Shy Dogs

Dogs that exhibit “shyness” usually do so from lack of early socialization. The critical socialization period for a puppy is 3-12 weeks. In that phase, puppies should be exposed to a variety of people, other animals and environments. For some dogs, this does not happen and said dog may be perfectly fine. For others, this can lead to anti-social dogs or dogs that are fearful of new environments, people, objects or animals. “Shyness” can also be genetic and is more prevalent in sensitive breeds (such as herding breeds). In rare cases, a dog may be fearful of something due to a traumatic event.

No matter what the reason for a dog’s anti-social or fearful tendencies, the solutions are similar.

1. Establish what your dog’s triggers are (what makes the dog shy or afraid?)
2. Learn to read your dog’s body signals
3. Find your dog’s threshold level (how close can the dog be to the triggers?)
4. Figure out your dog’s ultimate reward (what kind of food or toy?)
5. Prepare to counter-condition and desensitize your dog many times to said triggers
6. Teach your dog skills that will help you in your counter-conditioning process
7. Be sure to never flood your dog (bringing your dog over threshold)
8. Explore homeopathic remedies: oral medications, aromatherapy, anxiety wrap
9. Explore pharmaceuticals if needed
10. Devise a training plan that is realistic to the time you can devote to training your dog

Once you have established what your dog’s triggers are, his threshold level and an ultimate reward it is time to start training. Depending on what the dog’s triggers are, different commands are helpful. Using some sort of non-pulling harness is essential if you have a pulling dog or one that is prone to escaping/running when afraid. Teaching a dog to sit, down, hand target, look at you and do a “u-turn” is essential in the counter-conditioning process.

This all may seem nebulous, so here is an example (note: this is not true, just an example):

Let’s say my BC is afraid of men and shuts down in new places in general. I know that he is afraid of all men except my husband and is very happy at home. Crossing the street causes him to panic (ears back, tail tucked, nails dug into the sidewalk) and he immediately wants to head home. When I bring him to places he has the same body language. When he sees men he barks at them and hides behind my legs. I know that he really likes string cheese and liverwurst in a tube and he will eat it even when stressed and that the homeopathic drug “Rescue Remedy” really takes the edge off for him. I have fitted him with a no pull harness and have his favorite snacks in my treat bag with clicker and tennis ball. I give him some Rescue R. 20 mins before a walk. We start walking and it is going well until we cross the street. He starts to put his ears back and dig is nails into the sidewalk. I prompt him to “Watch me” and he snaps his head up. I click and give him a big treat. His face relaxes a little. I have him do “Watch” 5 times until he won’t take his eyes off me. Then I have him “watch” while we walk 10 feet while I continually give him treats. Then we walk back across the street into his comfort zone and play ball, his favorite game, in the front yard. Every other day I give him a break because I don’t want to cause him chronic stress. Each time we train on the walking we go a little further and he becomes more comfortable with the other side of the street. For our problem with men: I invite a male friend over and prep him over the phone. I will have my dog on his leash and harness in the driveway and the man will stand across the street and not look at my dog. Every time my dog looks at the man and doesn’t bark, I click and treat. I motion to my friend to move closer and we continue this game for 10 mins. Then my friend goes home. Next time my friend can do this training exercise with us again, he will start where he left off in distance. Eventually, my friend will toss treats to my dog and eventually he will hand feed my dog. Once my dog and my male friend are fine with each other, I will have my friend play ball with him. Then I will move on to another male friend and eventually strangers willing to help for a moment and feed my dog. If I have a dog that is at the stage of being in public places, I will be careful to manage his experiences and not let people touch him or talk to him that he is obviously uncomfortable with. I have to first work on his acceptance of a new environment and then work on his acceptance of the strange people in the environment.


My family and I recently moved from Concord to Walnut Creek. It wasn't far, but it was a drastic change as we moved from a townhouse to a large house and combined households with my father and his senior dog. This was a new home for both our families as my father left his house as well. The way each of our dogs handled the move was polar opposites of each other! I believe that has to do with how we each prepped our dog and what we each did the day of the move etc.

My dad has a very old Great Dane Lab cross. Honestly, it is a wonder this dog is alive and doing well at that! He is 13 years old and is probably close to a lean 120 lbs. This dog's head reaches my chest when he is standing relaxed. Harley absolutely adores Lucy and relies on her for comfort quite a bit unfortunately. He missed her from living with her for a year, as I took her back a few months before our big move. Harley had been living in the same home with my dad since he adopted him from the pound at 9 months old.

Lucy is 9.5 years old right now and has always been a dog to roll with the punches. She has moved quite a bit in her life and is a very emotionally solid dog.

The day of the move, I made the choice to take Lucy and my kids to my mother's house. We hung out in her backyard, had lunch, played with her puppies and spent the whole day there. Meanwhile my husband and father, along with the movers, were emptying out both our residences.

Arriving at my dad's house, my husband tells me Harley was loose in the house as the movers loaded boxes, furniture etc. Harley is quite attached to my dad's leather couch that he uses as his giant dog bed. As soon as that couch left the house, Harley began shaking and drooling and pacing. Even with the large truck, multiple loads had to be made. Harley was left in the partially empty house with a dog bed, water and a new bone. His howls and moans could be heard down the street as they drove away to unload the truck at the new place.

For the next few days as we unpacked boxes, moved furniture around and turned the house into a home, Lucy stayed on "vacation" at my mom's house. Harley was placed in our new large and amazing backyard where he scratched the screen, barked and carried on miserably. My dad kept begging me to bring Lucy back from my mom's in the hopes Harley would calm down. I waited till I felt the house was in good enough order to bring her over. I didn't want her to be stressed and as sad as it was to see Harley upset, it isn't fair to Lucy to be "used" as a comfort object at her expense.

When she came over, Harley was beyond thrilled. Most of his stress dissipated when he was allowed to lounge on his couch again. For a few weeks I was training him to stay off of the couch, but my dad felt bad about it and let him on it again.

Lucy showed zero stress. Furniture was in place, there were minimal boxes and all of her items were around. I believe that if a family is moving and it is possible for their dog to be somewhere else for a few days, that is the best situation to avoid moving related stress.

We have been here now a little over a month and most of the "bumps" from combining households center around the dogs. As I am home most of the time, outside of training, with my two little ones, the brunt of the dog issues fall upon me.

Harley's dependence on Lucy drives me a little nuts. She doesn't share the sentiment. He cannot be alone outside OR inside. While that doesn't bug me so much, his bullying tendencies do. I cannot even toss a toy for Lucy to get without him storming in and whopping her with his giant foot to take it away. If he is playing fetch, all she wants to do is herd him, which earns her a correction from Harley that is sometimes overdone on his part and needs human assistance to end it. She no longer wants to play with toys, eat a bone or tug at all since she is now associating that he will either come and take it away, or I will begin to verbally redirect him and that causes her stress. Forget about locking him inside or outside to play with her separately. That just causes him to scratch doors and bark and become destructive.

With her lack of play outlets, I wouldn't say she is depressed. She is a senior dog as well, but she is now obsessing over a flower bed that probably has lizards or maybe a rodent in it. When Lucy (or any herding dog) doesn't have outlets, they tend to make their own, however strange they may be.

My only solution to this issue so far has been to take her on walks and take her to training classes with me. With the kids, it is difficult to take Lucy to dog parks or hiking trails or places to play fetch. With the weather being hot, it hasn't been possible to even walk to a park with Lucy or the kids.

The other problem we have had is sleeping arrangements for Lucy. Our new bedroom has hardwood flooring. Out of respect for the owners, we don't want her scratching up the floor. Prior to moving we made a choice (as did my dad) to not have dog's sleeping in our bedroom anymore due to my allergies and asthma. We had successfully moved Lex out of our room, and Lucy slept in the living room at my dad's. However, we let her sleep in our room the few months she was back at our apartment because I felt bad about it.

At first, I tried getting her to stay downstairs with Harley. She was not a fan and kept coming up the stairs. Then my dad thought he would be extra nice and let her sleep in his room. She however, hates it when he coughs and he coughs a lot, so she was miserable in there and kept hiding in his adjoining bathroom. After that, we bunked her with my brother, who she loves, but she wasn't happy with that either. Tried the kid's rooms, even set up a crate downstairs in a spare room and did that for a while, but other household members kept sabotaging that. Currently, she sleeps in the carpeted hall outside our bedroom door and is happy with that. The downside is I am afraid her shifting and dog noises are waking up my 6 month old in the bedroom across from ours! I don't get much sleep as it is, with him waking up every few hours and if she is waking him as well, that just isn't going to work! I am uncertain if she is waking him, so last night I shut her in our large bathroom that is carpeted and tiled. She felt neutral about this.

Moving is hard on everyone, dogs and people! I hope that we work the kinks out of things. All and all I am very happy with our move and hopefully we won't have to do it again for a while!

Re-homing a Dog

I haven't posted a new blog article in quite some time. Partly because having two children (2 year old and 5 month old), keeps me very busy! I also feel that I have covered most dog training related topics via blog articles. However, my situation with my own dogs has inspired me to create a new post. How do you know when to re-home a dog and how do you make sure it all turns out for all the parties involved?

Some of you may know the saga of Lex and Lucy and how drastically their lives changed when I had kids. A year ago when my daughter started crawling, Lucy made herself physically sick due to the stress. Border Collies are known for having space issues; they don't like their space invaded by dogs or people. Having the constraints of being a good dog and not being able to "correct" the baby, Lucy internalized it all. I temporarily relocated her to my dad's house. I visited her there (as he lives only 15 minutes away) and "dog-napped" her from time to time. After I had my son, I brought Lucy home for a while and she never left! I can only guess why she is alright now with the kids. Perhaps since my daughter is now two and gives her the space she needs, Lucy no longer feels stressed. Perhaps Lucy decided she would rather be home with me and kids all day than be alone at my dad's while he worked all day. Either way, she is a changed dog. She eats her food, she plays, and loves on both kids.

While Lucy was gone on her "vacation," Lex remained normal until my daughter went from crawling to walking to running. Suddenly she was quick and unpredictable in her movement. We worked very hard to teach Lex to go to a quiet place when he was stressed and tried to give him more exercise and attention as well as teach our daughter to leave him be. While we were successful, things changed after my son was born. I could no longer exercise him daily as my hands were full with two little ones. We didn't have any "alone" time without kids and Lex began to spend most of his time in his quiet place. As my daughter became fascinated with role playing and taking care of baby dolls etc, she began to dote on Lex by insisting she feed him his dog food, bringing him treats, attempting to share her tippy cup with him. He was NOT comfortable with this and began to show very clear warning signals to her (showing his teeth). No matter how many times I talked to her about dog's having sharp teeth and showing her pictures of snarling dogs and even giving her time-outs when she disobeyed me and tried once again to get Lex to lick her or play with her doll, she just didn't understand the magnitude of the situation. How could she? She was 23 months old!

My husband and I began talking about our fear that we didn't know how long Lex's "fuse" was before he would go from warning to biting. Lex has corrected many puppies in his life and doesn't have the most inhibited bite (as he made some of them bleed). This lack of bite inhibition scared me and even though I was managing the situation I knew something had to change. I kept thinking how sad it was that he slept away most of his days, rarely seemed happy anymore and the fear I had that he would lash out at my daughter. It is a horrible feeling to love two creatures that can't co-exist together under your current circumstances.

Luckily for me I had/have a dear friend, although 500 miles away in Oregon, that had offered time and time again to take Lex for a vacation or for good. This friend however, was about to purchase a puppy, meaning my window for her taking Lex would close forever. 

My husband and I talked about it for a while and finally decided that even though we love our dog, we love our children more and that everyone would be happier if we re-homed Lex to my friend.

A week later my friend and her husband made the long trek to come get Lex. He was a little stressed at first, but took the long ride in stride. My friend tells me that he slept on their bed the first night, and still does 3 weeks later! He plays with their Border Collie, goes to their horse barn daily to take care of the horses, goes to work with my friend (as she is a groomer) and he started playing flyball again! She can leave him un-crated in their house and he chills on the couch till she gets home. He chows his food down and barks for more. She sends me pictures and texts of what he is up to and I see more pictures on facebook each week. My heart is so happy for him!

Our home is much happier as well. I didn't realize how much responsibility it was each day to make sure nothing bad happened to my toddler in reference to Lex. Lucy doesn't seemed phased that he left and is enjoying going everywhere with us. Now that she is a senior dog and slowed down, it is not a burden to take her to the park with the kids or have her with us at a family member's house. I could never take Lex to a kid's park and taking him to a family member's house was never too much fun either as some of the dogs in my family never got along well with him.

Sometimes everything lines up and re-homing a dog is the wisest choice for a family. I know there are some people that hold onto dogs till the end of the dog's life (no matter what the conditions or circumstances) because they feel that they made a commitment to the dog for life. I am a believer that if someone can give your dog a better life than you can, you are not a failure for making the difficult choice to re-home the dog.