Hi Don. We bought your Perfect Dog training system for our Doxie/Beagle mix, Annie, a couple of years ago when she was just a puppy. Annie walks like a dream on leash and does well off leash. I need advice, though…
Last summer, we were walking outside and Annie was on leash. With no warning, a pit bull ran out of the open door of his owner’s house and attacked her on the sidewalk. She wound up with a scratch on her belly that healed up just fine. When the dog ran out of the house and lunged at Annie, she immediately laid down on the ground. I snatched her up before the pit bull was able to really hurt her, if not worse. My dog was terrified, as was I. Annie screamed like I didn’t even know dogs could scream.
What has happened now, though, is that Annie is scared of any dog that approaches her – whether the other dog is leashed, or not. (She’s also terrified of cats.) She screams like she’s being killed when she’s not even being sniffed by the other dog. I find myself always picking her up whenever this happens, to calm her down. I realize my picking her up has made her insecure. What can I do to make this better? She doesn’t just whine, she literally screams. She also recently did this when I left her at the groomers for her nail trimming and bath. I would greatly appreciate any advice!
I can feel your frustration and pain for your dog. What an unfortunate and terrifying situation regarding the pit bull. You did the right thing in that situation – picking up your dog most likely saved Annie’s dog’s life.
However, you’re right in your perception that the constant picking up of your dog thereafter has created something within Annie that you now have to undo. Constantly picking up your dog has caused her to believe that all other dogs pose a threat to her (and even your) safety. I talk about the impact of picking up a dog in social situations – and even just carrying around a dog everywhere – in my DVDs, and I also provide an in-depth discussion on this with examples in my book Wake Up and Smell the Poop! (https://dogfather.tv/books/).
Your dog now has to re-learn to trust your judgment that not all social situations with other dogs are dangerous. What you’ll now have to do is reverse your behavior in social situations i.e. do the opposite to what you have been doing. You’ll have to dedicate a period of time to exposing your dog to other dogs (that you know for sure are friendly and totally safe to be around).
Have your dog muzzled during these times (review my discussion on muzzles under the “Equipment” section on Perfect Dog DVD #1) – and also wearing the Command Collar and at least the medium Freedom Training Line. Have your dog on the ground and take her slowly but confidently closer to the other dog. (Interact with one dog at a time at first – leave groups of dogs until your dog is more advanced in her rehabilitation.)
As soon as your dog first starts to back off, or struggle, or scream, etc. implement a correction and say “No!” simultaneously. Don’t keep implementing corrections, though, if her resistance continues. You simply want to communicate to her one time in no uncertain terms that you’re in charge and her fearful reaction is unjustified. If she continues to freak out, simply ignore her and continue.
Lean down as you get close to the other dog and pay attention to the other dog – happy words, pets on the head, etc. (But, I never encourage rubbing any dog’s belly – review my DVDs for my explanation on this. I have also written a Blog post on this subject: https://dogfather.tv/rubbing-a-dogs-belly-good-bad-how-do-you-stop-this-habit/). Then, turn to your dog and offer the same kind of attention. Don’t worry about whether or not Annie wants to accept positive attention from you during the social rehabilitation exercise. Just offer it (no matter what) for a short while and then return to the visiting dog with your love and praise.
Switch back and forth like this for a while before you move away and find another dog to interact with. Whatever you do, don’t ever loosen up on your dog i.e. don’t allow her to skulk or shy away, or hide between your legs, etc. Keep Annie in close to the social situation at all times until you decide to move away from the other dog.
As long as you’re calm yet assertive, your dog will soon (maybe after a few exercises, or perhaps only after a number of days of rehabilitation) get the idea that all is okay and you’re simply not going to stand for any kind of resistance from her. You’ll soon be able to progress to doing this without the need of the muzzle, and you’ll be able to introduce more dogs, incorporate more “busy” social situations, and even transition down to the shortest Freedom Training Line to even no line at all. But, it will be a process and you’ll need to be dedicated to it daily.
I suggest starting with a quiet social situation with a family member/friend/neighbor that has a calm, friendly dog. Then do the same again a number of times with different people/dogs before extending to public environments. The reason why I suggest staging more intimate situations at first with people you know is to help get a handle on your dog’s screaming as the priority. Maintaining privacy along with the support of people that are very understanding is often a critical first step when overcoming major behavioral problems with a dog. It’s a far less stressful way to begin the rehabilitation process, and you avoid having to deal with people that might misinterpret what is going on and even try to give you grief.
Some dogs adjust surprisingly well and get over their hang-ups within a day or two. Others take longer. But, they all get there in the end when they finally submit to the authority their owners are determined to exercise in these situations.
Your dog has to learn that you know what you’re doing and that you’re not going to consciously put your dog in a dangerous or unnecessarily uncomfortable situation. You already proved to your dog once that you have the ability to save her from truly life threatening situations – and you would do the same again if ever something like that happened again. However, your dog needs to learn to discern that you will only ever react like that (i.e. pick her up) if the potential danger is truly real.
Good for you for your determination to resolve this issue with Annie. It’s very important for her quality of life and for your own peace of mind. It will take effort and tenacity, but as long as you trust the process and don’t let your emotions anchor you (or Annie), you will succeed.
– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”
P.S. You can follow the same process with cats, too!
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