Fear periods

Posted: March 21, 2012 in new puppy
Tags: ,

About two weeks ago, Jagger woke up and showed a previously uncharacteristic fear of strangers.  He also began acting as if he’d never seen a moving car before in his life, which was also quite out of character as he’s being going to work with me in downtown Cary and my construction site since January.  He’d had no apparent traumatic events, so I am left to assume that this is just one of those strange periods of fearfulness that young dogs experience as part of their normal development.  Copper was a very bold puppy and never seemed to go through a period like this.  It was at this point that I realized how profoundly grateful I am for the experiences that owning Izzy has brought me.

My dog behavior library

Library: doesn't even include my DVDs or agility books!

Izzy was found as a stray adolescent by my friend Meg.  We estimate that at the time she was rescued she was about 6 or 7 months old.  With hindsight, I now recognize that Izzy was probably well on her way to becoming feral, and had almost certainly not been in a house before she came to live with us.  She used to do things like bark hysterically at phone jacks, hop from carpet to carpet rather than walk on wood floors, and attempt to bolt in a blind panic if someone appeared after opening a door.  I knew next to nothing about dog training at the time, but did manage to make major progress on her fears with the help of a lot of books.  But unfortunately, at 2 years old Izzy began showing very serious aggression toward strange people and dogs.  She also started barking and lunging at anything on wheels, and even became aggressive toward dogs that she’d previously been friends with.  What finally prompted me to seek professional help was when, over the course of two months, she lunged and air-snapped at my mother-in-law, bit but did not break the skin on my father, and managed to drag me off my feet (no easy feat) attempting to attack a lady in a hooded parka.  I went through several trainers before I found one that was able to help me, and after some very hard-learned lessons I am happy to say that by 3 years old, Izzy was completely safe around people and at least manageable around strange dogs.  It took a while, but I also came to terms with the fact that she was just not going to be a good choice as a novice’s first agility dog, and that she was never going to be the gregarious family pet that I’d wanted.

They say you get the dog you need, not the one you want.

Here are some particularly important lessons from Izzy that I am using to benefit Jagger:

1. Almost all seemingly aggressive behavior in dogs (especially barking!) is actually driven by fear and anxiety. Be sensitive to that.

2. It’s normal for dogs to be startled on occasion.  The trick is in how they react afterwards.  They may need help learning to calm down.

3. Recognize where the dog’s threshold is, and always work below it, realizing that it can change in a non-linear fashion.

4. Never lure a dog with food to approach something scary, including taking treats from a person that scares them.  Just looking at the person calmly and then moving away is perfectly acceptable and successful outcome.  Your dog does not have to be friends with everyone.

5. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.  Izzy has shown me many examples of what abnormal dog behavior looks like; what Jagger’s showing ain’t it.  His fears aren’t to be ignored by any means, but he’s going to be fine.

6. Last but not least, there is nothing like owning a black, dark-eyed, floppy-eared dog to teach you to read subtle dog body language.

I am pleased to say that Jagger is much less concerned about moving cars today than he was two weeks ago, though we still have a little ways to go.  He is much more willing to greet strangers again, though he is sometimes spooky and has not quite grown out of occasional submissive urination.  He does enjoy looking at strangers and walking past them, and I think that as he learns that he gets to choose whether he would like someone to greet him or not, he will continue to become more confident.

  1. Scott Miller says:

    Hiccup must have gone through a very similar period. She was incredibly skittish for about a month, but recently has gotten much bolder and understands that if I give her a correction it’s not the end of the world. Oh, don’t do that? That one thing over there? Ok. But you still love me, right? Yup.

    Post-crate hugs have gone a long way with us too… and although I don’t like encouraging her to jump up, she has become much more affectionate towards me when I let some puppy snuggle time happen when we’re both on two legs. Alex, I really do appreciate your updates. 🙂

  2. Scott Miller says:

    …Huh? Anyhow, I also fear periods. Good thing I’m gay.

  3. jaggerpup says:

    Yeah, that was pretty gay of you. 😉
    I’m glad you enjoy the updates! As far as the jumping up goes, my take is this: After having my first agility dog (Copper) really not be active enough in offering behaviors, I have been focusing much more on that aspect of Jagger’s upbringing than “good manners” per se. I think a little naughty goes a long way for the young agility dog; I want him to be very comfortable trying new behaviors and giving me more intensity of an established behavior. At this stage I am also more concerned with Jagger being friendly toward people and confident (he still submissively urinates on occasion, though seems to be growing out of it FINALLY) than I am his keeping all four feet on the floor. I also think that dogs can learn to understand the difference between being invited to jump up and just jumping up on their own, though that self control just takes time to develop. So, I do praise him if he offers to sit for petting, but I don’t make a big deal out of jumping if it happens.

  4. Scott Miller says:

    I’ve found that encouraging Hiccup to jump up (“Up” plus a leg tap) means the greeting is a fun and happy one and we have seen much less submissive urination since then. She definitely has gotten a bit overly spunky as I encourage (as opposed to going for all good manners all the time) and we’re getting some behaviors that will later need to be broken. However, Hiccup is offering more and more fun behaviors, and why the heck shouldn’t I enjoy that?

    Housebreaking isn’t going as well as we’d have hoped. We’re all well and good when we’re in our own house and on our normal schedules, but if we go someplace new then all bets are off. Still work to be done. 😦

    • jaggerpup says:

      I know what you mean about the housebreaking! It seems to take a while to generalize. We’re at that stage now where Jagger and I are both trying to figure out how he’s supposed to ask to go out. If I miss that request, game over as far as #2 is concerned. He’s much better about #1. I am considering getting some bells for the back door. Izzy would just scratch, Copper and I have this weird mental telepathy thing going on where I know what he wants, Jagger neither of the two.

  5. Scott Miller says:

    Poor Hiccup! We took her with us to Libby Montana (where I play volleyball) and when we went into the dome, she freaked out. The sounds, the smells, the people… it was apparently too much for her. She peed instantly, started scraping at the glass to get out, and even pooped a little when Duane picked her up. So strange! We in no way expected her to respond to that environment like that.

    He took her outside and sat with her and it took about 15 minutes before she stopped shaking. Poor pooch!

  6. Scott Miller says:

    Oh, and we have the bells and Hiccup occasionally rings them… but seems to do so accidentally more than purposefully. Otherwise we have been missing signs. We ask, “You wanna go outside?!” and she gets excited and runs to the door, but she doesn’t communicate that to us very well. 😦

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