Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Is There a Dog Whisperer in the House?

38 Comments

We’re walking along on a clear, crisp, day when all of sudden, for reasons I cannot perceive her ears peel back, she cowers, and I can see the fear in her face.   She throws her nose in the air for a sniff.

Back pedaling ensues.  Pulling in the opposite direction.  She knows the way home and she’s making a b-line for it.  Full steam ahead, dragging me and her companion with.

I stop.  I have her sit. She even cowers from me.  I smooth her.  I try to reassure her.  I give her a minute to calm herself.  Then I say, “Let’s go, Dottie,” in the most excited way possible.

I try to pull her out of it.  Encouraging her to come along, “Come on, sweet girl.  It’s alright.  Nothing to worry about.”

Not.having.any.of.it.

This hasn’t always been the case.  She loves her walks and the minute she hears me moving the harness she happily runs up with a smile on her face.  She stands still while I put it on her and once I’ve said, “Good girl,” her tail wags her whole body she’s so excited.  Then she goes to the door and sits to wait for me to open it.  “Good girl,” again I say.

Not even five minutes later, here we are, in full panic mode that nothing will calm except the shelter of home.

Just a few days ago I discovered that she’s suddenly afraid of birds.  Whatever next?  An eighty-five pound dog afraid of a few chirping birds. She’s always been afraid of bad weather and gunfire. But birds?!?  No.

Just when I thought she was nearly fully recovered from her neuroses another one pops up.

The worst bit is I don’t really even know how to help her.  I feel terrible that she has such anxiety.

I won’t lie.  It’s doing my head in.  She’s even become afraid of going into the garden when it’s dark.  She “hides” behind the butterfly bush if I do manage to get her to go out.

This hiding is ridiculous.  It’s a tiny bush.  She’s huge.

Do any of my dog pals have any suggestions?

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38 thoughts on “Is There a Dog Whisperer in the House?

  1. Uf, I’ll have a think. When did this start? Post new dog or before?

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    • Post. But only in the last couple of months and we’ve had new dog for more than a year now.

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      • OK, I thought you’d had new one for a while. Although, change in behaviour can often take a while. So, what else has changed, either in the local environment, or a particular incident, or any home dynamics? Animals are sooooo sensitive.

        Snowy is nervy, but he always has been and it’s a breed trait. So there has to be something that’s triggered it for Dottie. To me.

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        • I would have thought so, too. I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out what’s changed. I can’t come up with anything. Except, this started happened after TheBrit’s family left. Not while they were here. And nothing happened on any of our walks while they were here to trigger it. She was a bit stand-offish for the first week or so but after that she warmed up to them being there.

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        • She did do it a time or two when they were here, but it was thundering. She has always done that when it thunders.

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          • OK. So, it’s still sounding like change. Brit family arrives, gets used to that, then just as she has, they go. Sounds like lots of reassurance and routine is called for.

            I’ve never used them, but what about storm jackets or whatever they are called? Similarly, many people use Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Dogs are an odd mix. Creatures of habit yet adaptable. But maybe a lot of disruption all at once has made her insecure? That’s all I can manage for tonight!!

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          • I’ll have to google that Bach’s Rescue Remedy. I’ve not heard of that. During storms she gets into her crate. That’s where she feels safe. Sometime she still is traumatized to the point of shaking all over and I cover her with a blanket. That seems to relax her.

            Thank you!!

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  2. Ah so sad. Just want to give her a hug.

    Could it be that she is afraid you are going to leave too, like the Brit’s family did? So the farther she gets away from home the more she wants to go home?

    I use Bach Rescue Remedy myself for periods of anxiety, especially sudden onset that seems to come out of nowhere.

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  3. Poor thing! Have you tried going other directions, different routes. I remember reading something about maps in dogs’ heads.

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    • I know! How miserable for the thing that makes you so happy to also be the thing that gives you major anxiety! 😦

      When she “mules” and starts back pedaling, I have her sit, try to calm her and reassure her an then we walk the opposite direction. Sometimes that works and we can get a good walk in and sometimes it doesn’t and all she has on her brain is getting home.

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  4. You have to put the whole whispering thing aside for this. Those training techniques work on dogs who haven’t faced traumatic events.
    I’ve dealt with a handful of seriously traumatized dogs (including 2 ferals) and what experience has shown me is that animals (humans, dogs, cats, horses, and others) create very similar response cycles. Trigger/fear –> Defence mechanism. Automatic process.
    At the moment I have a Brittany Spaniel who was abused and abandoned and a rat terrier who was seriously abused and abandoned before he was 6 weeks old (including a broken leg and hip). I tried every training technique in the books- nothing worked.
    A friend of mine who’s a psychiatrist says all animals have a form of subconscious memory that’s simply to do with survival. The abandoned dog will pester you for attention until he/she is absolutely %110 confident he/she is safe. It’s a slow process, but entirely possible and viable.
    The noise/storm/thunder aversion can be fixed with positive reinforcement. It doesn’t happen the first time, it takes months, but you have to make them associate those events to a positive experience. Treats, games, the kong-toy. You have to pull out all the stops.
    As for unusual fears, the fact is Dottie doesn’t yet feel completely secure for whatever reason. You have to work on building trust with her. I think a good way to begin would be taking her out alone, just the two of you (another dog can completely throw off the process.) Same path but shorter. Build on your walk every day, and reward her accordingly 😉

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    • Yeah, that was sort of tongue-in-cheek about the dog whisperer.

      She was abandoned and, we think probably abused, prior to us getting her. Walking used to be the one thing she wasn’t neurotic about. She was so afraid of people. But now she doesn’t seem to be at all as long as one of us is with her.

      I have tried treats during bad weather and smoothing her and staying close by, but I having tried making it a party -so to speak.

      She doesn’t do this every walk. For instance, this morning we walked all the way around the lake(almost a mile and a half) without incident. There are times when I know what the thing that startles her is, but most of the time it’s something completely indiscernible to me.

      At one point I thought I’d built that trust with her but obviously something that I can’t quite pinpoint has happened to fracture it.

      Thank you for the suggestions. I’m going to give them a try!

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      • Don’t blame yourself, any little thing can knock a traumatised animal off balance (including humans!)
        We’ve moved to a region where thunder storms are a regular occurrence, so I’ve had to take a crash course in helping the dogs deal with it. It took about six months, but now when they hear rumbling, they bark in excitement. I put music on, I make pop-corn (they know they’ll get a handful each and jump around the kitchen while I’m doing it.) And it becomes all out play time. Bessie who’s the oldest still has the occasional trembling fit, but as she sees the others relaxing she eventually follows suit.
        Anyway, don’t get too worked up about it. It’s a process that can last the dog’s entire life, so you just have to keep trying different things until you find a system that works for Dottie. Bessie has been with us for over a decade and she refuses to be touched. She’ll come and put her head or paws on you, but if you try to touch her she’ll run away. We just had to learn to respect her boundaries 🙂

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        • I wasn’t exactly blaming myself, more trying to figure out what caused the imbalance so we could either avoid or prepare for it in future. Still haven’t figured it out. It could be so many things. From TheBrit’s family visit to the fact that I’ve become unusually busy so perhaps not paying her as much attention as she’s accustomed to.

          During the summer we have a thunderstorm nearly every day. Some last a few hours and some last a few minutes. I’m going to try your pop-corn trick. Her regular “treats” aren’t incentive enough I don’t think.

          Unfortunately hunting season has also come in here. Nearly everyday at daybreak there are guns firing off all around. We live in an area that has lakes everywhere and I assume this daybreak ritual of 21 gun salute is due to duck hunting season. At any rate it’s put a real damper on our regular walk time and I’ve had to rearrange the schedule to go earlier before daylight to avoide the booms. Even so we’ve been caught out a couple of times. So now every loud noise is gunfire to Dottie.

          This morning we went for a walk well before daybreak and in the distance could hear a train exchaning rail cars. Panic set in and so did the back pedaling. But I had a secret weapon. Cut up bits of meat in my pocket. I got her calmed down, smoothed her and let her smell the bits. Reluctantly she followed me a few steps and soon she was out of her panic. Well rewarded with a bit of meat. 🙂

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  5. How do you know its birds?

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    • I don’t always know what it is. Most of the time it’s something that I can’t discern. And it isn’t every day. The birds haven’t always had that effect on her, either, nor may they frighten her the next time she hears them.

      This morning I put her in the garden first thing, before daylight, and she eagerly went. I opened the door about ten minutes later expecting her to be standing there waiting to come in only to find her frolicking out there, chasing something(likely a cat) around. *shrug* I have no clue what’s going on with her.

      Anyway, I knew it was birds the other day because we got about half-way into our walk and a bird flew up out of a shrub and squawked, which startled her. I tried to use Violet’s trick and redirect. We went the opposite direction and got about half-way around again when several mocking birds came out and started squawking. Ears peeled, fear on face, “muling”, and then backpedaling. We turned around again.

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  6. Not a dog-owner Ruth; always a cat-owner and lover, sorry. And sorry that Dottie has some type of anxiety-trigger(s). 😦

    I truly hope she is able to work through it with all of you and conquer it. ❤

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  7. Sounds like the situation might not be easily remedied. I have watched the Dog Whisperer (Ceasar Millan) and It’s Me or the Dog (Victoria Stillwell). My opinion is that Victoria’s methods are at least as effective as Ceasar’s and are gentler and more humane. Here is a link to her website:

    https://positively.com/

    In addition to self help materials, access to trainers accredited in her methods seems to be available. I think your problem may be severe enough that a trainers services may be called for.

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    • I have had a dog trainer down who employs positivity training, but it’s been a while. I may need to give her a call.

      I’ve read training opinions on pack-leader training vs. positivity training vs. negative training. I’ve sort of employed a combination of pack-leader and positivity training. I’ve not employed negative training methods. For my girls I haven’t felt the need to resort to negative discipline. Especially for this issue. I can hardly see how negative discipline would be of any value whatsoever to a dog who is afraid. That just seems like abuse to me.

      Thank you for the link to the website. I checked it out and have bookmarked it for future use. I’ve seen Me or the Dog a few times and didn’t realize she had a website. It doesn’t seem to come on as part of any regular programming on any station I currently get. 😦

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  8. Is it possible that she is hiring something that you can’t…such as dog whistles from hunters or some other thing? Or maybe she smells something that she associates with a fear..such as gunpowder residue in the air from the hunting?

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  9. “hearing”..not hiring

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