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.

Millie Part 3

In an effort to not repeat much from the previous Millie posts, I will simplify that the good stuff is still good. We have overcome more things, learned more behaviors and ran into new challenges. Millie is now 14 months old.


- I can dremal, brush, bathe, and even clip and strip with no issues.

- She will now let me carry her more and jump on my lap when invited.

- No longer barking at vacuum.

- Less nervous of strangers.

New Behaviors

- Backward crawl.

- Distance cues.

- Agility obstacle familar.

- Better fetching.

- Hand stand.

- Freestyle foundations.

- Tandem tricks with Lex.

New Challenges

- Nervous in brand new environments.

- Resurge in crate barking IF crate is located in a new environment.

- Trouble recovering from "scary" events.

Let It Go

I am sure by now, we have all heard the popular Frozen song, Let it Go. But today we aren't talking about Queen Elsa, but the need to let it go when your dog has an off day.

I am not sure when the idea came about that dogs are furry little creatures that do our bidding. This idea of master and subordinate, all empowering dominating human over the dumb, small minded dog that WANTS to please us and is eager to obey doesn't exist. Anyone that has had a puppy KNOWS that puppy didn't come pre-programmed with a "Obey Human" button! They have to be trained of course! 

Puppies and dogs are sentient beings. They feel, they have emotions, needs, wants, desires. They go through developmental periods like any animal and they create associations, relationships and bonds. Being feeling creatures, they can have OFF days. Just like you and me, your dog can have a day that he feels crumby and his behavior may be crumby too.

The reasons WE as humans may have a hard time with something can range from being tired, hungry, in pain, unfocused, traumatized by an event, cold, hot, etc. Dogs can have the exact same things going on that can throw them off.

I once wrote in a blog post that Lucy was not laying down on cue when I worked at a pet store long ago. She had me fuming that I was putting a lot of verbal pressure on her to lay down. She knew the cue, and I was frustrated and embarrassed that she effused. She would pin her ears back, lay down and pop back up and I would repeat the cue with louder tones and feverish hand signal. Then by accident, I saw the reason. She found a dog bed on the floor, laid on it and looked at me. We experimented and I saw all the signs pointing to the fact it was the hard surface that prevented her from taking the down cue. At the time, she was 7 years old and was having a hard time up stairs and getting into the car. I took her to the vet that week and they diagnosed her with arthritis. She went on some medication and didn't have an issue with her down cue after that. Yelling and gesticulating only hurt our relationship. Her having that off moment should have brought out the empathy in me, had me be a detective to figure out what was wrong, not be punitive.

I have witnessed owners in frustration jerk their dog's collar for not taking a sit when it was plain to see the dog didn't even realize it was being told to sit! I have seen trainers mouth off at their dogs and drag them away from competitions because the dog wasn't performing to it's normal standards that day. We all have tempers, we all have them flare. 

Let this be a reminder to seek empathy for the wonderful dog in front of you. Figure out the WHY of the situation and rectify it. The dog being jerked around to sit isn't likely going to sit willingly after that or happily continue that training session. The dog drug away from the agility trial in anger isn't getting anything out of that other than perhaps a negative association with trials and a hurt relationship with the handler. 

How do you fix this things? I put more answer based scenarios in the blog post "Ignoring Commands" if you wish to read more. Resign yourself to the fact that there will be a time where your dog will have a bad day, just like you and me and do your best to Let it Go....


I have to say, I am really lucky in the fact that Border Collies don't tend to be avid chewers. Obsessed about movement, yes. Crazy fanatical tug playing, fetch playing and cat stalking, check. Bite holes in your pants and shirt sleeves because you moved too fast, yep. But not destroy your couch, eat the drywall, flood the house with eating a pipe chewers like some other breeds I have seen! What breeds you ask? Usually the dogs bred to use their mouth like retrievers, or the powerful working breed dogs like pits, bully breeds, rotties, huskies, malamutes. With these breeds you MUST have a plan in place in puppy hood or you will lose your mind and perhaps quite a bit of your stuff too!

First thing first, crate train your puppy! All dogs benefit immensely from crate training. Take at look at my crate training blog to read why and HOW to do this. Now that your puppy is crate trained, use it! Use it when you are gone, use it when you sleep and use it when you are home even but can't do anything with the puppy because you just have to get dinner on the stove and the kids are climbing the walls or you have to take that important conference call and pace around the house while you listen in.

Next step, be sure you know what to do when your dog is out of the crate! This means having a rough routine like potty time, play time, training time, chew on your bone, race around the house a bit and then nap time back in the crate. As your puppy grows, those times out of the crate for training and playing will get longer and you will start to do free-play after the potty outside where he can be loosely supervised for 40 minutes or more and not get into trouble, provided he has plenty of dog stuff to play with.

Training time is more than just obedience cues. It can be teaching tug and drop, tricks, how to go to the crate on cue, fetching a toy on command or doing fun brain games like 101 things to do with a box or in my case, a laundry basket. YouTube has great videos for these things.

Play time can be fetch, chase games, hide and seek, tugging, laser light (with minimal use), playing with a water hose, catch, toy discrimination and DIY agility.

As for the "stuff"....most dog owners have a toy box. And in this toy box is lots of dog stuff. Toys, chews, nylabones, kongs. I encourage clients to have a toybox but also highly encourage them to rotate what is in this toy box to keep it exciting! Don't leave bones out after they have been abandoned. Also, I personally keep tugs for play time with the dog and not in the toy box. Banned from our toy boxes are bones, kongs, tugs and tennis balls. Those are all operated by me when I give it to the dog, which creates more value for the dog and they use the item much much longer and are happier with it.

Finally, if you catch your dog chewing on an item, you can spray it with a no-chew spray. Never ever punish the dog. This teaches them to run away from you and can turn into epic games of keep away. Your dog is just being developmentally normal. We all get frustrated as humans, so if yelling happens, it happens. Do your best to keep your cool and use the info that you forgot to crate the dog or you didn't pick up your shoes so you can do better next time!