My Dog Thinks I'm Going to Hurt Her!

Posted by kjd
Mar 23, 2011
I'm wondering whether anyone has any ideas as to how to convince Sunna she isn't going to get hurt when she breaks a command?

As you may remember, she doesn't accept treats when working, so I use praise. However, when she breaks a command, such as a stay, I'm in a quandry. I've just gone and gotten her or called her to return to where she left. She acts as if she expects to be hit! If she broke a down, she'll go down again, but as far from me as she can get. If I go to get her, she slinks off, tail and ears down. The whole attitude is one of fear -- I did something bad and now I am going to get punished!

She's been here for a year and a half. During this time, she has been punished exactly 0 times. (Maybe I should point out, when I tried using the clicker with her, the sound of the clicker made her leave the room as if she expected a punishment to follow.)

Fear is not going to help her learn. I'd like a means of correcting her that doesn't involve fear. All the normal means of correction ("no," "eh," putting her in position, repeating the command) connect in her mind with being hurt. This is slowing up her ability to learn and makes training sessions hard for both of us.

What I need is some means of wiping out from her mind the idea that punishment (or hurt) is ever going to come from me. Then she can concentrate on learning, not avoiding pain.
Posted by kjd
Mar 24, 2011
In class today, someone pointed out that, on the recall, Sunna comes to me eagerly, until she is a few feet away. Then she cowers off into a corner!:eek: Something happened to this dog in her first 5 years. Cesar Milan can say all he wants about dogs living in the present, but their past influences their behavior.

We tried my standing in a corner, with the sides "blocked" off. She came straight to me. Still she turned sideways and tried to lie down. At home, she does come without the cowering. Before you think it: she is not showing any fear of other people -- they are not around; the fear is of me. And I am standing there, praising her.:confused:

Any suggestions?

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 24, 2011
Hi kjd,

As you know I am not a big fan of Cesar Milan so I do agree with you about Sunna's behaviors are influenced by the experience she had before she came to you. I know it is harder to get rid of her fear but I still believe that she can get over it someday.

My current foster pup (6 mos old) was a very very fearful of humans but she is getting more and more friendly and less shy every day. Since she is still young I believe I can get her over her bad experience whatever it was but Sunna is older so it must be tough to paint over her past...

This is what I would do, kjd. I don't know how many more lessons you have paid for but as soon as you finish the session, take a break. I think it is more important for her to have fun and build confidence, rather than learning and practicing commands in the class environment. She doesn't like to be on the spot since she can not enjoy it, why would you do that? She is already an obedient dog and sees you as her leader, correct?

My Noah represents weird behaviors once in a while. Strongly refusing to go to the fish section of Petsmart is one of them. The instructor tried so hard to convince him to get close to the area by offering treats and coaxing him but I told her that I respects Noah's feelings so no more trying. I think he is scared of the water pump vibration. He has other weird behaviors but I am OK with not correcting them as long as they are not harmful to other dogs/humans, i.e., aggression.

Another thought is to find out what Sunna really loves as a motivator. I know she is not very motivated by treats. How about balls, any toys, special foods, such as string cheese, roast beef, apples, etc? Something that she would want so badly that she would forget about any hesitation she might have....

Sorry, I am rambling... I will write again if I come up with other suggestions.
Posted by kjd
Mar 24, 2011
Thanks, MaxHollyNoah.

Sunna is also shy with people but I encourage her everytime she approaches a new person and she is getting better.

What really surprised me was, once I stopped using treats in class, Sunna began heeling beautifully. She doesn't have her head facing me, as you see in many obedience dogs, but she does have her eye on me. She stays in proper position and that is all I ask. If she were facing me, I'd be tense for fear I'd step on her or accidentally run her into something.

Her stand-stays are perfect. It is probably the one good thing she got from her previous training. Her sit-stays are iffy because she'd rather be down. (I still hold the leash.) Her down-stays aren't as solid as I'd like, but they are better than most of the dogs. (Leash off as I am further away.) Her comes are a lot better than in the beginning, when she didn't want to come at all. Now, I sometimes have to take her back to position because she is following me. (Proof she doesn't really fear me.)

The cowering when being corrected is on the down-stay at home. I told her down. She stayed until she decided she preferred to move. When I call her back to down where I told her, she cowers and leaves.

When I got home today, I tried a come. She came right to me, no cowering, and allowed me to encourage her into a straight front. So this is something that happened to her in class with her previous owner. I changed the command from "come" to "front" for two reasons. One is that calling her to come at home usually means to come into the house or away from people on the side walk -- I don't need her to come sit in front of me. But "front" requires the straight sit in front. The second reason was to break the idea that it was bad to get too close to me in class if I called her to come. Unfortunately, she is too smart not to realize it is an alternative to "come."

Although she is more interested in food at home, she is not interested in toys. However, my trainer said she'd gotten her GSD at 3, no interest in food or toys, and has now gotten her excited about both. If she can do it with a 3-year-old, I should be able to do it with a 6-year-old. (OTOH, her GSD poops and pees on command; gets all food, exercise and fun from her owner. No playing with other dogs.) This is tops on my list.

I don't see Sunna as hating class. She doesn't like to go to church and shivers and cries if she thinks we're headed that way. (It's the waiting alone in the car.) Doesn't react that way to class and actually is eager to jump out when we get there. Still, a break might help her. OTOH, she really did much better when I was in a "safe" corner. So she may gradually get the idea from that. Also, I think I may try a treat when she gets to me on the come.

Once we've been voted in as members, and the weather turns nicer, I'll take her out of class for a bit and see if that does help.

Just had a thought. If we can get to class early enough, so we have a double ring, I may try calling her from the single length, then, when she gets to the dangerous distance, turn and run.

Thanks for your encouragement. There are times I feel we'll never make it.

Posted by Skully
Mar 25, 2011
aww... my 1st post on this forum and it has to be controversial !
Ceasar has never, in my experience, said that dogs don't remember their past. He simply points out that they are way more willing then humans to "move forward" !! So... anyways.

When you're doing the recall, and she gets a few feet away, have her on a leash and 'gently' pull her in. because she's showing avoidence, you have to be diligent, yet gentle. Be patient and keep encouraging her in with the leash and then reward. You say that normal treats aren't working, so praise is one thing, but I would still try to find a 'jackpot' type of reward. Maybe a piece of cheese, or cut up banana, or even a small chuck of fish! Dogs think with their nose, there's gotta be something that will catch her attention!
Posted by kjd
Mar 25, 2011
Thanks, Skully.

You don't have to agree with anyone -- we don't mind.

I do think it is possible that Sunna will take a food reward for the recall (thanks, I keep calling it by the command), but you don't know her aversion to food in the ring. (Maybe she was an AKC judge in a past life?) We've tried steak; we've tried cheese; we've tried liverwurst; we've tried even my trainer finally gave up. And she is much better when she doesn't have to avoid those treats in front of her nose. At home, OTOH, she will happily take them. This is definitely a class thing. Since she can never tell me why she acts this way, I have to convince her that whatever it was will never happen again. It is sad because the recall is usually the easiest and most favored command for dogs. You can tell she wants to come to me until she gets that certain distance away.

A friend pointed out she never has this problem at home. So it is something that will have to be fixed in the ring. On the good side, fixing it will bond us even closer.

Thanks again,
Posted by KOPCaroline
Mar 25, 2011
Hey kjd,

Just to add my own experience -

My dog, Jackson, does the same when he breaks a command out at the park. Its always at the park, because at home he always listens (I attribute it to no distractions at home). If he bolts off down the lane at another dog (BIG no no for us!), or doesn't sit when told to, and I say "no" or "oi", he immediately drops ears, tail, and belly, and has such a hard time coming back to me.

At first I was pretty impatient about it and raised my voice, clapped hands, etc, which didnt help. I know it was the wrong reaction, but hes my first dog and I'm still learning. I'm way better about it now. When he does wrong, I say no/oi, he cowers (less than before, but still does it). My reaction is to call him to me or give him another command in a happy voice. I make sure its not the usual "command" tone or attitude, and he responds really well. Once he's happy again, I give him the original command again, in my "command voice". And inevitably, he gets it.

Its worked really well for us, maybe something similar could help you and Sunna, but I know your patience and willingness to try is going to win her over!
Posted by kjd
Mar 26, 2011
Thanks, KOPCaroline.

Let me make one correction in your reply. When he is your umpteenth dog, you will still be learning! I knew most about dog training after I'd trained my first dog. Then, each successive dog has taught me how little I really know.

Your suggestion is right-on for this particular problem -- cowering when she breaks a stay. She is more apt to break at home, where she's had more than a year of being able to move around at will. I don't yell, but I do get stern. I'll try your method and see how she does.

Yeah, two examples of cowering, but, I think, for different reasons. This will certainly not work for the recall, as the command, at this point, is more a release word than a command (now you can come to me). As she gets closer, I get happier and more excited. Then she cowers and circles away into a corner.

Thanks again,
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Mar 26, 2011
First of all, let me apologize, Skully. You are right, Cesar never said that dogs live only present and forget about the past.

kjd, I have a question. Does Sunna like other dogs? Does she get excited when she sees other dogs in the class? If so, I've got an idea.

Ask the other owners to let their dogs join a game. You make Sunna wait (have someone hold her leash) and go to the other end of the room.

You will start calling the other dogs one by one by their names, such as "Holly, come!", etc. and give a treat when she comes. You will do this for a couple more dogs and then call Sunna. In other words, show her how the other dogs come to you and get a treat. Showing good and happy examples always encourage timid dogs.

Since I have multiple dogs of my own, all my timid foster dogs learn how to come to you along with them first. After we eat and take our dishes to the sink, I call all my dogs to the kitchen by saying "All done! (meaning they are now released from staying down) and all my dogs rush to me and timid foster dogs follow and get a treat at the beginning but as they spend a couple of days here they will soon come right away without any hesitation. This might give Sunna some momentum, I hope.

I understand Sunna doesn't show much interest in treats and people foods (cheese, meats, fish, etc.) but have you tried cat foods and cat treats? All the dogs I have met LOVE cat foods. I am sure they taste way better than dog foods. Those kibbles are tiney so they won't hurt Sunna.

Let me know what you think.
Posted by kjd
Mar 28, 2011
Thanks, MaxHollyNoah,

Nope, Sunna does not get excited with the other dogs in class. One class, she touched noses with the young dog next to her. But when that dog lifted his paw in an attempt to play, she turned away from him. She actually has a reputation for being a calm dog.

I'm not sure the other dogs in class are ready to be called by strangers. Several have very high prey drives, as can be seen when the little ones fly by.

Today, while upstairs with me, she started barking at the sound of people outside. When she didn't stop when I said "No!" I called her to me in a rather angry voice. She came right over! Definitely a different dog at home!

Cat food is indeed a favorite of dogs. Since it costs little in time or money to get some, and the package is easily ignored once Sunna rejects it , it is certainly worth a try.

If Sunna hated class, I'd pull out. However, she has overcome the stress she used to feel when in the clubhouse. She appears to be eager to get inside and start class. The adoption application had one question along the lines of "how long will it take for her to adapt?" and my response was "as long as it takes."

Whatever occurred during her first obedience classes, we [I]will [/I]overcome the negative effects. The day [I]will [/I]come when she will sit at one end of the building, I will stand at the other and snarl "Sunna, front!" and she will charge me with glee! For the recall should be the one command that a dog [B][I]knows [/I][/B]is always a good command, regardless of the feelings of the owner.

Class is on Thursday. Let me try out some of these suggestions and get back to you later Thursday or Friday.

As you said, "it takes patience to be patient." Each of my dogs has reaped the benefits of what I've learned from my mistakes with the previous dogs. (And taught me I still have lots to learn!)

Posted by kjd
Apr 23, 2011
First, I tried Caroline's suggestion when Sunna gets up at home from a down-stay. I call her to me, praise her for that and then put her back in the down. There are still times she shrinks from a sudden movement, but that is her past and we'll wait for that to pass.

The recall is working much better, but not for the reason you would suspect. Up until the last two classes, we have done the recall in one ring. We've started doing long recalls, the length of the warehouse. What a difference! This week, on the first recall, she was standing up when I turned around. As soon as I faced her, she started towards me. The instructor said to just praise her when she got to me, which I did. Then I left her in a sit and, as I walked away, kept telling her "good sit, good wait." When I turned, she was still in her sit. When I called her, she charged me! Not as fast as the other dogs, but she is the old lady of the group at 6 and a half. Ran past me, but right next to me, not two yards out. She got lots and lots of praise.