Not bonding with our traumatized rescue dog

Posted by Greencath
Jan 26, 2010
After a year of planning, we adopted a 7-month old GS mix in December. She had grown up neglected in a house with elderly owners who let their adult dogs reproduce, and did not socialize the pups or even take them out to potty. We knew it was a tall order. We are a family of 6 with kids 24, 19, 14 and 9. Pixie has made great strides and is now potty-trained and sleeps in her crate at night. However, she is terrified, basically, of everything. Even going outside, despite being consistently rewarded with cheese, her favorite, for pottying. The problem is that she tramples people, she will literally back up to sit on someone's head on a bed or couch, and her nails will leave bloody scratches. It is not intentional, but she hurts! She is a big, bony, ouchy pup. We try treats, to no avail. She also has a nasty habit of jerking the leash, I know she needs to run, but she doesn't have much common sense and will always jerk out the extent of the 30' leash before turning in circles as we do every day. Last week, she pulled me off my feet and I had to go to the ER with a concussion and the wind knocked out of me. Even that, I could deal with, but she is such a freaking-out mess. In the morning when she is happy to see me, she paws and snaps at me in excitement, again, not meaning to hurt, but nearly doing so. I always calmly take away my hands and give her a chew rope, which she likes, but clearly she is still traumatized and is a creature of extremes. The sad thing is, even my 14 y.o. daughter who was the main catalyst for getting a dog says, "Mom, she's too much to handle. I love her, but I just feel that she's a dog we have to take care of." There's not much give back (that doesn't hurt.) Even on walks - we spend the whole time with her pulling and walking backward looking at us. The obvious answer is a Halti, but she is so freaked out by going outside at all, even a leash terrifies her, and I have not been able to attach a harness that I bought.
The place I got her from has its heart in the right place...but was frankly judgmental the times I called for advice. Everything was my fault. Well, I have read your manual, and have been a cat and animal lover all my life, and I do not accept that. I do not want to call them again, the situation is difficult enough as it is without being told, "Well, you wanted a dog, what do you expect?" I EXPECT not to have concussions, and to be able to walk my dog, and play, etc. without being injured and my kids being injured. Please help. Any advice is welcome.
Posted by kjd
Jan 26, 2010

Thank you for adopting that poor dog. I have an older rescue dog I adopted in October. Sometimes, rescue dogs take time to settle in. Sunna, my rescue, still doesn't accept treats outside the house. She is also still afraid she will be moved to a new home. I had one rescue that was depressed for a year. These things do improve.

I am not surprised you are finding treats useless. When a dog is too stressed, it is not interested in food. The best treat in the world will be ignored, or taken and dropped on the ground. With the dog before Sunna, I took her to many stores where the salespeople tried to find a treat she would eat -- they were unsuccessful. With Sunna, she will not take treats from others. She will work for some high-valued ones at home, but not outside. With her, I have had to try various foods to find a dog food she was interested in eating!

For fear issues, however, you might want to talk with a vet who specializes in animal behavior.

Talk with MaxHollyNoah. She has had tremendous experience in fostering dogs. However, if you reach the point where you feel you just cannot keep the dog, please do not feel it is your fault. You didn't make her what she is today. Sometimes, a situation is just too much for us.

I do hope you are able to work with this poor animal.

Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jan 26, 2010
Hi Greencath,

Thank you for providing a home to Pixie. I understand that she is way too much trouble than you expected and I do feel for you. I have 3 rescue dogs and each of them came with some issues but fortunately not to the extent of Pixie and they all got over their fear/trauma from their past life.

The first thing I would like to recommend is:


When your dog is uncontrolable, especially when he is fearful, keep your dog close to you with 4-5' leash when walking. One of my dogs, Noah, never wore a collar or leash before we adopted him at the age of 1.5 yrs old and he was totally uncontrolable by jumping and turning around back and forth. Also, long leashes and retractable leashes could cause injuries for both dogs and owners so I would not recommend those.

Secondly, get Pixie familiarized your house and neighborhood little by little. I always take my foster dogs on a same route everyday until they get familiar with the neighborhood (dogs usually don't pee and poo on walks until they feel comfortable because releasing puts them at vulnerable posture).

Are you making her food available all the time? If you are, please stop that. Feed her twice a day at set times and if she doesn't finish, put the food away after 15-20 mins. If you are feeding her at set time and she eats well, try to feed her from hand, a few kibbles at a time. Take advantage of any time of interaction and give her a lot of attention as you feed her to gain her trust. Once you get her trust, she will become more manageable because she will then try to pay more attention to you to please you.

Last year I had a foster dog that came from a seizure of 26 dogs that were literally lived in feces ([url=]26 dogs seized from rural Columbia County home | Oregon Local News -[/url]). Beau was full of wounds by being attacked by other dogs and very fearful since he didn't know the outside world. It took me over 2 months but he did come out of himself, gradually but steadily. I tried not to overwhelm him and my 3 dogs were tremendous help since Beau saw how they interact with me and learned a lot of things.

Please look at the bright side of Pixie:

First of all, she is now potty-trained and sleeps in her crate at night! You guys did a good job!

She is not aggressive and/or a biter. Don't take this for granted. You will see in this forum a lot of cases of biting/aggression problems.

I am not an expert like kjd told you and it sometimes might be hard for people to understand what I write here since I am not a native English speaker but I would love to help you if possible. Lets face Pixie's issues one at the time. Patience, fairness and consistency are the key.
Posted by crazycrayonmom
Jan 26, 2010
Pixie may be a lot of work now but I bet once she is able to relax more she'll be a wonderful part of your family!

I agree with MaxHollyNoah about the leash length. A shorter leash will give you much better control. Because Pixie appears to have pretty low confidence in herself she needs to get her confidence from you so it'll be better to have her closer. (When working to train my dogs to walk at my side, I have a small treat pouch that attaches to my belt loop. I put that pouch on my left, which is where I want my dogs to walk. They get treats from the pouch when they walk at their spot. They know it's there and look up at me a lot. One of my border collies would try to push the bottom of the pouch up and get a treat to pop out, he was successful a few times I don't try for a perfect 'heel' position because I'm not doing any official confirmation stuff, I just want them at my side or behind me, not pulling on the leash.)

Regarding the rest of it, she's had a pretty rough life and is probably still worried about everything. She wants to be as close to you as she can get, that's why she tries sitting on top of you. I would start by getting her a comfortable doggie pillow and set it right next to where you are. Train her to lie down on that spot instead of on the couch with you. I love having my dogs sit with me on the furniture but I believe it is an earned treat. Good behavior is essential or they don't get up on the furniture.

Also, when she is acting fearful or nervous don't reward her with treats or what I call the oooie gooie voice. If you pet her and tell her it's okay and give her all that lovin' she won't get over her fear. I have a friend who had a GS with fear issues and separation anxiety. One of the things her animal behaviorist had her do is use her favorite toy as a distraction. If something got her nervous we used to bounce her tennis ball on the ground until it distracted her and then toss it to her. She loved tennis balls! It made her realize that whatever she was afraid of was no big deal because she still got to play ball. Sayde turned out to be a great dog and your Pixie can too.

As others have mentioned, it takes an adopted older dog time to get comfortable in their surroundings. Pixie hasn't been with you long enough to relax yet. Time, training and love from you will help. You've got her potty trained after only 2 months so you're doing great! Let us know how things are going. Best of luck to you and Pixie!
Posted by Greencath
Jan 28, 2010
Thanks alot, ccmom, kjd, MaxHollyNoah.

Having support and good advice is huge when you are temporarily out of rope

Life with Pixie is 2 steps forward, 1 back, but there is progress, thanks for pointing it out. Like a puppy, people need praise too, I suppose! I shared your emails with my 14 y.o. daughter to help put things in perspective.

The foster mom told us to buy and use a 30 foot leash to give her potty privacy. We are retiring it in the wake of my accident, rightly as you point out, MHN! And trooper that Pixie is, she DOES potty on the short leash. So she has proven that she can adjust. Of course she also chews through leashes We have to leave them on, except in the crate, to minimize the recoiling/tug of war b/c she never wants to go outside, and is smart enough to know that leash = outside.

On the positive side, did I mention she's very pretty, black and white like a Husky with white muzzle, chest and eyebrows? And very soft ears. Some people think she may be a greyhound GS mix. She is very shy and cuddly (although sometimes neurotically so). A good match eventually, I hope, for our cat-loving household. We actually have a cat that acts more like a dog than she does

Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate and will reread your replies.
Posted by MaxHollyNoah
Jan 28, 2010
Good job, Greecath! I am glad that it is working.

Just a quick reminder but when you leave a leash on Pixie, don't leave her unsupervised for a long time. Sometimes a leash can get caught by something inside the house and some unexpected things can happen: for example, when there is big noise that can scare Pixie and she tries to escape and a lamp falls down as her leash gets caught of the stand, etc.

As she gets used to go outside for potty, she will gradually become curious and won't be too reluctant to go outside. I even think that she will start enjoying it in a week or two.

One way to make her associate going out to good things happening is to give her a treat when you make her sit to attach her leash to her collar. Since she is not very treat oriented you will need to invest in some special treats such as dried liver (a tiny piece is enough as long as she can smell and taste) or turkey or duck jerkies, etc.

Keep us posted on her progress
Posted by Bennys-Mom
Jan 28, 2010
Greencath- I just read through your concern about your rescue dog and noticed that you sound much more hopeful in your second post . We adopted a 5 month old border collie/black lab/other things dog in December of 2007 and had what sounds like a very similar experience to yours. I've had dogs for much of my life but had never had a fearful dog and it can be overwhelming. We have come a long way and while things can be stressful at times, it is also so rewarding to know that we are providing a nice, SAFE life for our fearful dog. It will take a lot of patience but it does get much better over time.

The other posts on your topic have some great advice so I won't repeat them but one thing that has worked really well for us is we have taught our dog a lot of tricks. This helped us bond with him and helps us to keep his attention when he is afraid. He is very afraid of loud trucks and will even stand and shake inside the house when garbage trucks or other big trucks go by. Now when he hears the trucks he will come to us and we just have him do tricks until the truck is gone. This gets his mind off what is scaring him and builds his confidence.

Another important thing to do is to make him earn all food that you give him. Have him sit in front of his food bowl and then release him before each meal. Have him do something - sit, wait, rollover, etc. - before every treat. Our dog has gotten to the point that he will not take a teat that is just offered to him without a request to do something. And if the person giving the treat doesn't request something, he will do something on his own (like beg or rollover) before taking the treat. He was very nervous about certain tricks we tried to teach him, in particular anything that involved putting something on or around his head. So instead of having him hold a treat on his nose, we put him in a down stay and put a treat on each extended paw and have him stay like that until we release him. Be creative!

Regarding the pawing and snapping, what worked with us was a firm, but not yelling, "no bite" or "no scratch" and then we walked away from him. I have also been pulled off my feet several times (no concussion, but some pretty scraped up knees and elbows) using a 30-foot leash. We stopped using that pretty quickly. We have started using it again recently when we take him to the beach so he can run a little free but that's it. MaxHollyNoah's suggestion of walking him on the same walk until he's comfortable and then adding to it until he's comfortable again worked really well for us.

Regarding the aggression thing, fearful dogs can become aggressive during adolescence so just be aware and address any aggression issues immediately. If you work with her every day to gain her trust, make her feel safe and expect that she will take longer than non-fearful dogs to get used to her new life, things should be fine .

One last, very important suggestion.... make sure she is wearing a tag with your contact info on it and get her micro-chipped. Our dog got loose twice in the first six months that we had him during a panic episode. The first time he got away from our pet sitter and was gone for 4 hours. He ended up coming back home because we had walked him so much in our neighborhood he knew how to get home. The second time he pulled out of his collar when a school bus drove by us and squealed its brakes. That time I just got down on the ground and called him and he came to me. Also make sure he has a collar he can't get out of when he pulls like a martingale collar.

Hope this helps! Fearful dogs can be a puzzle and you will make mistakes but don't be hard on yourself. Dogs are very forgiving .