Fearful Dogs

Kate Abbott, Petra Burke & Liz Palika  on Pet Life Radio

Living with a fearful dog can be tough; not only for the dog who is so worried and afraid, but also his family. No one likes to see a dog suffering from fear and we would all like to alleviate that fear. In this show we’ll be talking about what causes a dog to be afraid and some of the ways to avoid those things. We’ll also discuss what to do and what not to do should your dog be afraid of something specific, such as the garbage truck going by or a motorcycle.



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Announcer:  It’s a big world out there.  And you're just looking for a pat on the back - or head.  You run around the city searching for a place to bark, working your tale off with your nose to the ground, sniffing for a few scraps, hoping someone will throw you a bone.

You take each lead, collar after collar, hoping one day to take a bite out of success and become the top dog.

Fortunately you come home each day to open arms, open cans and drinks waiting for you and a comfortable place in front of the TV set.  You know you've got it good.  Really good, because after all, it's a doggy dog world out there.

Petliferadio presents “It’s a Doggy Dog World”, with your host, pet expert and award-winning author Liz Palika and this week's cohost Kate Abbott.

Liz Palika:  Welcome to “It’s a Doggy Dog World” on PetLifeRadio.  I'm your host Liz Palika and I want to thank you for joining us today.  My cohost today is Kate Abbott from Kindred Spirits Canine Education Center in Vista California.  Hello.

Kate Abbott: Thank you for listening.  Today we would like to talk about fearful dogs, how to prevent that from occurring and how to deal with that once it happens.

Liz Palika:  So what we will do first of all is we'll take a break.  And when we come back we will talk about the issues of fearful dogs, how you can handle that.  And in addition we also want to talk about Halloween and how - I know it is several weeks away but how to prepare your dog for Halloween, especially if you have got a young dog that has never seen all these weird people show up at your door in masks and costumes and yelling ‘Trick or Treat!”

So we'll take a break and we'll be back in a minute.

Announcer:  Sit. Stay. “It’s a Doggy Dog World” will be right back after a short pause - well, four to be exact.



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We know you're begging for more, so back to “It’s a Doggy Dog World” with your fetching hosts Liz Palika and Kate Abbott.

Liz Palika:  Welcome back to “It’s a Doggy Dog World”.  I'm your host Liz Palika and I want to thank you for joining us.

Kate and I today are going to be talking about fearful dogs.  Now there are a lot of ways that a dog can become fearful.  First of all it is genetics.  If the mother and father of a litter of puppies are themselves fearful, then the puppies have the risk of inheriting that from them.

But even if they are not genetically fearful, if the mother dog say for example is a first time mom and perhaps her owner is a little nervous about the process of having puppies in the household, then the nervous owner can make the mama dog nervous and that of course transfers down to the puppies.

We can have puppies that are themselves nervous, edgy and they themselves can become fearful.  When they start life fearful, they start at a severe disadvantage obviously.  But other things can create a fearful temperament in a puppy too.

Kate Abbott:  Working with your puppy to socialize them, not only to other people and other dogs but to strange things will go a long way toward helping your puppy be more confident in the rest of their life.

Getting them out and about, it's always a sort of a delicate balance between keeping them healthy in their body with vaccinations and diseases and yet at the same time exposing them to things that they need to experience while they are still young.

A lot of vets unfortunately still say don't take your puppy out until after four months of age.  If you wait that long then you have passed a very critical period in a puppy’s life where they need to get out and experience things.

Liz Palika:  Think of socialization as a healthy mind in a healthy body.  The puppy can get out and be socialized to things without risking his health as long as you avoid such things as dog parks or if you are out for a walk avoid unknown dogs. 

Cross the street even if you need to.  But let him meet people.  Let him meet friendly, well-vaccinated dogs.  Let him hear the garbage truck go by.  Let him hear a motorcycle go by.  Teach him to walk on different surfaces like carpets and slippery floors and gravel and dirt and walk over manhole covers.  And introduce him to different sights like a sheet flapping in the breeze and sounds like a vacuum cleaner and a blender and a food processor, all kinds of things.

The important ages for socialization are 12 to 16 weeks of age.  That's the most important age.  If the puppy isn't well socialized by that time you can continue socializing.  You can try to get him more confident in the world around him but it will never be quite as effective as it is when he's a baby.

So socialization, the puppy’s genetics and whether the mother is calm around the puppies are definitely three parts of preventing a fearful puppy.  But is there anything else we can do to help keep our puppy confident in the world?

Kate Abbott:  Well not only do I teach puppy classes and they are lots of fun, but I also think it's a wonderful way to socialize your puppy in a controlled environment.

In my puppy classes we have some times when the puppies can play with each other under supervision and I get to teach the owners how to supervise puppy play at the same time as the puppies are learning to play with each other.  We will also have at least once where they experience a sort of a miniature agility course and that includes walking on the different surfaces, walking over the teeter-totter where all of a sudden the world falls out from underneath the puppy dog’s feet.

And showing the owners how to appropriately challenge their puppy and have them succeed at meeting all of these new things.  When your puppy, when you are out and about with your puppy, you'll often encounter what I call puppy mashers.  And everybody knows the cry of the puppy mashers.  You hear them from a least a block away. 

Liz Palika:  “Oh, look at that cute puppy!”

Kate Abbott:  There’s one right now.  And before you know it they are just smothering your puppy and hugging it all over.  That can be scary.  We definitely want your puppy to get to meet new people but we want to keep it pleasant and fun for them. 

So as much as possible try not to let the puppy mashers overwhelm your puppy.  Let your puppy go up to the person.  Encourage the puppy to go up to the other person but let them control the puppy move in on them.

You want your puppy to think that people are cool to meet.  It's fun.  It's a party time. Not be scared of strangers.

Liz Palika: In addition control the situation as far as the numbers of people. For example if you want to introduce your puppy to kids, don't go outside of an elementary school when school lets out and have 25 kids come and charge your puppy and mash all over him.  One or two kids at a time.  And have them pet gently, gently so that they don't overwhelm him and frighten him.

Another aspect you need to be aware of is people who think that they must be rough with a puppy.  I don't just want to blame guys but it does have a tendency to be the guys who push the puppy around and slap him on the rib cage and roll him over and put a hand on his chest and go, “Rahr, rahr, rahr” to him.

That can all be quite scary to the puppy if the puppy doesn't know whom this person is.  You know the person may think he is being friendly and playing with the puppy.  To the puppy he is going, ”Oh my gosh, is this guy going to eat me?”  So it can be a little scary.

But another word about puppy classes besides socialization is it introduces the puppy to the basic obedience commands that he is going to need later.  It introduces him to the agility course as Kate said.  And oftentimes the instructors of puppy classes will bring out other potentially scary things like umbrellas and noisemakers and a flapping sheet and a flapping trash bag and all kinds of things that the puppy is potentially going to run into during his early lifetime but that the owner might not have thought about bringing out to show the puppy.

So the puppy classes can serve a variety of useful purposes.  But there is one other part of fear prevention that we need to talk about Kate and that is what happens when your puppy is frightened, when he sees something that makes him scared, what should the owner do or what should the owner not do.

Kate Abbott:  Well let's talk about what not to do and unfortunately it's a very human trait to be kind and want to make your puppy feel better.  If they were a small child we would pick them up and hug them and console them and say, “It’s OK babe, it's not going to last much longer.  I'm here.  I'm holding you.  You're safe.”

Well, for a puppy dog touching means, “Yeah, you're doing the right thing.”
Talking in a high, soft, consoling voice to the puppy means, “Yeah I must be doing something right.  They are talking to me softly and happily.”  So if you try to pick your puppy up and make them feel better, what you are really doing is telling them, “You are right to be afraid.  Yeah, good puppy to be afraid.”

And then the next time your puppy is afraid he's going to be twice as afraid because he thinks, “That’s what I need to do.  That's what they told me is right.”  Of course, you don't want to yell at your puppy.  You can't tell a puppy, “No, don't be afraid.”  That's not going to make a lot of sense either.  So the nice thing about puppy class is you get to practice.  If your puppy is afraid of perhaps my opening an umbrella, then you get to practice jollying them.

And that means you set the tone for how they should behave when they see something scary.  So, umbrella opens, puppy backs off.  Instead of trying to pat them and make them feel better, which will just convince them that yes, that is a very scary object, you set the tone and say, “Hey, what is that?”  Put a little laugh into your voice.  ‘Jolly them out of it’ is the shortcut phrase we use.  Set the tone.  You walk over and touch the scary thing.  Don't try to drag puppy up to it.  That's probably going to be overwhelming and even more scary.

But show him that you can touch it.  Come back and touch puppy.  Go over and touch it.  Come back and touch puppy.  Put some treats halfway between puppy and scary thing.  Encourage them to step up a little bit.  And look, as long as they are with you nothing bad is going to happen to them.

Liz Palika:  And don't forget praise.  When the puppy gets brave enough to get over there and touch that scary thing, especially the umbrella, “Yeah!  Good job.  Awesome.  Oh, you're so brave.”

Tell the puppy he is the most wonderful thing on the face of the planet and pretty soon he will have the trust in you so that when you say, “Yes, you can do this, he'll know he can and he'll have confidence in himself – “Yeah, I'm a bold, brave puppy.  I can do these things.”

So it's very, very important to handle it correctly.  Now, Kate’s youngest dog Walter, the cockapoo, and we talked about him a little bit in the last podcast because he is the busy dog that was the focus of that podcast, Walter had a scary incident when he was a puppy.  So I will let Kate explain that and what she did about it.

Kate Abbott: Yeah, unfortunately accidents can happen even to the most well-meaning of owners or trainers.  So when Walter was about four months of age, I was out socializing him.  I took him to a small street fair.  Things were quiet and we were walking down the street picking out vegetables and puppy mashers were getting to say hi to him and he was enjoying himself.

And just as we walked past the tents with high amplifier speakers for the stage, the rock band jumped on stage and clanged their drums and banged their cymbals and threw a great big chord down on the guitars and the lead singer howled and it came out of those speakers at about I guess the decibel of a jet engine.

And Walter lost his mind.  He was sure that he was being attacked and the noise continued.  There was nothing I could do for him but to pick him up and get him out of there.  Now I didn't console him but I did have to remove him from a very high stimulus environment.  So he is still sound sensitive to this day.  We are however working on it with desensitization.  We will talk a little bit more about that but accidents happen.

But if you don't get out there and get your puppies socialized then you are nearly 100% guaranteed that they are going to be afraid of life.

Liz Palika:  All right.  So to sum it up, in brief we can create a fearful dog if the puppy's parents are fearful.  We can create a fearful dog if the mama dog is nervous and her owner even more so nervous.  We can create a fearful dog if the puppy is not well socialized, and I do mean well socialized - friendly, vaccinated, healthy dogs to other people, to sounds, to sights, basically to the world that they are going to live in.  And then we can also create a fearful dog if the puppy is startled by something and we don't react to it correctly.

Our tendency is to console, “Oh, it's OK puppy.  Really, it’s OK.  I'll make sure you are not hurt or scared or frightened.”  But, as Kate said, that consoling behavior gives the puppy the wrong message.

I do have to put in a plug here for one of my own books.  If you want to read more about the development of puppies and fear periods they go through and ways to socialize your puppy, pick up a copy of my book, “The KISS Guide to Raising a Puppy”.  And that's The KISS – K-I-S-S – Guide to Raising a Puppy.  It's published by DK Publishing.  You can get it on Amazon.com.

Or if you would like to see some more about that book you can go to my website www.lizpulika.com and the information is up here on the ‘It’s a Doggy Dog World” page.

Right now we are going to take another break for our sponsors.  And when we come back we are going to talk about the dog that’s already fearful.  It’s too late to prevent it now.  How can we handle a fearful dog?  How can we build this dog’s confidence and protect the dog and other people?  And then we’ll talk a little bit more about Halloween too.

So we’ll take a break right now.  And we’ll be back in a few minutes.


Announcer:  Sit. Stay. “It’s a Doggy Dog World” will be right back after a short pause - well, four to be exact.



Announcer:  Let’s talk pets on PetLifeRadio.com

We know you're begging for more so back to “It’s a Doggy Dog World” with your fetching hosts Liz Palika and Kate Abbott.

Liz Palika:  Welcome back to “It’s a Doggy Dog World”.  I'm your host Liz Palika.  With me today is Kate Abbott from The Kindred Spirits Canine Education Center in Vista California.

Today we are talking about fearful dogs.  In the first half of the show we talked about some of the ways to prevent a dog from becoming fearful including socialization and puppy classes.

In this portion of the show we are going to talk about dogs that already have fear issues.  Perhaps they were newly adopted or the dog was frightened by something.  We want to talk about how to deal with those issues keeping the dog, his owner and other people safe.

So first of all Kate, let's talk about what dogs are afraid of.

Kate Abbott:  Well, anything can be scary to a dog.  I'm thinking of one of our students with a Newfoundland who walked out into the backyard one day and looked at the patio table and said, “Uh oh! Scary thing. Scary thing.”  Of course, that patio table had been there since before this Newfie was born and had been there the whole time since he had come to live with them.  But on that particular day in that particular light it was scary to him.

Now fortunately the owner knew enough not to console.  She said, “Oh, what are you doing you silly boy?”  And walked over to the table, walked back to him.  Gave him some treats.  And in a little while he settled down and went, “Oh yeah, this is the patio table.  OK.  All right.  No big deal.”

Other dogs can be afraid of - well some of the classics are thunderstorms and fireworks, loud noises.  It doesn't mean that the dog was ever hurt during such times but they got startled.  They felt the fear and then the next time they heard it they remembered the fear and then it builds upon itself.

So there are ways to desensitize to sound.  One of the easiest or the easiest to re-create is to find a CD that has those sounds on it that your dog has already said he doesn't like.  Thunderstorm happens and Walter tries to run into the bathroom and get underneath the toilet bowl.  That's a pretty good indication he doesn't like those sounds.

So I got a CD with thunderstorms on it and the first thing I had to do was to play it fairly loud just to make sure that he would acknowledge that that sound was similar to the one that made him afraid.  So once I was sure that I had something that would set him off, then I could start the process of desensitizing him to it, getting him used to it.

So the next thing is about two sessions a day, about 10 minutes at a time to play the CD at the lowest level before he gets upset.  And then give him lots of praise and treats frequently during the time that he's listening to this low-level noise.  That starts changing his mind about the noise.  “Hey, thunderstorms happen and it's fun and I get treats.  Maybe this isn't so bad after all.”  Only react to the good behavior.  If he gets upset than you have turned up the volume too high, too fast and you need to back off and start over again.

But as long as they are not reacting to the sound, lavish on the praise, lavish on the treats.  Let them know that this is not a bad thing and they can deal with it as long as they are with you.

Liz Palika:  Now Walter of course has this fear of thunderstorms and loud noises such as shots and firecrackers on the Fourth of July and New Year's.  But your biggest challenge with a fearful dog was with Gina.  Gina is Kate's Rottweiler who had been severely abused when she was very young.  Kate adopted her when she was slightly under a year old I believe.  But her abuse had been probably not just neglectful but also physical because anything waved above her head would cause Gina to duck her head and snap.

Now that's taken quite a process to get Gina to where she is today, the much more confidant comfortable dog.  So let's talk a little bit about the process with Gina.  I remember when you first came to class with her you were trying to console her.

Kate Abbott:  One of the first things I learned was to take all that baggage off of Gina's back that I had been putting on her.  “Oh, you poor thing.  You've been abused.  Oh my gosh.  I feel so bad for you.  I need to make up for everything that ever happened to you before.”

Well, as Liz taught me, that was asking Gina to carry a very heavy burden.  And that was simply weighing her down so that she wasn't free to learn a new way to move through life confidently with me.  Yeah, she - well I remember the first week I had her I had wrapped a present for someone, picked up the empty cardboard tube and went to put it in the corner.  And as I waved it in front of myself, Gina hit the floor and peed and lay down in it.  She was that afraid of an empty cardboard tube over her head.

Liz Palika:  With Gina she had probably been beaten with a broomstick or some other long narrow object.  But any adopted dog, dog from a shelter, a dog that has been adopted from a purebred rescue group or anything like that, can come with baggage.

And people - we see them in classes all the time – “Oh, he was abused”.  And therefore they must baby the dog more or something like that.  That feeds into the dog fear and as we were talking about with puppies, that is consoling behavior.

I think it's very important to keep in mind that dogs live in the moment.  They are here and now.  Yes, that abuse happened.  And yes, that abuse may have caused them to react in a certain way in certain situations.  But we think about their past abuse much more than the dogs do.  And I think it's very important that with any fearful dog, or potentially abused dog we have to remember that they are here and now and we give them the future.

And so forget about the abuse.  Deal with the problem that it’s having and we'll talk about that more in just a second, but keep in mind that the dogs are here and now.

Kate Abbott:  Yes, the biggest issue that I was worried about when I first adopted Gina was because of her fear and if someone reached for her that she would react by biting.  Not only did I want to keep other people safe but by preventing her from biting others I was keeping her safe too.

Biting dogs are not treated gently these days to put it - and it's scary.  And it's not being a good dog owner not to protect the other people in this world.  But I wanted her to be able to get out and about.  So the first thing I had to make sure was that as I took her out and about - the first thing I did was bring her to classes - was that I kept other people safe.

I didn't need to use a muzzle with Gina but for some dogs that may be a good way to keep them safe until they can be re-socialized to accept people.  I was able to keep her close to me and understand her body language and prevent her from getting upset, interrupt other people's behavior and not even let them get close to her until I knew she was calm and ready to accept other people touching her.

So if you've got a fearful dog and you are worried about them biting, be sure that you keep control of the situation first.  Even as she got used to people and would encourage them to pet her, I would cradle her head under my arms and against my body so that a) I could prevent other people from being bitten and b) I could feel her tension or lack of to know whether to interrupt the situation or let her keep being touched.

I also worked a lot on controlling and establishing a relationship of trust between us through my being a good leader.  It wouldn't have done any good to pour a lot of sympathy on her if I hadn't also allowed her to trust me to keep her safe and that meant being a good leader, asking her to obey me, showing her what I meant by things, rewarding her when she did obey me and having consequences if she didn't.

When I would give her her meals, she had to sit.  At the beginning that was kind of a hard concept especially because she had been starved.  So I kept the leash on her, had her sit.  When she was calm and holding herself back then she got her food.  Now it has become a very easy ritual for us.  It's just a nice reminder and she gets to practice a little self-control.

Liz Palika:  OK.  One other thing that I think it's important that we need to bring up with fearful dogs is even fearful dogs need lots of exercise, appropriate to their age and state of health of course.  But a tired mind and a tired body are going to be less reactive to many different stimuli.  So exercise is important.

The trust that Kate brought up as far as with training is very, very important.  And then watching the dog and changing your behavior as the dog also changes.  Gina, right now as we are recording this knows she's being talked about and although a couple of years ago when Kate first adopted her she was very worried about strange people, including me - and yes, I am strange - her chin was on my leg just a few minutes ago and I was petting her on the top of her head, which a couple of years ago would never ever have happened.

So, time, patience, training, trust, exercise and understanding where the dog is coming from - all of these are important.

All right, now, which goes along with the issue of fear, let's talk a little bit about Halloween.  Halloween can be very scary to dogs.  I mean with dogs - people coming to the door in mass, in costumes and yelling, “Trick or treat.”  And if your neighborhood is anything like mine, it's not just the little kids.  It's also the big kids and they can be the scariest.

So Kate, let's talk a little bit about why Halloween is so frightening for dogs and what we can do to keep our dog safe.

Kate Abbott: Well I just can't think of any way to sit my dog down and actually explain to her or him that these ghosts or goblins that come screaming up the sidewalk are actually the nice kids up the street.  You know they don't look like them.  They don't move like them.  The kids are probably on a sugar high too by the time they get to my house.  It's just weird behavior.

So I actually - it's once a year - that's not a bad time for them to spend the evening in the back bedroom with the radio on and a nice chewy toy.  And I don't even really ask them to come to the door with me on trick or treat.

Liz Palika:  I think it's also important that prior to Halloween, and that's one of the reasons why we are talking about this several weeks ahead of time, expose the dogs to some costumes and some masks.  If you've got some old Halloween costumes in your back closet or if you're getting your kids ready for Halloween throw on a mask.  Let your dog see it.  And then take it off when your dog sees that you are really underneath that.

And use your happy, jolly tone of voice, not the controlling one.  Just let the dog know that costumes are temporary things that go on and off.  And dress the kids up to so that your dog can see the kids are just putting on funny clothes and they come right back off again and the kids are still there.

It's an important lesson that dogs need to learn.  We definitely don't want anyone to have a dog that's panicky, that's overly fearful.  And we certainly don't want anyone getting bit on Halloween.  So take the time now to let your dog know what all of this is.  And then when Halloween comes around hopefully things will be much calmer.

But we'll talk about Halloween in more detail in a couple of weeks, again giving you time to get your dog ready for the holiday before it actually comes up on us.

So anyway, we could talk about dogs all day but we're out of time for today.  If you have any questions that you would like us to address about living with dogs, which is the theme of this show, you could e-mail us at liz@petliferadio.com.  That's pet – P-E-T – life – L-I-F-E - radio.com.  Petliferadio is one word and we will try to put some questions and answers in upcoming shows.

But right now Kate and I would just like to thank you for listening and we'll talk some more next week.


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