I have a 2 year old Border Collie mix rescue that is extremely nervous and fearful. I got her at one year old, and have been working with her for the entire year we've had her. Any advice?
I have a 2 year old Border Collie mix rescue that is extremely nervous and fearful. I got her at one year old, and have been working with her for the entire year we've had her. We do not have any history of her before we got her, other than she was very underweight. She now weighs a healthy 65 lbs, and is on a raw diet (with Honest Kitchen).

While we have made some really positive progress, and she has gone from a dog that was almost impossible to live with to a (mostly) very enjoyable companion, I have one problem that I simply have not come up with a solution to. She is EXTREMELY distrustful of humans in general and when approached from behind on walks she just loses it. In the beginning any approach (and when I say approach I mean anyone in her line of sight which could be 5 miles) set off a tantrum like a hooked marlin. She has progressed to where she is still very tense and nervous, but can hold it together to pass people as long as they just pass, and I am between them and her. But when approached from behind she hits the ground like a bag of bricks and tries to disappear. I have tried putting her in a sit or down, to let people pass, and she shakes like she's going to come apart. The closest thing to a positive solution I have been able to come up with is that if I see the approach first I can reverse and pass them head on and then once they are a distance away we reverse again and follow them, instead of them following us. This is not always doable, and if she sees them first (I've worked hard, with limited success, on getting her to stop checking to her rear all the time) all bets are off as once she hits the deck, she's not moving til they pass. She will not play with a toy, or take food once she has seen the approach. I initially tried to desensitize her by staying at great distances while trying to distract her with food (she will ONLY take cheese when away from the house- I've tried everything), but there just doesn't seem to be an acceptable distance for her. I'm very reluctant to discontinue walking her entirely as she really needs the exercise, but am concerned about the level of stress she undergoes. I do walk very early in the morning now (I walk her daily for an hour), to minimize the numbers of events she has to deal with. I'd like to walk her twice a day, but later in the day and evening there are simple too many things for her to deal with.

I realize that much of this is likely genetic, but don't want to give up on her as she has made so much progress in a year. I don't want or care if she ever wants anything to do with any other human ever, I just want to not have her undergo so much stress just seeing someone, or trying to pass by.

When I first started working with her it quickly became apparent that any neck correction was a trigger to terror. Literally. I tried every collar imaginable, and she would not take any neck pressure at all. So I resorted to the horrible Halti, and her ability to walk on a leash was much improved. She would take a head correction without freaking out. After about 7 months I transitioned back to neck collars, and now she walks with a dd collar and a prong collar (rabbit chasing!), with absolutely no problems, with the exception of the above. She is very obedient when she is not terror stricken, though she does seem to have somewhat of a long learning curve, likely aggravated by the fact that everything is a distraction.

I have purchased three of your videos, Basic Obedience, Pack Structure, and Dealing with Dominant and Aggressive Dogs (my other dog!). I am currently saving for e collars for both dogs along with your video on that, and the Training with Food video. Any advice or recommendations for ways to deal with the above issue would be most welcome. I'm willing to try anything in order to improve things for her.

Thank you for a terrific website and an invaluable resource. I could not find anything addressing this specific question, if it's there please direct me.

Thank you again.

A. I think you would benefit from watching this 3 part free video on fearful dogs & puppies.

Fear Period in Dogs - Part 1
Fear Period in Dogs - Part 2
Fear Period in Dogs - Part 3

since you say she won’t take food once she’s seen someone on the horizon the best advice I can give is to ONLY feed her daily rations while out on your walks. Make food more important than the ‘scary’ stuff out there.

I would HIGHLY recommend The Power of Training Dogs with Food. I think this type of training is excellent for dogs that are nervous or fearful as it gives them something positive to focus on (as opposed to giving a correction which in many cases makes them more worried).

Cindy Rhodes
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