Fear of Going Out

Posted by stanos
Dec 28, 2007

We have a 3.5-month old male English Cocker Spaniel. We bought and read SitStayFetch book and it was very helpful but we need more specific advice on socialization. We need to know how to overcome Jerry's shyness and fear when going out for a walk.

I have been training him for about a month now and he learns all the lessons really fast. The main problem turned out to be his shyness and fear of dogs and strangers.

We started walking Jerry ten days ago and began socializing him. The very first time we walked around the block. He was curious and relaxed and everything went well.

After several walks around the block we took him to some parks, both on foot and in our car, we visited relatives and some friends visited us. When he is in a park and there are not many people, dogs and street noise, he behaves relatively well. It took him an hour or so to get used to our relatives' Pekingese (3-year old) when we visited them at their home and even started barking, growling, lying down in front of the him. Obviously he wanted to play with the Pekingese. Unfortunatelly the other dog did not want to play with him. Jerry did not display signs of fear and behaved well when we took both dogs out for a walk.

We started having problems when walking Jerry around the block where we live. When we go out he starts trembling, pulls back and wants to go home. There is a busy street near the block and there is a pack of street dogs. We haven't had serious problems with them though. They barked at Jerry once but on several occasions some of the dogs passed around us without displaying any aggression signs and Jerry even followed one of them.

When Jerry meets even a small dog, he backs and pulls the leash. He does the same when meeting people, although after they pass by him, he follows them. He seems to start getting used to visitors after a couple of hours.

We give him treats when he behaves normally during the walks.

We don't know Jerry's father, but his mother also shows some signs of fear and barks at people sometimes. Jerry seemed more reserved than his sisters when we visited the litter before buying him. We thought it was due to his calm character. We still think he is not a nervous dog. Physically Jerry resembles his father, not his mother.

How can we overcome Jerry's shyness and fear? We also wouldn't like him to get used to taking food from strangers.

Thank you for your advice!

Best regards,
Posted by Todd
Dec 31, 2007
Hi there Stan
Thank you for your email regarding Jerry.
To me this sounds like most of the problems revolve around his fear. Unfortunately part of the problem will be genetics as it sounds like the mother is also slightly fearful. But the good news is that with time, effort and training you can correct many of the problems he is having. But i must warn you this can take a long time and patience and consisitency is crucial.

To start with you Jerry needs to have a good level of all round obedience. This is vital in correcting any problem. Work with Jerry for 10 minutes twice a day at least on the basic commands of sit, stay and come. He may be great at these already but it helps to sharpen these up anyway.

The aim of all the training i am going to suggest is to reinforce strong confident behaviour and to ignore any behaviour that is fearful. In this way Jerry will learn that he gets attention and praise for being confident and hopefully this will overcome some or all of his fearfulness.
Now with this method of reinforce and ignore you must always be consisitent as well as anyone else in the household. Whatever the circumstance, wherever you are or whatever he is doing your response must be the same. Giving him mixed signals will only confuse him and could make the problem worse. I know this is hard from my own experience but it is very worthwhile.

Now i would not recommend taking Jerry out for walks or to public places for the next few weeks. Keep him at home and bring friends and other animals to see him. Start with people and then later you can try animals. Always one at a time and you will need a number of animals.
So the idea is to have Jerry sitting in your front yard or hallway. The people coming must be warned and told how to behave around him.
Your visitors must:
- Not directly approach the dog at any time, this will only increase his anxieties

- Not stare the dog in its eyes, direct eye contact is intimidating for a submissive, fearful type because it reminds the animal that you are a predator. A predator or potentially threatening person/animal will keep eyes on eyes and quietly approach head on (which is most often how we approach our pets without realizing it).

- Talk in quiet voices while the dog is around. A big booming voice would not help in the beginning, in time this should not matter though

- If the dog becomes agitated, let it into a quiet room.

- After a while have the visitor get down to the dogs level (i.e sit on the floor) and if the dog seems comfortable it may approach the visitor.The visitor should not pat the dog, or look it in the eye unless the dog seems comfortable.

Each person should be with the dog for as long as it takes for jerry to get comfortable. Whenever Jerry becomes fearful eg backing away ignore him COMPLETELY. This means no eye contact, turning away, not talking to him and not patting him. This helps reinforce that fear is not the appropriate response.

The second Jerry takes a step forward or comes out of a crouch you must immediately praise him quietly and give him attention. This reinforces that confidence is the right thing.
Continue with visitors in this way being patient. Jerry should never feel trapped, always give him an open doorway or access to a safe place. Making him feel trapped or "flooding" him as some people do is the worse thing that could happen.

Once he is becoming more confident with people over a few weeks you may then want to introduce another animal. Make sure the other dog is not too big or small, is well behaved and doesn't get over excited. We want a quiet companion to help build up Jerry's confidence. Get the dog to sit a way away. Get Jerry to slowly approach whle on a lead. Stop and make him sit every metre or so and give him a food reward. Again ignore the fear and reward him when he shows confidence. Let him choose how fast he wants to interact. On the first few meetings don't let the dogs play. This can be done later but only if he is ready and play is gentle. it is probably best to keep both dogs on leads for a while.
Keep doing this with different dogs and people.

Once he is comfortable with this you can try walking again. Choose a quiet area. When a dog or person is approaching make Jerry sit. Again reward and ignore as appropriate. If he gets too fearful take him away.
Slowly build up how many people he meets etc.

This process will take a long time but you must take things slow and give Jerry the chance to build his confidence. If it gets too much for him at any stage go back to the previous step to rebuild some confidence. just remember whatever the situation reward the behaviour you want and ignore the ones you don't want. Good Luck

Kind Regards
Todd Field
Posted by stanos
Jan 2, 2008
Hello Todd,

Thank you very much for your advices. I am sure this is the right thing to do. To be honest, it would be quite difficult for us to follow everything "by the book", especially with regard to having many friends and animals visit us frequently. It is this busy life, you know. But we will try to do what we can.

I have one more question. You speak of Jerry as a submissive dog. Shall we treat him as such and follow guidelines for such dog types in SitStayFetch's Secrets to Becoming the Alfa Dog? I mean allowing him eat at the same time as the family, not after, etc.

For me Jerry is hardly a real submissive dog. He has fear of dogs and people but with our family and when there is no dogs and people close to him he is quite confident, eager to face new challenges and overcome obstacles. Sometimes he is even uncontollable.

That's why I wanted to know whether we should treat him as a normal dog or as a submissive one in every respect.

Posted by Todd
Jan 2, 2008
Hi Stan

Going by that i would say treat him as a subordinate dog when he is acting that way eg with other dogs and people. But at home treat him as normal and be the alpha dog We don't want him becoming out of hand at home.

Kind Regards
Todd Field