Dogcharmer: Skittish newcomer

Phoebe will acclimate to noise with some carefully timed treats.

Phoebe is a newcomer to the family. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Tom,

We have just last week brought a new dog into our family. She is now our adorable Phoebe, a 5-year-old American cocker spaniel. We drove to New Hampshire to get her from her home, where she had been the female for a cockapoo breeder twice. She was part of their family home (six kids, and lots of cockapoos.) Her owner decided she needed a new family to love her. She is a sweetheart, and is gentle and loves our attention.

We are also so fortunate that she is both crate- and “potty”-trained, and comfortable on a leash — all the advantages of having an older dog. The issue now is her evident body language in fear of noises of all kinds! We have started CBD calming chews. We are seeing her vet this week, and he will see her behavior firsthand.

Our question to you is how we may best help our girl become more relaxed, and as secure as possible.


Dear Kristi,

Congrats on your new family member, and thank you for being one of the good guys by adopting an older dog. Having come from a family with six kids and other dogs, she is certainly somewhat socialized. However, my guess is she wasn’t really exposed to much else beyond the immediate family environment, and the total change of everything has her a little freaked out.

When it comes to socialization, I’m always referring to the same nine words — “Been there, done that, seen that, no big deal.” I’m not suggesting that you take her to a gun range or helicopter pad to get her used to loud noises, but rather with patience, love, and lots of special treats (meat), you slowly introduce her to the noises of the world beyond the home.

A walk into town will start to acclimate her to the hustle and bustle of noisy cars, motorcycles, and people. What you don’t want to do is reward a fear response by telling her it’s OK and giving her treats as she’s clearly terrified.

When she’s startled by the loud Harley taking off, your better response is an upbeat redirection — “Wow, Phoebe, that’s one noisy Harley, what do you think?” When she looks at you quizzically, keep up with the happy talk, and a couple of special treats. With some good acting and good timing, Phoebe will be looking for treats instead of trying to run away at startling noises.

If necessary, you can buy a CD with noises of thunder, sirens, explosions, etc. The key is to have success built on success. So play the CD softly enough so that she can handle the sounds as she gets treats, while slowly increasing the volume, again, success building on success. She will probably come around to appreciating her new life with you quite soon.

Good luck,
Dog Charmer Tom

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