Any ideas to calm a nervous German Shepherd?

Question:
Hi everyone ! Our German Shepherd Jade is the joy of our lives but
she has a problem that I can use some help with.
Jade is almost 3 shes never been spayed. Jade is VERY nervous she
paces and runs in the house trying to escape when ever she hears
a truck or bus in the neighborhood. Most times I cant even hear any
thing at all but her ears will stand up and shes off running to get
away from something. If it is a VERY CALM day with No Noise outside
I can walk her perfectly on a leash . SHe walks at my side and wont
pull at all. If she hears any little noice like a truck anywhere in the
area she FREAKS!! SHe pulls, jumps trying to escape. I use a pronged
collar on her for walks, even that dont slow her down. I try to snap her
chain to get her attention but I can only get her attention for a second
She is fixed on the noise that she fears and getting away. I worry
that she is not enjoying life as she should, she should be playing instead
of pacing in fear. I worry that someday she willl get off her leash
or get loose and run in front of a car or something. Lately It has
gotten worse and I Cant even take her for walks. Now all I
can do is take her around the yard So when she starts to panic
real bad I can make it back in the house with her withoout one
us getting hurt. We love her so and want to break this fear
in her. Does anyone know if spaying will calm her down or
have any ideas I can try with her. Thanks Star
Answer:
Using punishment to alieviate fear is a big mistake, I hate to say. Using a choke collar, prong collar is using positive punishment to try and stop a behavior which is the result of fear. So, what happens is she's associating the thing she's already afriad of or nervous about with receiving pain or more unpleasantness.
She needs to be desensatized to these things from a distance which is sufficient for her to be relatively comfortable and these things need to be associated with good things, not bad. Treats, her favorite game, food. But these things must not be given in the throws of her anxiety. They must come to her in moments of relative calmness which she can only have if she is at a great enough distance. Too much fussing or reacting to her nervousness also can teach her that that state of mind is a good thing. And she learns to be helpless and afraid in these situations. How do you act when she becomes nervous? How do you interact with her at these times? You need to be very confident and act like nothing's the matter without hovering and worrying over her. Catch her at her least nervous second or two and then give her what she likes....a calm pat or a piece of food. When she gets nervous again, withdraw your attending to her. Relax, keep the leash loose, keep on walking. (if you're walking) Try finding places to walk which are not going to have a truck go right past you, but may be at some distance away....just enough that she can hear it but is not overwhelmed by it.
How much exercise is she getting and what kind of socialization did she get as a pup (before 4 months of age, say) Did she ever get exposed to these things? How much obedience practice do you do? That can help with confidence. Tug of war games are good confidence builders as long as she knows to give it to you when you ask. Doing things like agility...jumping and other obstacles are also a great confidence booster.
Steer clear of punishment based interactions and concentrate on rewarding what you do like to see, distracting from what you don't like in the way of behavior and showing her an alternative which can be rewarded. Too much punishment, even if mild can undermine a dog's confidence and drive.
I don't know how you train or interact, so don't think I'm presuming anything. These are just general ideas, just in case.
You might want to talk with a behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement....who is certified from a reputable learning institution.
Let us know how things go. This must be quite hard.
Answer:
I agree TOTALY with Dober!!!!!!!! Great Ideas!!!!
Answer:
Hi Doberluv, and thanks for writing. We have had Jade since she was 5
weeks old. she used to do very well on walks. THis is a behavior that has
gotten worse and worse. MY husband used to baby her when she was
scared of noises but I got him to stop doing that. Now when she races
and paces through the house in fear of something she hears outside
I put her on a leash and keep her near me so she willl lay down and
not pace. WHen her ears go up and she wants to hide I make a sound
to bring her attention to me. I try putting peanut butter and snacks in a toy to keep her mind busy. I haVe been watching alot of
Cesar the Dog Whisper Show on one show he had a German SHepherd
that he put a Dog Back Pack on to make them feel secure and made
the dog feel like it had purpose. So Im thinking about getting a back
pack for her to wear on our walks. Soon the school busses will
be going again, and that was a huge fear of hers. Maybe if I
take her out each morning when the busses come and make her
stay outside with me it will help get her over it. When she freaks
out on our walks I either snap the chain or make a sound with
my voice to try to get her to snap out of it and redirect her attention. I do get upset with her and I know she feels it and it makes
her more stressed. So Im working on that to. Thanks for
the ideas. any more help from anyone would be helpfull
Answer:
I generally do not subscribe to the vast majority of Cesar Milan's ways....the force, the choke collar yanking, the pushing back, flooding the fearful dog with the very thing he's terrified of. I think this creates severe stress in an animal, whether or not one's a good leader. They have instincts and one of them is the survival instinct and it doesn't matter how good a leader you are if the fearful thing is overwhelming. It sure helps with smaller fears when the owner is confident and unperturbed about things...definitely. But every living thing has a tolerance level and there's a line to be drawn with more severe anxieties, such as your dog has with the busses and trucks.
I would not advise taking your dog out along side the street where busses are, but somewhere at a distance and when she's comfortable at that distance, gradually, over some time decrease the distance between her and the trucks. This way she is not overwhelmed and overly stressed. She has time to deal with the fear little by little and she basically cures herself.
I think the back pack idea is great. I have one for my Dobe. It helps them be a little distracted and keeps them concentrating a little.
Snapping the chain is punishment. I highly recommend you forget about trying to get her attention when she's in the throws of this anxiety. The time to get her attention is before she gets like that. Once she's in her fight or flight stage, there's little to no connection with you. But you can't get her attention before she gets like that if a bus is barrelling down the road. It has to be done from a distance if you want to prevent neurosis and further emotional damage. Punishment in connection with these scary things is just quadrupelling the fear. IMO. Flooding...making her stay by you right close to the thing she's afraid of is highly stressful and although she will eventually stop reacting out of necessity, the psychological damage is done.
Desensatizing her, counter conditioning gradually is the most sensible way to go.
MY husband used to baby her when she was
scared of noises but I got him to stop doing that. Now when she races
and paces through the house in fear of something she hears outside
I put her on a leash and keep her near me so she willl lay down and
not pace. WHen her ears go up and she wants to hide I make a sound
to bring her attention to me. I try putting peanut butter and snacks in a toy to keep her mind busy
All of this, when done while she's reacting has probably caused "learned helplessness." The dog not only senses that you think something is wrong too, but is reinforced with all this attention and learns to get herself into this state because it's connected with a good feeling...the feeling that comes from all of your attention and peanut butter. These things need to happen ONLY when she has a moment of calmness and when she shows the slightest improvement in bravery about all this.
When she races through the house, pacing, why don't you try letting her do that, ignoring her and going about your business without fussing over her. This attending to her the minute she starts up, is probably adding to her insecurity....as though she has something big to worry about since you are keeping her close to you, to keep her safe. Try playing her favorite game but wait for a few seconds of calm inbetween or catch her before she goes nutso. Try associating the busses with good things. But....when she's going nuts, walk around, vacuum, change your sheets, whistle a happy tune. Just act normal and let her do what she needs to do to relieve her stress.....for now, while you work at other times to desensatize her.
Answer:
I've never had to " train " a dog and will leave this up to the educated . But as a puppy breeder, if anything scared a puppy , I would sit down wherever we were and love on them and re assure them . Go to an area where you know a school bus or truck will pass. Sit quietly and make it fun with treats . Remember , dogs pick up our fears.... if you're worried about his reaction , so will he. We did this with a female who passed the fireworks fear on to her pup .... Good luck !!
Answer:
Thanks again Dober, I'm going to be working on these things. Hopefully
with a some work we can get her to relax in and out of the house.
and we can be taking long relaxing walks together again. If anyone else
has more ideas I'm open to them. Thanks so much Dober:)
Answer:
Using punishment to alieviate fear is a big mistake, I hate to say. Using a choke collar, prong collar is using positive punishment to try and stop a behavior which is the result of fear. So, what happens is she's associating the thing she's already afriad of or nervous about with receiving pain or more unpleasantness.
I'm not trying to argue Doberluv, just suggesting an idea. I dont think she is using the prong to "correct" her nervous behavior, but to control her when she freaks out. Its no telling what that dog is going to do when she gets afraid,and IMO it is the safest thing to do, use a prong because you have some control over the situation, whereas the buckle collar would allow the dog to go out of control possibly dragging her owner down the street or pulling away from the owner and running into the street and getting hit by a car or some other disaster. Yes, this problem does need to be fixed before this dog gets hurt, but in the meantime I would work in a confined area where the dog cannot run off or use some sort of collar that allows you to grab and hold your dog, realeasing a little pressure to keep the dog under some amount of control (not correcting just holding). I've seen SO many dogs gets freaked and run off and the owners not have any control over them,and they get hit by a car, run away, and the ending isnt always good. Again, Doberluv, not trying to argue.
Answer:
When she freaks
out on our walks I either snap the chain or make a sound with
my voice
snapping a chain is a correction . . . :p
However I do agree that the dog needs to not be able to run off
Answer:
I agree that you need to desensitize her to these situations but sometimes the situation is not ideal for a long period of this, ie. the problem has escalated to the point where you can no longer give your dog the exercise she needs to burn off some of this nervous energy.
I would try a long hike or swim somewhere with no distractions and exercise the heck out of the pup, I mean until they are just done, no energy left. Then we would go home and take a short walk around the block and just keep moving forward no matter what. If something scary passed by, as soon as she calmed down from the experience, which shouldn't take to long since the dog is all pooped out and still moving forward then I would end the day and go home.
I would contiune with this as often as possible, just being able to drain all that nervous energy should be very beneficial in the rehabilitation.
Answer:
I agree that the dog must be prevented from running off. However, a prong collar or choke chain causes some pain...proably more than is needed to keep the dog from running off...unless this is some 150 LB dog. There are no pull harnesses out now, I believe and haltis (which I don't like much). I'm just afraid that the dog may associate pain with the already fearful thing. But of course, the bottom line is to keep the dog from running off and getting hurt or killed.....of course.
Before getting into that situation again, where the dog may encounter a bus close up, I'd try to find a safer place to walk, even if you have to drive there first, where you're somewhat further away from that noise, but maybe where she can still hear or see the bus a little.... where you can work with her... A phobia like this is a hard thing to get extintion with. It takes some time and patience.
The Flooding / Response Prevention: the process in which the fear eliciting stimulus is shown in a full blown way without the subject being able to escape. This can sometimes work but is unethical and more often then not, only makes more harm. I just took that from some scientific terminology thing I have. This technique which CM uses a lot can cause real trauma and it can also cause spontaneous recovery which is a behavior which was thought to be extinct suddenly reappears. The subject stops reacting simply because he realizes he can do nothing about it. He finally gets "used" to it, but underneath, he is traumatized and can be made quite neurotic. I think this is unacceptable.
You also might consult with a vet. This may be some neuron...synapse thing going on in her brain....something medical. It wouldn't hurt to ask his/her opinion.
Answer:
snapping a chain is a correction . . . :p
However I do agree that the dog needs to not be able to run off
Didnt see that :o .
Answer:
:D no worries
OP - You've been given some good advice, please keep us posted on progress ;)
Answer:
One of the primary lessons Cesar teaches is it's your anticipation, attitude, and reaction to "scary" objects and situations which can make a big difference when dealing with a fearful or insecure dog. There is also a huge difference in coldly flooding a dog, and standing with them to face their fears when they trust you as their leader.
My own dog came to me completely terrified of many things. She is now doing great and trusts nothing bad will happen to her when she is with me.
If you want to try counter conditioning at a distance to see if that will help, give it a shot. You don't have much to lose since your dog's fear has already escalated to the point where you can't even take a walk and are avoiding the things your dog is afraid of. I'm glad you got your husband to stop coddling when your dog is afraid, but the damage has already been done.
At this point I think you are confused on what is a correction, what is a redirection, and what is containment with the leash. You need hand-on help.
Fearful dogs are a lot more of a challenge than dogs with other "issues". It takes an experienced person to observe this situation, see first-hand how you are interacting with your dog, and to teach you how to deal with this.
Your dog does not feel safe in your presence right now and has probably had their fear reinforced over and over by a lot of little things you are doing, which you are not even aware of. Even looking suddenly at a dog, raising the pitch of your voice, acting nervous, widening your eyes, stopping when they react, focusing on and/or avoiding scary objects and situations - can all add to this.
Your dog is always "reading" you...keep this in mind. A trusted, consistant leader who is not fearful of anything helps create a follower who also not fearful, simple as that.
I would take Cesar's show with a grain of salt, and get his book "Cesar's Way". His TV program shows what he is doing with a specific dog, but his book contains the philosophies behind the methods. The TV show will not give you the whole picture, and neither will listening to people who attack and smear him in fear and ignorance. :cool:
Answer:
You know, you could ask your vet about medication. Even if it's just a temporary thing, to calm her down long enough to learn that the scary things aren't deadly, it might be helpful. They do prescribe things like doggie Prozac for extreme behaviors, and if it's so bad you don't feel safe taking her out of the yard, it might be time to consider extreme measures.
Answer:
Thanks everyone , and Angelique you sound very wise. She has come into
heat a few days ago, and is a little calmer right now. Could spaying
maybe calm her down a little bit? I am thinking more serious about
spaying her. As soon as shes out of heat I'm going to take her
to the Vet, and ask questions , see what they say about the
nervousness and prob get the spaying done. I'm also going to
work on being a more relaxed leader. Thanks again
Answer:
Spaying her is a great idea ;)
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