Dogcharmer: Four-legged anxiety

This Boston terrier has more than a few fears to overcome.

Maggie may become less fearful when going on walks with brave Chloe. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Tom,

We have a 7-month-old Boston Terrier who is fearful of EVERYTHING including me; she loves me, but is afraid if I talk too loud or move fast. She also has big time stranger danger to anyone new. We have a 10-year-old Boston who is the best dog, loves everyone, and is laid back, so it’s frustrating to see one calm and the other pacing the house. I want her to be happy and not in fear. I put a Thundershirt on her and she just sits or lays around like a lump. Most of the time she is a happy dog with weird issues. How do you get a dog over fear? We will love any help you can offer,

Thank you,
David Pollack

Dear David,

Mike Tyson was quoted in, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” When I read this I immediately related it to dogs. Like the overly confident boxer who gets hit and loses some self assurance, it’s always easier to take the totally uncooperative, overly confident dog and convince him that there are rules that apply to him, and life is better when he cooperates. Trying to take the totally unconfident, insecure, anxious dog and make him confident is much more difficult. Try turning a “chicken heart” into “braveheart”!

The key is nine words, which I repeat a lot. “Been there-done that-seen that-no big deal.” I had a couple that moved from rural Alabama to midtown Manhattan with a German shepherd that they described as afraid of nothing, until it got to New York City. First exposures to an elevator, an ambulance siren, and the hustle of NYC streets, and I met a dog that was described as totally non-aggressive, that was now threatening its owners in its refusal to go out. I had to con the dog into a basket muzzle and drag him into the elevator and through the lobby to get him out. Pulling and dragging, I got him off the avenue into a quieter side street and into Central Park, feeding him pieces of chicken every time his tail came out from between his legs. We were out for over two hours, the muzzle was long off and he was slowly but surely adapting to this busy new environment.

David, Maggie needs to be exposed to as much of the world as possible, receiving special treats whenever she shows some guts. The last thing you want to do is tell her it’s OK and give her a treat when she’s cowering because a car backfired. That would be rewarding the fear response. Rather, when she’s cowering, keep moving while acting upbeat to distract and redirect her and offer her treats when she’s not cowering. Having Chloe with you on walks may start to help as Maggie will be aware of Chloe’s indifference to the “scary stuff.” By exposing Maggie to more and more of the world with special treats and nothing “biting” or hurting her, she will become more confident and get into sniffing for gossip instead of reacting fearfully to everything.

I’d also suggest you get the Adaptil plug-in diffuser and try an Adaptil collar, I’ve seen them help on occasion. You might want to talk to your vet, or find one who’s into CBD. I’ve seen that work too. With Adaptil and possible CBD and summer coming, I’d take off the Thundershirt and just use it for new places and new experiences. Also, play loudly, get her used to your quick movements in play with treats. Stay very upbeat, and be patient with the attitude of “Ain’t nothin to be afraid of here.”

Good luck,
The Dogcharmer

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