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Dog People, help! Nervous Puppy


tagglelim
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Hello!

I've been reading these forums forever, but don't post much.  I know there are some knowledgeable dog folks on this board, and I have learned a lot about puppies from some previous threads. Due to your advice, our little girl potty-trained and crate-trained quickly and well. Thank you!! But we desperately need help. Any advice you can give would be so appreciated!

We are brand new, first time, dog parents, and are the proud owners of a 4.5 month old Bichon/Shih Tzu mix named Ponyo. In many ways, she is a wonderful dog. Cuddly, playful, smart, potty-trained, and crate-trained, eager to learn and please. 

But she failed puppy kindergarten. 😢😢 She was so. scared. of the other puppies. I can't tell you how disheartening that was. All the other puppies were so happy to meet and play, but Ponyo panicked and shrieked her head off. We stopped attending after the 2nd class because we didn't want to overwhelm her.

I wonder if we've messed up big time. We had her meet 50+ people in her first 14 weeks of life, but didn't have the opportunity to meet other dogs. The puppy class wanted full vaccinations and we didn't take her on walks either until vaxxed. Did we miss our chance?

One thing is the puppy class was on-leash and I don't know if that was good. Since then, I did find someone with a gentle dog that allowed us to come over. Ponyo stopped barking and worked up the nerve to try to play with the big dog's tail for 2 whole seconds. We'll be meeting with them again.

But is there hope??? I don't want poor Ponyo to be a nervous and reactive dog for the next 16 years. How did we mess up so quickly? Any advice on getting her socialized? Or what to do with a nervous dog? What did we do to make her so nervous?

Thanks so much!

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Is she nervous in general, or just around other dogs? Her puppy kindergarten included all sizes?

Has she been exposed to a calm, small dog? An adult, not a puppy? If not--that's what I'd try for. Find someone with a small, calm adult dog if you can and see how she does. If you can't find someone to fit that bill then keep working--as often as possible--with the gentle dog. Another option would be to arrange for some private lessons with a trainer. Many trainers will have a dog of their own who is rock solid calm ("bomb proof") that can be used to work with dogs like yours.

I don't think it's too late, but you really do want to get in as many positive experiences as you can, as quickly as you can.

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I totally agree with the previous posters. You need to socialize her with calm, submissive dogs. (My dog would be perfect, but I doubt that I live near you!). Maybe there is a therapy dog program around that could recommend dog owners to connect with.  Keep trying! 

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Overall I like the size disparity of pairing a nervous small dog with a big gentle ("bombproof") dog.

Big gentle dogs rarely feel threatened by tiny dogs and will generally throw submission cues until the little dog mellows out. Conflict is more likely when two dogs are similar in size and there are dominance issues.

Bill

 

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Thanks! It is nice to hear that it isn't too late. I hope! We have a friend that might have a suitable small dog. The problem is that a lot of the people we know have dogs that have issues too, sigh. We are scheduled to chat with a private trainer this afternoon, so hopefully there is a way we can socialize Ponyo. 

The minute she had her 3rd vax, I started taking her out and about to at least see other dogs. This week we attempted to just sit next to a dog park. Just sit at a bench and watch the other dogs play. She was on high alert, for sure. I did see a smaller enclosure at the park, like mentioned above, but a group of people were using it for their large huskies. 😬 

We walk twice daily in the neighborhood, she has been to pet stores, joined us for outdoor dining, and has even attended a beach party. 

Is she nervous in general? I don't know. She seemed pretty happy-go-lucky and looooooved people. Until Week 14. She then started barking when someone in our family suddenly walked into a room (doesn't really do that anymore), barks/growls at sounds of people walking by or to our house, barks at people outside. Doesn't bark as much at dogs, but does sometimes, and lunges to get away. It was like a switch flipped in her personality. I have no idea what happened and can't recall any traumatic event.

However, I think the walks are helping to desensitize her??? Or am I overwhelming her? It seems like every house in our neighborhood has dogs outside that bark when we walk by. She is getting to the point that she can walk loose-leash past those houses, mostly, unless one really startles her. She did yelp once yesterday. I've been having her meet people on our walks as well. She'll bark, but then be excited to meet them. She was nervous around two small girls that were eager to meet her, but then ate treats out of their hands. She plopped down and rolled over for a belly rub to one nice gentleman today. 

And how does one get a harness on a dog without a battle? We don't want a battle. We would feed her a spoon of pumpkin while putting the harness on, and she was okay,  but that didn't work today. And now she is skittish and won't approach me today. 

I'm sorry, I'm rambling. I just don't know what we are doing wrong to make her such a scared puppy. It almost, as much as we love her, makes me want to return her before we ruin her.

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44 minutes ago, kristin0713 said:

I totally agree with the previous posters. You need to socialize her with calm, submissive dogs. (My dog would be perfect, but I doubt that I live near you!). Maybe there is a therapy dog program around that could recommend dog owners to connect with.  Keep trying! 

Los Angeles region? 😀

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Hopefully the trainer can help.

For my dog it was around week 12, but dogs can go through phases just like human babies. And one of those phases is realizing all the dangers in that big world out there and suddenly being afraid.  We had to work hard to get past that and honestly my 3 year old dog is still reactive (though still improving even at age 3) 

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Nothing you describe sounds particularly unusual or concerning to me, although of course it's impossible to "see" things over the internet. That's why getting a trainer involved is the right thing to do. Sometimes--a lot of times--puppies are just like babies and toddlers. You just have to work through things, figure out what works (or doesn't) for that particular puppy. Hopefully the trainer can offer some helpful suggestions for doing that.

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This little book might be helpful! https://amzn.to/2ZhGvLC

The Cautious Canine: Many fear-based problems can be overcome by learning how to apply desensitization and counter conditioning. Whether fear of strangers, vacuums or objects, by identifying triggers and creating a step-by-step plan you will improve the quality of your dog's life-and yours.

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I feel your pain.  My reactive pup is 8 months old, but I don't have much advice, other than to agree with the other posters about taking him around "bomb proof" dogs.

Trainers I've worked with have recommended that the pup receive a high value treat for looking at the other dog, then back at me.  The idea of the high value treat is to help the pup associate seeing other dogs with happy feelings.

Good luck!

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