An Experience Of A Fearful Dog...

Discussion in 'Dog Behavior Problems' started by running_dog, Aug 30, 2014.

  1. running_dog Honored Member

    We've thought for a long time that Gus has some issues with fearfulness so I was interested to meet a fearful farm dog when I was away on holiday. The other farm dog had no fearfulness issues and loved everyone (though I've posted about his alleged felicide).

    This is Jet:
    IMG_7062.jpg

    And this is Jet again:
    IMG_7063.jpg
    The pictures are not the greatest as I was some distance away and leaving! But he arched his back like a cat, tucked his tail between his legs and growled so much there was as much gum visible as teeth. He chose to stand off at a distance rather than approach. I felt I needed to tell him I would listen to his signals so I would call out, "Hi Jet" and walk away. I know that might be rewarding him for reacting but I didn't think he was enjoying reacting. I thought if could trust me to listen to how he felt and not approach him he might not be so afraid and he might not feel he had to react so violently.

    Over several days he began to accept me but only if there were members of his family around when he first saw me. Here he had met me coming out of the milking parlour with the farmer. This photo was taken after the farmer had gone. Although Jet was still nervous I think he was enjoying being with me. He wasn't under any constraint and there was a lot of space for him to run into if he decided he'd had enough.
    IMG_7106.jpg

    Yep definitely still nervous, he took himself off a few paces and lay down:
    IMG_7104.JPG

    It was easy to scare him, once he was coming towards me happily and I stepped towards him. He instantly started to hunch up and skulk away. I backed off and called out cheerfully to him, then knelt on the ground. He ran to me straight away, he was very affectionate.
    IMG_7108.JPG

    Jet's family were very concerned that I must not trust him in case he suddenly turned on me. I didn't get the impression that he was like that. He was honest about how he felt. If he was scared enough to bite he reacted dramatically while he was some distance away. If he trusted me enough to give him affection he would approach. Maybe I was wrong but I felt the only real danger was that he was close to me and then got swamped and couldn't get away. I never held him and went away if he looked like he was tensing up.

    He could not completely relax in my presence for another couple of days. After I'd ridden with him in the car I seemed to get a slightly more trusted rating. Afterwards he slept at my feet at lunch time, I was a bit nervous in case he woke up suddenly and was swamped by how close I was to him if he had forgotten I was in his good books just then! Although he still reacted to me if he met me without his family I also started to see his silly side as he ran off with the garden kneeler and threw it in the air! One day he took me for a walk up the lane, I think he was pretty relaxed here:
    IMG_7208.jpg

    Though I think he really liked me I know that even after a week he could have been thrown into a reaction by me but he wasn't as full on reacting as the first couple of days. If the family were around he would run to me happily and even follow me around especially if his favourite family member had gone off site. He hid behind me when the cows were on the move - he wasn't much of a cow dog :LOL:.
    IMG_7192.jpg

    I can see why people are fascinated by working with fearful dogs though I don't think Jet was a really bad case. I'm sure Gus would have been similar to Jet if he hadn't grown up in a town environment with a lot of people coming through his home. Although most of the time you wouldn't know there was a problem with Gus there are a few things like last time Gus was at the vets he was really friendly with a vet nurse then she went through a door washed her hands and came back out. Gus went towards her gladly then suddenly reacted fearfully and I'm sure it was the hand soap. Similarly he was cheerfully approaching a guest to greet him when suddenly he freaked out backed off, crouched and started barking. The guest was afraid of dogs and I think that makes Gus afraid too.

    But anyway back to Jet...

    Did I read Jet right?

    Was I right to "reward" Jet's reactions/fear by backing off?

    Was I right to trust Jet to tell me how he felt?

  2. southerngirl Honored Member

    I think that you did the right thing with him. I look at it as you respecting how he felt, not rewarding the fear. It sounds like he was slowly starting to trust you and feel comfortable around you.
    running_dog and kassidybc like this.
  3. kassidybc Experienced Member

    I agree with Danielle. I don't think you were rewarding the fear, had you not respected how he felt, you probably would have just made things worse. That's awesome that you had him feeling comfortable around you!
    running_dog likes this.
  4. southerngirl Honored Member

  5. running_dog Honored Member

    That is how I felt it was. But it was odd, it has made me think about the difference between training something like a trick and showing a dog you respect it's feelings. Because we'd be so careful not to reward unwanted behaviour with trick training and most behaviour training. Perhaps part of the difference is that he isn't my dog so I was not trying to modify his behaviour I was just trying to show him he could trust me.
  6. running_dog Honored Member

    It was really exciting to see him getting more trusting.

    My Mum fed him some chicken on the last day, he ate it but he never looked as relaxed as he had when he took me down the lane or was stealing the garden kneeler. It was like he wanted the chicken so he came to my Mum despite his fear but it was still there. He didn't completely relax with me that morning either, maybe the fact we were leaving made him restless.

    But what I was realising was that the food meant he came close but he was still anxious whereas when he chose to come close without the lure he came because he was comfortable with that distance.
    kassidybc likes this.
  7. running_dog Honored Member

    kassidybc and southerngirl like this.
  8. southerngirl Honored Member


    I know what you mean my friend has a boxer who is very jumpy, as in she is easily scared and is also not very trusting of people. I did the same thing, I respected her wants and waited for her to choose to come to me. It's different when it's someone else's dog.
    kassidybc and running_dog like this.
  9. Evie Experienced Member

    Evie is like that. Will approach strangers if they have food, but is never relaxed around them.. However you could live in the same house as Evie for a month and still not be able to pet her. She would however let you/make you play with her and she would go for off lead walks with you so long as nothing more interesting was going on.

    It's interesting how shyness/fearfulness comes across differently in all dogs... You'd think that a dog like Evie who was well socialized from a puppy would be quicker to accept strangers than say the farm dog you met who probably didn't meet many new people when it was young. It's all very interesting really.
    running_dog likes this.
  10. running_dog Honored Member


    Very, very interesting! :)

    It sounds almost like Evie has a canine version of autism. I thought that before about Brody (as in brodys_mum). I don't think Jet was seriously shy. I think he was mildly shy (like Gus) and then he didn't overcome so many of his fears because he didn't have as many experiences as Gus. I think he could still learn to be more or less "normal". Evie sounds much more shy to begin with.

    I wonder if fearfulness/shyness is the same in all dog just at different levels or does it have different causes. I mean some dogs don't like being touched but they are not fearful. Some dogs (like Jet) like to be touched but they are fearful. Jet would accept being touched before he'd accept me playing with him. They don't sound the same somehow but that could be to do with one of them being socialised and counterconditioned and the other not. After all animal behaviour is a result of both genetics and experiences.

    Seeing Jet made me understand a little of what a tormented world a shy dog can live in. I'm so glad you have worked with Evie so that even if she doesn't trust strangers she knows how she can use them for her own entertainment!
    Evie and kassidybc like this.

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