Condo Blues: Fearful Dog Behavior Training

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fearful Dog Behavior Training

One of our favorite ways to socialize a rescue dog with behavioral issues is going to pet rescue events. It is a dog appropriate venue with better behaved dogs, rescue people understand if you ask them to approach your dog in a weird way because you are working on an issue.

They also understand if you have to leave early because your dog is tapped out or has an issue. We learn about new ways to help our dog, support great causes, and it is fun!

how to use dog events for behavoiral rehab training
Hey Charlie, do you need help with those bungee cords? I’m feeling a little distracted. Lisa says I should do something to put that energy in a positive direction when I feel this way.

The Capital Area Humane Society Halloween Pet Parade is something we look forward to all year. We work up to it by going to smaller dog rescue events throughout the summer. This event can be overwhelming to a dog because there are a lot of people and animals in a small space and costumes are involved.

Some of the people and dog Halloween costumes are clever and amazing. Here are a few of our favorites.

The Rottweiler Las Vegas Showgirl costume is my favorite. This girl loved the attention she received because she knew she looked fine, fresh, and fierce!  She was so fierce, her owner had to stop her from  kissing everyone who wanted to take her picture.

Rottweiler Showgirl Halloween Dog Costume
I am fabulous and I know it!

As a little advocacy note, I am so glad her owner put her Rottweiler in an amazing costume so people focused on the dog and not the breed. Rottweilers have a unjust reputation for being mean and aggressive. If that happens it is the fault of the owner, not the breed. I should know. Blitzkrieg was a little guy and a fear biter. I have a scar on my lip to remember him by.

Many people got into the spirit and wore matching dog and human Halloween costumes. Here’s Dr. Seuss Thing 1, Thing 2, and the Cat in the Hat.

Dr Suess Dog Halloween costume
Ladies, I am a dog. Why are you dressing me up as a cat? It’s unnatural!

Football dog costumes are always popular. This woman fielded her own K-9 football team. The Golden is the Wide Retriever, the cattle dog mix is a cheerleader, the rat terrier mix is the football, and the shy guy in the back is the referee. I like that the referee’s flag is a yellow bone.

dog footbal lteam costumes
Team K-9 ready to take the field!

As much and Husband and I like costumes and being characters for Halloween, we don’t push it on our dog.  We are using this event to help Lacey feel comfortable in social situations and at this point in her life, she needs to wear her Thundershirt (learn more about it here)  to help her deal with her anxiety more than she needs to wear a costume. I was the biggest cynic when we bought her Thundershirt because I’m not thrilled about dressing up dogs like dolls with a few exceptions.

The Thundershirt is based on Temple Grandin’s research and calms the dog like swaddling calms a fussy baby.

This thing works. Lacey pulls less on her leash when she wears her Thundershirt to events and unfamiliar places. She is less anxious at the vet, which allows her vet to focus on giving Lacey her checkups with lots of pets and treats to make going to the vet a positive experience for everyone involved.

Lacey’s Thundershirt works so well that she doesn’t bark and freak out at Thunderstorms anymore. We hope to work up to more situations where Lacey is confident enough to go without wearing her Thundershirt. If not, that’s OK.  We have to do all of this behavioral rehab training on Lacey’s schedule, not ours.

Our goal is to set Lacey up for success. She wore a festive Halloween bandana and coordinating Thundershirt.  Lacey feels more secure when her pack (Husband and 1) walks on either side of her.  We stayed on the far ends of the crowd to make this easier for us. It also helped Lacey feel more comfortable and she wanted to stay a little longer than we did at the event last year. A few puppy steps of progress!

Lacey_petparade2013I am also wearing a calming dog pheromone collar. It releases mother dog pheromones, lavender, and chamomile when my dog temperature rises when I am nervous. It is another tool my behaviorist suggested for me and that Lisa wasn’t sure would work. Lisa was wrong again. Husband noticed there is a difference in my behavior when my collar runs out and he set up buying them on Amazon Subscribe and Save so I never have to go with out.

Lacey did much better this year than she did last year. We’ve been working on properly greeting and interacting with small dogs this summer so we can work Lacey up to not challenging big dogs due to her fear and anxiety issues. Lacey has the classic I’m afraid so I’ll get you before you get me approach. This can end end badly for the little dog, given their size. The big dog is usually unfairly blamed for the behavior when most of the time, the little one started it.

It is weird to praise your dog for sniffing another dog’s butt but that’s what well adjusted dogs do, so we encourage it. Sometimes you have to do weird stuff to help your dog learn how to be a dog. That’s a fact.

That’s why dog events are also behavioral training for Husband and I. We need to watch our selves because we don’t want our overly cautious or anxious internal feelings to travel down the leash to Lacey to make her more anxious or fearful than she already is. 

Dog are amazing communicators. They sometimes use minute body language to communicate to each other.

It is fascinating and sometime frustrating for both dogs and their humans. Our dogs pick up subtle body langue cues in their humans even when we don’t know we are doing them.  So the more confident we are at these events, the more confident Lacey is because that travels down the leash too.

Or the dog's message may not be so subtle, like Lacey thanking the man from Uncle Paulie’s treats with kisses for the Ohio made grain free blueberry treat he gave her at the Celebrate Local booth.


Thank you for the yummy treat Uncle Paulie’s! Now I know why Lisa likes this store so much! They have Ohio made things for people AND pets!

I should stop right now and remind you that I am not a dog behavior training professional. I am an instructional designer for human training programs, not for dog training program (dogs don’t use computer keyboards very well.)

Some of the learning theories are similar and overlap. I’m constantly researching dog behavior to help me understand and help my own dog. While this advice works for Lacey, we are working with a professional dog behaviorist who is qualified to tell us if we are on the right track.  I strongly suggest you contact a dog behaviorist instead of a dog trainer (although some dog behaviorists also do sit/stay/come type of dog training too) to help you help your dog instead of trying to do it all yourself.

The day wasn’t perfect but we are calling it a win.  Lacey  needed a few verbal corrections when meeting both big and little dogs. She let strangers pet her and she gave them more face kisses than she should. Not jumping on people is our on going challenge. 

Lacey was more comfortable with the crowd but still too anxious to eat the treats she earned at the event. Dog people get this. I put the treats in my pocket for later.

We took Lacey on a walk away from the crowd so she could work off some of her nervous energy before we drove home. Lacey showed us that she is the girl we are teaching her to be when she asked for her treat because she wanted to be Holly Golightly for Halloween.

Lacey had breakfast at Tiffany’s.

breakfast at Tiffanys
If a pumpkin dog treat counts as second breakfast and it is in place of Holly Golightly’s croissant and coffee then my girl is Audrey Hepburn.

Our little girl is growing up!

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