Dear Cathy: My husband and I adopted a 3 month old male dog from a rescue organization. I’m not sure of his breed. It weighs around 25 pounds and looks like a black lab mix. The problem is that he’s afraid of our house – and of us. He hides under the bed and behind the couch. He is afraid of a lot of noise. I thought it was because he was a rescue and needed time.
But when we go to someone else’s house, he rushes around the house, plays with everyone, is silly, lays on the sofa, etc. He’s such a sweet puppy. When he returns home, he is afraid again. We don’t put him in a cage. He sometimes sleeps with us, walks around, is friendly and clean. We don’t have a fenced yard, so the second day we leashed him in the yard. When my husband opened the patio door, he ran around still on a leash and jumped up, terrified. We got rid of the leash the next day and put up a temporary fence. He goes to the yard but is still afraid of our house. Ideas? — Shari, Liberty, Wisconsin
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Dear Chari: It can be difficult to determine what triggers a dog’s fears. It is important to consider all possible common denominators, such as: does this behavior only occur in your home? You said yes. Could the incident on the lanyard have frightened him? Absolutely, but probably not to that extent. Is your dog more anxious with your husband? Some dogs are afraid of people. Could there be a noise inside or outside your home that scares him? If so, it could trigger insecurities.
While it’s helpful to know what’s causing the behavior, you don’t need to know what those triggers are to help your dog overcome them. There are things you can do to help him relax in your home.
Start with basic obedience training. This can distract your pup from a potential trigger and help build his confidence over time. Start by putting him on a leash around the house and teaching him to “sit”, “lie down” and “stay”. (The leash is so he doesn’t run and hide under the bed.) Use a clicker (preferred method as dogs understand what it means faster) or a marker/reward word (like “bingo”) to recognize when your dog gets it real.
For example, say “sit”. When your dog sits, click (or say the marker/reward word) and give your dog a treat.
Train your dog at least three times a day for 10 minutes each session. You and your husband should train your dog to develop a bond with both of you. Once you see him more relaxed, teach him games, like fetch, take him on other walks, so he can sniff out the neighborhood, and introduce him to puzzle toys so he has to use his brain to find the treats. The more you occupy his mind with training and activities, the less time he has to be afraid of things. As he grows and his confidence grows, he should be less afraid of his surroundings.
You can also introduce a pheromone collar or pheromone plug-ins for home or over the counter chewable tranquilizers to supplement to help him feel more comfortable during training. If you think it’s noise sensitivity, get a sound machine for your home to drown out extraneous sounds.
If you are consistent, you should see improvements within a few weeks.
Dear Cathy: I read your column about the anxious dog in the pool, especially your suggestion that the dog should wear a life jacket. My big dog is a labrador retriever and an excellent swimmer. She will also kick you and try to put her paws on your shoulder. Indeed, dogs cannot walk on water and must constantly move.
Unless the pup can get its feet to the bottom of the pool, it will have to keep paddling. Owners should ensure that their dog does not get overtired. Good advice also on training the dog not to jump in the pool. Pepper knows how to enter from the shallow end using the steps. The last thing kids need is a 70 pound dog landing on them. — Marilynn, Hayes, Virginia
Dear Marilyn: Experts estimate that approximately 5,000 dogs die each year in the United States in backyard pools. Although the life jacket is a must for every dog that enters the water, it is equally important to train dogs not to enter the water unless they have permission to do so. It could one day save a dog’s life.
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