We rescued Daryl Dixon last October. He came to us scared of the world. He was only 4 months old, and clearly hadn’t experienced much in the time spent at the foster home. In the last nine months, he’s come a long way but he’s still a big chicken! A stern male voice will make him pee, and a loud sneeze will cause him to not talk to that person for a week. He’s also very wary of someone approaching our car, and will become vocal. He’s clearly protective of me and my 8-year-old daughter. He sleeps in her room, either on her bed or under it. I’ve noticed that when I come home after being away for a few hours, he is hiding under the bed. What can we do to make him feel more secure in his surroundings and know that the boogeyman isn’t going to get him?
Thanks for your help,
Alison, Elizabeth, and Daryl Dixon
Thank you for being a life-saving adopter. If I had some “braveheart” pills I would send them to you, but alas, I don’t. Gimme the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God any day, as opposed to the “chicken butt.” Why? Because it’s a lot easier to convince the tough dog that there may be a God, but it ain’t him, it’s YOU.
For the “chicken butt,” you need to walk a fine line between supporting him to help him deal with his fear, but not reward his fear response. And it is a fine line. Avoiding everything that scares him will make things worse. The boogeyman needs to be confronted, but at a distance, a distance that Daryl can handle. Then shorten the distance, with success building on success.
I adopted my standard Poodle, Paula Jean, five years ago, at age 2, and she was a “chicken butt.” I took her to the Ag Fair to see how she would do with large crowds, and just as we were passing the band, which had been on a break, they exploded into a song with a drum roll. Paula, startled and terrorized, leaped four feet straight up in the air, and almost separated me from my arm trying to drag me as far away as possible. We did walk away from the band, but at my pace, a very slow pace, with me being very relaxed and talking to her in an upbeat way. I was not running away, telling her it’s OK and she’s a good girl (rewarding the fear response). I was calmly discussing the music and life in general, and when we were some distance from the band and she wasn’t pulling on the leash, and her body language told me she ready, I offered her a treat. By taking the treat I knew she was ready to make some progress, because a truly frightened dog won’t take anything offered, even filet mignon from the Square Rigger. I then did a little obedience work with her, getting her to earn the treats with some heeling, sitting, and staying, all the while working my way closer to the music and the band. Within 20 minutes we were right in front of the band, and I got the drummer to offer PJ a treat, which she readily accepted.
So Alison, for starters, put suitcases under the bed so Daryl can’t get under and hide. It will gently force him to acclimate to the realization that the boogeyman won’t get him even if he’s not under the bed. I’d also suggest that you get him a DAP collar (dog-appeasing pheromone) and Adaptil, which you can plug into a socket. Both products give off scents that may help him relax. Also, when you depart the house, leave him “special toys” that he only gets when nobody’s home. Hollow marrow bones with meat wedged in the middle might help him forget about the boogeyman. But make sure to remove them when you get home. If a loud stern voice is too much for him to handle, make it a firm “UH-UH,” with a frown on your face. He’ll still know you’re not happy with his behavior, without peeing.
When it comes to helping a dog become confident, these are my favorite nine words — “Been there, done that, seen that, no big deal!” In other words, SOCIALIZE. With more and more exposure to the world, without the world “biting” him, he’ll be smiling a lot more.
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