Timid dog

haldFebruary 9, 2010

About 3 months ago we adopted a small (15lb) mixed breed male. We have 3 other dogs, all small terriers, that range from 14lbs to about 22lbs. The new dog is probably less than a year old, though we don't know for sure.

The new dog is not a terrier. He is more oriented to sight than smell, and his demeanor. etc., is nothing like the terriers I've owned over the years. His bark is high pitched and deafening, and more like a scream than a bark. We don't know his breed, but we wonder if he might be a powder puff Chinese crested. He has very thin hair that is blond and fluffy, and a little bit curly. He has beautiful skin that is multi-colored and shows through his hair.

I'm posting because he is timid and seems to have a low IQ. I've never owned a timid dog before and hope others might be able to give some tips.

Questions -

1) The 5 of us walk on leash together every day. He pulls too hard. Is there anything I can try besides a choke chain? Other than pulling he does fine on walks. After about 3 weeks he still doesn't understand pulling tightens the choke chain, though he does seem to understand "slow down."

2) He has an annoying habit at dinner of waiting till the other 3 dogs have finished eating before he will start. They have their own separate bowls. Even when I know he's very hungry he will wait before eating. How do I get him to eat with the others? It's not like they are dominating him at dinner. They ignore him while they eat from their own bowls.

2) He frightens easily. For example, on a recent walk he got scared of a xmas tree left at the gutter and I had to pick him up and carry him a ways. If we even slightly raise our voices, even if it's not directed at him, he cowers. For example, a couple days ago I gave a stern "no" to one of the other dogs and he cowered and looked like he'd just been beaten or something.

3) We suspect that he probably came from a household that spoke spanish; we speak english. We think this partly because he seems to be clueless about anything we say to him. He has brown eyes and a face that reminds us of a sesame street character; his expression often reminds us of the saying "the lights are on, but no one is home."

Also, we think he might have been mistreated due to his high pitched piercing voice. It definitely is a bark\voice that could get a renter evicted or cause someone to lose their temper and abuse him. His voice isn't a problem for us since he's a house dog and we are home almost all the time. When we leave, though, we can hear him screaming. Thank gawd we have great neighbors; we all think his voice is kinda funny.

Any tips for timid dogs? I want to add he's never been hit or yelled at in our household. He's housebroken just fine, and gets along with the other 3 dogs. The 6 of us- 4 dogs and 2 people, sleep in a king size bed and he's fine with that. He's not afraid when he sees big dogs on our daily walks (he generally goes nuts, starts screaming, and then is fine if he is allowed to sniff them or looses sight of them). He's just timid.

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Poor little guy. LOL. I really suspect that he had been in a previous home with other dogs and he was the low man on the totem pole. The waiting until the other dogs finish eating to eat is what makes me believe that. He is used to getting what others leave him, and it's a defense mechanism.

As for the pulling at the leash. I have an Iggy or Iggy mix. He is a sight hound and we have been working nearly a year on this one and it's coming along. I have cured him of jumping over me and out the door of the car by making him sit and stay (and he has this one down pat) until I get out and get ready to let him out. Because of his fine, thin neck and what I believe to be an old injury by the use of a choker in his last home.........we have him on a web harness. It gives me much better control to have him heel beside me. When he pulls ahead, I have to stop and make him get to my side. I use a retractable leash with a stop button as soon as he starts to go ahead of me. He gets tired of the constant interruptions to his walk and cooperates for at least awhile.

I believe I have seen harnesses to break dogs of this pulling ahead, and they appear humane. I think they call them nose-down leads.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 8:11PM
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The fright. Oh, I can tell you about that. We own a 90lb coonhound mix that is afraid of nearly everything, including loud voices. We have had him for four years now and it is a work in progress and always will be.

You need to understand two things: first, he will probably never be fearless and second, he will always need special handling. That does not mean he should be coddled when he shows fear. It means you will have to approach his training and activity differently than you would for a more fearless dog.

I know from experience that this is hard to accomplish, but it is possible if you approach it with the right mindset.

For example, about the tree in the gutter. I have lived that incident. What I did when my dog wanted to race away from the tree, with tail tucked was simple. I stopped. And stood there. Of course he wanted to flee, but I held my ground in a calm and relaxed manner. But I said nothing. Not one word. Until he finally relaxed the tension on the leash and then we moved forward. I did not even tell him "Good boy", we just resumed our walk. The continuation of the walk was his reward.

The next walk, I purposely went by the tree again. We repeated the above. The time it took him to relax got shorter and shorter. We took every single walk by that tree until the trash guys took it away. And we repeated again any time I saw a tree in the alley. Now we can walk by a tossed out tree in the alleyway without a second glance.

You are going to have to go low and slow with this dog. Low meaning you need to show complete zen-calm when the dog becomes fearful (instead of frustration and/or coddling) and slow meaning it is going to you more time to work with him than it would if he had a more normal fear factor.

But when he expresses fear, take it as an opportunity to teach.

As to the loud voices, we have been unable to completely desensitize our dog to "loud" anything. And we have young kids so it gets loud sometimes. In addition, we live in an urban area where there are always loud noises, ranging from heavy construction to fireworks to kids screaming in the back yard while playing. I think some dogs are just more sensitive to noise than others.

What we have done is provide him a safety den, which is simply a place he can go if he needs to feel safe. Originally we used a crate (since crates actually mimic dens in structure), but we now use an ordinary dog bed. This den is in our guest BR, which is usually the quietest room in the house. When he hears a loud noise, he goes to his safety den and we make a point of not going in there to check on him, console him, etc. Eventually he comes back out on his own and when he returns to us he gets a reward.

But we do not keep the noise down just for his sake. If the kids are being loud and it bothers me, I ask them to quiet down; but I do not ask them to quiet down if the dog is the only one bothered by their noise. So far, It has worked well for us.

I hope these ramblings give you some ideas for your dog!

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 8:13PM
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First off, you have a dog that is run by emotion. He is not slow or stupid, his emotions just overwhelm him. In fact these dogs can show amazing things when placed in an area where they dont feel overwhemed or stressed out.
Your dog is an Omega dog - lowest in the totem pole. That is why he eats last, this is normal dog behavior, and probably stems from being back yard bred. You may not ever get him to eat with others.
As for the choke chain, you need to lift it up around his ears and hold the leash up like they do in the show arena, for the choke to be effective. Practice without the other dogs for 10 minutes a day.

You wrote "For example, on a recent walk he got scared of a xmas tree left at the gutter and I had to pick him up and carry him a ways" - this is a bad idea. Just ignore this behavior and keep on walking. Picking up the dog, or cuddling him to reassure him reinforces his behavior. This is one of the hardest things to teach people. We are naturally drawn to want to comfort something in fear, but in a dog eyes, you are telling him it is okay to act like that, in fact go ahead and do it some more...SO, next trip past something new or weird on the walk, either take the time to let him sniff it and get use to it, or just keep walking.
I would love to see a photo. His bark sounds like he is part Shiba Inu - they naturally sound like you are ripping their fur off of their skin - its just they normal way they bark.
Take your time, treat him just like the other dogs, dont worry that he looks like he has just been beaten when you raise your voice to another dog, he is obviously sensitive, and once he learns your raisining your voice is not painful, he will be okay with it. Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 8:30PM
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Excellent advice from Cindy and Mazer!

We adopted a whippet mix(sight hound) that was as scared and submissive as your dog. I have a bit of experience with rehabilitating very aggressive dogs, but had none with scared submissive dogs.

Never coddle him. When he makes a mistake, just wait it out. Say nothing and project calm. Of course, make sure he does not hurt himself, but do not pick him up/etc.

When he does something well, praise him. Do that mainly with voice and stroking under his chin, or stroking on his sides. Petting over/on the head can be an aggressive move.

Do talk in a normal voice, but if you speak sharply to another dog/person, do not look at him. He will soon get the fact that a sharp tone is not for him.

The eating thing is what it is. I doubt that will change. That is exactly what our Molly does---even in a different room from Max. She will defend her food, however, just will not begin to eat until she hears Max licking his bowl, signaling he is done. That is primal pack behavior and keeps subordinate dogs safe in a pack environment.

If possible, find a game he likes that you and he can play. That helps the bond and trust. Something that follows his instincts. Molly needs to run, I cannot even walk them, so I found she can run and exercise her prey drive chasing soccer balls. I buy several at a time because she eventually tears the covers off as she chases and 'catches' them. That has helped me with her timidness more than any other one thing.

All dogs are individuals. He is just a timid individual. Once you develop trust, you can begin to see him develop less fear.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 10:16PM
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I read that a dog who is frightened should not be coddled and loved on, not because it reinforces their actions, but because when they are afraid, and you comfort them, this is interpreted by the dog as submissive and giving him the alpha position. He's stressed enough without having to assume leadership. What he really wants is a leader. One who isn't frothing over him, and one who is calm and assured themselves. It's not a time to coddle, nor be mean. It's a time to carry on as if there isn't a crisis.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 10:19PM
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Take him to an obedience class - learn how to train him and you'll never call a dog "dumb" again.

Only owners are dumb, not dogs.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 9:52AM
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Thank you for all the advice. I've already been doing a lot of it. He's been to obedience class, as have the other 3.

As for our daily walk, picture me with 4 dogs on leashes on my left hand, and a cane on my right. 99.9% of the time the walk goes just fine. The xmas tree example wasn't a huge problem, just an example of him being scared. Waiting it out wasn't a good option nor was dragging him along. When I put him back down 20 or 30 feet away from the tree it was like it had never happened.

I gave some reasons I think he has issues.

Strange rude post by someone who had problems with a frightened hound. Hopefully they didn't mean it to sound as harsh as it did.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 11:44AM
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I have a timid dog, too. One day I let her outside, and wondered why she didn't head down the steps to the yard. It was the small plastic frog statue my mother in law bought us for our porch - my dog was stuck on the porch because she couldn't walk past it. I sat down next to the frog statue, and then she was brave enough to come over and sniff it. Now, she might eye it suspiciously once in a while, but she isn't afraid of it.

She is often afraid of new things, and like Cindy said, we just go slow and let her get used to them.

As for your dog's intelligence level, I have wondered that about my dog, too, but I think that Mazer is right that your dog (and mine) are ruled by emotion. I think mine knows what to do, but doesn't have good impulse control (yet! we're working on it).

I'm sure it's frustrating when techniques that work with your other dogs, do not apply to your new one. I have often thought that about my kids. Doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with your dog (or my "problem" child). Sometimes using different techniques, when the usual ones "should" work, feels like caving in (to me, at least) but when something works, I just embrace it :)

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 11:44AM
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Hald, if you are referring to my post, I did not mean to be harsh at all!

I apologize for sounding harsh, it was certainly not my intent.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 6:19PM
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I didn't see anything rude in any of the posts.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 12:17PM
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Hald, the thin hair, mental dullness, and overly sensitized reactions could also be low thyroid. Have your vet check that.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2010 at 6:45PM
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