9 month old lab rescue showing extreme fear

teachblsMay 14, 2012

Hi, all - After several weeks of lurking, I am a first-time poster to the pet forum. Our family adopted a lab/shepherd rescue a little over three weeks ago. While she is a sweet, sweet dog, there are a few things going on that have thrown us for a loop. The biggest "issue" we have is that she appears anxious in the extreme when we go to take her for a walk. We are committed to seeing that she gets an appropriate amount of exercise/stimulation each day, and envisioned that a good bit of this would come with brisk walks around the neighborhood: first thing in the am, again in the mid-late afternoon, and then once more in the evening (and as needed for potty).

She does not appear to be on board with this at all! She is happy enough to piddle in our front yard or to go directly across the street, but if my husband or I, or one of the kids attempts to do anything that feels even remotely like an actual "walk", she just about goes on strike! Tail goes between her legs, head is down, and she will essentially refuse to move...We do live in a neighborhood that I am sure is a lot more urban (Boston) than what she knew back in Tennessee, and we've noticed that certain vehicles seem to make her more anxious than others: box trucks, school busses, delivery vans, etc. The funny thing is that she is willing to run this same route if I am jogging with my SIL and her border collie! While I am glad enough to do the run with her several times a week, this obviously won't be possible every day, or for all of her walks. We've tried treats, we've tried to be very encouraging, we've tried to be very matter-of-fact about what we want her do to do - mostly to no avail! We've several times given up the walk because to do it would literally mean dragging all 44 lbs. of her across the pavement - not a happy experience for anybody.

Anyway, sorry for the "novel" - just feeling like a first-time "mom" again and wanting to the right thing by our sweet girl. Would LOVE to hear any suggestions, reasons for optimism, et cetera!

Thanks so much - the forum has been so helpful to sift through!


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Can you borrow the border collie or other dogs and do a group walk, a little at a time? Perhaps your dog just needs a pack for reassurance until she gets used to it. Or start out on the run with your SIL and border collie and then walk part of the way, increasing the walk vs. run over time?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 5:28PM
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Marita, that is a great suggestion. I will ask my SIL if we can approach it that way for tomorrow's run. As I think of it, your theory makes sense, as we have found that she is more agreeable if my husband and I take her for an am walk together, or if my 13 year old daughter and I do the same. If just one of us makes an attempt, however, it is kind of pitiful, as she will absolutely refuse to budge!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 5:38PM
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teach, please report back if there is progress! Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 6:52AM
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So we did walk the route per Marita's suggestion yesterday - and it went well! Ginger is clearly more comfortable when these outings include more than one of us (and best of all is when her "cousin" the border collie comes along, too). Seems to support the idea that she wants the reassurance of being with a "pack" of one kind or another. Since it won't always be possible to have a group of us go, though, we still have to work to figure out how to make her more comfortable with being with a lone walker...

The other issue around these walks is that it feels frustrating at times that she appears to be controlling the pace of the walk. I know that it is her nature to want/need to sniff, but it feels counter-productive or something that at since at least the am walk is intended to provide both her and us with a brisk, exercise sort of a "march" through the neighborhood, as often as not we just split our time between following her as she follows her nose from bush to bush (or one nasty thing or another she discovers on the sidewalk!), and dragging her forward...it is exhausting, but not in the way that feels like it is time very well spent (i.e., energy spent being semi-irritated as opposed to energy spent doing positive physical activity). Would welcome any tips as to how to make these outings more fun and efficient for all! We will start an obedience class this weekend, so will hopefully gain some practical help there, too. It is funny to realize that it never occurred to us that a dog might need guidance in doing something as straightforward as taking a walk. Anyway, we are enjoying her thoroughly, and now that we are seeing her grow more relaxed and playful with us all the time, it would be great to figure out how to get these other things to fall into place, too!

Thanks for any suggestions

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 8:20AM
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Yes, dogs do need to learn to heel and your dog will learn it with instruction and repeated practice. This is a basic command that all dogs need to know and will make your walks much more enjoyable. The obedience class is a perfect step in the right direction. Thanks for the update!

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 8:40AM
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spedigrees z4VT

Try doing the brisk walk for a few minutes and then stop and allow her to sniff the bushes and/or walk slowly sniffing as she goes, for a few minutes. Either stop at the same "sniff spots" each time on your walk, or use a specific word to indicate that it's now time for her to do her own thing. She should be willing to walk briskly part of the time if she anticipates these breaks.

I read an article explaining that the mental stimulation/satisfaction of a walk where the dog can sniff as well as walk, is better exercise than just regimented brisk walking or frantic play (chasing the ball etc). Observing my own dogs' demeanor after a walk where they are allowed to "smell the flowers" I'd have to agree with this. I don't think that brisk walking is really essential and I let my dogs pretty much go at their own pace. If I really need them to get their noses out of the grass and follow me, they do know that "come come come" means sniffy time or roll in the grass time is over.

If you give the "come come come" command and your puppy pulls his nose out of the grass and follows you, reward her with lots of verbal praise and/or treats while continuing to walk.

Good luck with your puppy! It sounds like you're on the right track.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:52AM
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The dog needs to follow you, regardless of how fast/slow/etc. you go on an exercise outing. Potty outings are a bit different.

You are doing the best thing to start---having another dog along. Really good idea.

You really have no way of knowing what ghosts are present in your new dogs closet. And her basic temperment needs to be taken into consideration. She may be a naturally shy dog.

Keep doing what you are doing. Establish a routine with the same verbal commands/comments at the various points in each session. If the session is primarily for potty/etc., say the same key words while allowing her to nose around and explore.

If one session is primarily exercise, make the verbal comments about exercise. And only allow her to nose at the beginning, mid point or the end.

It will take time. Dogs have short memories where bad events are concerned---as long as their humans ignore fearful behavior. Comforting a fearful dog is our first instinct, but only reenforces the bad behavior since dogs only know they get good attention and that makes them repeat the action. Reenforce good behavior and ignore the bad and the bad slowly disappears.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 12:42PM
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They say it's easier to have two dogs than one, and maybe this dog has always had another dog pal in it's world and feels the loss of that. Have you considered maybe bringing another dog into the home?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 12:48PM
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