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Extremely anxious young collie - at my wit's end!

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My family dog is a young collie, about 2 years old, who seems to be suffering from extreme anxiety. In the house he is fine, but taking him out for walks is fast becoming impossible.

He seems to stop when provoked by nothing, and cower, constantly pulling in the direction of home. He is very scared of trucks and motorbikes and will become stressed if they drive by, but it seems just being out is scaring him.

 

He has been attacked by other dogs a couple of times in the park, and he has actually attacked another dog, even though he wasn't threatened. If another dog walks past him while he is on the lead he will sometimes growl and make a lunge for it.

I have been abroad for a year and a half and have come home to find him like this. My parents are having a hard time coping with him. My dad has Parkinson's disease and so finds it very difficult to move, and having an out of control dog is extremely frustrating to him. To the point where he has actually been hitting the dog to try and discipline him or get him out of the way.

This breaks my heart and I have had many arguments with him in an attempt to get him to stop. I am leaving to move to London on Monday and am worried that the dog will only get worse if I am not at home to train him.

My mum wants to get a shock collar, but I think this is a terrible idea and will only serve to make him worse.

Sorry for the long winded post, but we really love our dog, and I'm desperate to get him sorted out. At home he is extremely loving and playful. I have suggested to my mum that we should take him back to the Dog's Trust, because I am sick with worry at what might happen while I am away.

Please any advice will be appreciated!! To get him to calm down on his walks and stop being so scared, and be more disciplined with my dad.

Thank you!

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I am so sorry for your trouble. :(

 

I don't know what to advise if you can't be home to help manage the poor dog. To me, it honestly sounds as if he is simply afraid - and being "disciplined" will only make it worse. If someone used a shock collar on a dog like that, it would only teach him that he must be afraid of yet another thing - the collar's shock.

Being attacked by other dogs at a park is certainly enough to send a sensitive young collie over the edge. That it happened more than once is terribly unfortunate, as it undoubtedly cemented the fear in his mind. If vehicles or motorcycles were anywhere present during those incidents, he may view them as a "sound track" for terrible things - even if he only imagines they are about to happen.

And though his attack on that other dog may have seemed unprovoked to casual observers, he could have reacted to something as subtle as a dog standing in a dominant posture to greet him, or even an obnoxious dog being overly friendly. It's very common for collies, even un-traumatized ones, to resent pushy, overly friendly dogs. I would guess he reacted out of the fear that he might be hurt or attacked again. Even if that fear was unrealistic.

 

If you cannot be there to help this poor fellow, returning him to rescue may be the best recourse. I know you love him, but the environment at home, with an ailing parent who cannot cope with the dog and who may in fact treat him harshly, does not sound ideal. I fear you might come home and find the dog worse, perhaps even fear-biting at your dad if he continues to try and manage the dog by force.


I wish I could offer better advice, but your absence from the home and from the dog's day-to-day care seems problematical.
Respectfully,

Gloria

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Whatever you do, do NOT get a shock collar or correct him for his fear aggressive behaviors.

 

There are lots of great resources out there for working with dogs like him. Where do you live?

 

I have a dog with a similar history; attacked by multiple dogs very badly, developed severe PTSD, became fear aggressive, etc. I was at my wits end too. This past weekend he placed 4th in a trial. He has come so far that people often refuse to believe me when I tell them how bad he used to be.

 

Here is some good reading to start with.

 

He Just Wants to Say Hi

 

Dr. Patricia McConnell

 

Dog Star Daily

 

AGBEH

 

 

If your family is unable or unwilling to work with him correctly, giving him back to rescue may really be the best option for him.

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Sadly, I have to agree that giving him back to the rescue might be the best thing.

 

A sensitive dog who is fearful of the world will just get more so with increased physical discipline. Adding a shock collar is almost certain to traumatize him, perhaps beyond repair.

 

It sounds like you really have your dog's best interest at heart, and if you were going to be able to care for him and protect him from the influence of people who don't understand how to manage him without adding additional stress, it might be worth giving you advice on how to implement a desensitization and counter conditioning program. But this is a very time and labor intensive process, and if you're moving away again soon, I think the kindest thing you can do for the dog is to place him in the hands of people who can work with him and place him in a home that's better equipped to handle his anxieties.

 

I wish you -- and your dog -- the best.

 

roxanne

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I'll add my voice to the rest and agree that this doesn't sound like an ideal home for this dog. If your dad is sick and the dog is "out of control" I have to wonder if he's getting enough mental and physical stimulation, as that is the most common cause for behavioral problems. All the discipline in the world wouldn't fix that.

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I agree with returning him to rescue so they can place him in an appropriate home. The process to rehabilitate a dog as you describe can be intensive and take many months, if not years, and even then he may always need some management. Please consider your dog's best interests and return him to rescue.

 

Jovoi

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I believe a young dog like this CAN be rehabilitated (as other posters have suggested) with counter-conditioning and desensitization. Hope is certainly not lost for your pup, but harsh training tactics (shock collar, hitting, yelling) used on a fearful dog like yours will only make things worse... much worse.

 

Helping your dog through this will take a lot of time and a tremendous amount of patience. It sounds like you love your dog very much and would be more then willing to make this commitment to him. But what about your parents? A young, energetic collie can be a handful for anyone... but you have an ailing father and a dog suffering from severe anxiety. It's clearly a difficult situation.

 

However, if your parents are genuinely willing to commit to the dogs rehabilitation (seek out a trainer, learn about fear and anxiety on dogs, work/train with the dog daily, etc.) then why not at least try?!? Who knows, they may see improvement and it could motivate them to work with the dog even more knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

 

I am sorry you find yourself in this situation.. it must be heartbreaking to have to make this call. At the end of the day, if your parents can not commit to working with the dog (and it sounds like they certainly have their reasons) and you can not find a way to have the dog in your care... you may want to consider contacting the rescue you adopted him from. I'm sure they would do everything they could to help you and your pup out.

 

I wish you, your parents and your dog all the very best.

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I have suggested to my mum that we should take him back to the Dog's Trust, because I am sick with worry at what might happen while I am away.

 

 

Do, please. If they knew what had been happening or what is being threatened they would probably want to take him back anyway.

 

Unfortunately you aren't in a position to help, your dad is frustrated because of his illness and your mum will be worried about your dad.

 

The best way you can show your love for him is to help him find a more appropriate home. I know it would be hard but it sounds like it would be for the best for everyone.

 

If you do take him back don't dwell on his apparent dog aggression. Just tell the DT that he is rather nervous and sometimes not happy with strange dogs and that your parents can't cope with his needs because your dad is ill. His behaviour doesn't sound too out of the ordinary and it's not as if he has bitten people or done any harm and you don't want to give the wrong impression of him. They should do an assessment of him before rehoming anyway.

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Hi everyone, thanks for your advice and kind words - it's much appreciated. However, I'm worried I might have painted a more extreme picture than I intended. I should first give a bit of history about the dog, he was re-homed three times before we got him from the Dog's Trust, and he was only 1 year old.

As a consequence, he was very mischievious when we first got him, and he still is now, but to a much lesser extent. My mum wants to get the shock collar to try and correct these bad behaviours - such as, charging up the stairs when he knows he's not allowed to, stealing food off the kitchen counters, stealing socks and running away and wanting to be chased, climbing on chairs he's not allowed on.

He has not been savagely beaten by my dad, just a whack on the nose. My dad can often get stuck in door ways and find it extremely difficult to move, and with a dog running around his feet, he becomes despairing and frustrated and will try and get him to move.

When he is out and shows signs of anxiety, I comfort him, and then reward him when he starts moving again. However I'm not sure this is the right course of action as maybe cuddling him will only serve to increase his anxiety?

He seems to be fine being walked during the day, he will stop a couple of times but then keep on moving. However if you try to walk him when it is dark, he will flat out refuse.

I will welcome any suggestions on how to correct his bad behaviours and try and find some info on curing him of his anxiety. He is a beloved and cherished family pet, and he is a very happy and loving dog on the whole.

Taking him back is heart breaking and an absolute last resort, and anything that can be done to avoid this I will welcome with open arms. I have spoken to my dad since my first post and he is willing to try training him as much as he can. i've heard about DVDs you can get with car noises and other sounds to condition your dog - is this what people have posted about when they say conditioning and de-sensitising?

Please any info will be hugely appreciated! Thank you

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correct these bad behaviours - such as, charging up the stairs when he knows he's not allowed to, stealing food off the kitchen counters, stealing socks and running away and wanting to be chased, climbing on chairs he's not allowed on.

 

When a dog is engaging in behaviors that I don't care for, I try REALLY hard to not assume that the dog "knows better". Often, they don't. Training is not just about saying "no", but rather showing the dog the right answer, over and over and over again. And you should expect regressions. All of these "bad behaviors" are VERY normal dog behaviors:

 

- Charging up the stairs: dogs get excited and like to run, the stairs may signal a chance to go outside or eat supper or snuggle before bedtime. Stairs can also be slippery or at a steep pitch, so some dogs will rush them to get it over with. Some dogs find it uncomfortable to be slow or still on an uneven surface (especially if they weren't socialized to uneven surfaces as a pup... strange but true!)

- Stealing food: dogs are scavengers. They often learn not to steal food when you're around, but the behavior works when you're not looking. Also food is usually worth more to them than a correction. It takes time, patience, and management to teach a dog to not steal food off of the counters. I keep food out of reach, unless I am deliberately setting up a temptation so I can correct the unwanted behavior and also redirect the dog (a down-stay on a dog bed while I prepare food; a verbal NO and hand clapping when he attempts to jump up, followed by a repeat of the down-stay).

- Stealing socks and running away: What happens if you catch him? Is he scolded for stealing the socks? Right now, your dog associates human hands with, at the very least, being "whacked on the nose". He gets a sock, sees his owners coming towards him, experiences fear when human hands come at him, does not want to give the sock up, and engages in keep-away or a chase game. He has no reason to stop and politely hand over the sock. I'd much rather teach the dog to trade items (both his own toys and "forbidden" items like socks) for other toys or treats. I play the "take it"/"give" game with my pups. If the dog likes picking things up, channel that into a cute trick rather than trying to squash it.

 

Right now, it sounds like your family and the dog need to enroll in a positive-based obedience class, and perhaps have some one-on-one sessions with a trainer. The dog hasn't had a chance to be correct; he has made some improvements, but it sounds like he's still wildly guessing at what makes you happy.

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First, at the risk of speaking from others, let me say that I don't think anyone here thought that your dog was being "savagely beaten" by anyone.

 

But you do have a dog with some pretty serious issues that it seems, even after your clarification that your parents aren't really equipped to deal with and that both the unwanted behaviors and your parents' responses to them are increasing, the latter in unproductive and potentially destructive (for the dog) ways.

 

My mum wants to get the shock collar to try and correct these bad behaviours - such as, charging up the stairs when he knows he's not allowed to, stealing food off the kitchen counters, stealing socks and running away and wanting to be chased, climbing on chairs he's not allowed on.



 

 

Given your dog's already fearful responses to things that he finds threatening and, most likely out of his control, adding a shock collar to the mix is highly likely to produce the same fearful response in the home that he's now only showing outside.

 

Shock collars, are, imo, are not an ethical option in 99.9% of all cases.

 

Aside from that, however, they can be a really dangerous tool in the wrong -- mostly inexperienced -- hands. Timing must be impeccable. If the shock is not delivered in the instant that the unwanted behavior is taking place, the dog will associate it with whatever is happening at the time it is delivered. And another problem is determining when that exact moment is. In the example of charging up the stairs, is that moment when he's making the first move towards the stairs (or even earlier), when he's made it half way up, at the top of the stairs? (I'm not exactly sure, but I think it's going to be before he's even hit the stairs, before most people would even be aware of the dog's actions. )

 

Is your mother going to be prepared to give the shock at exactly the right nanosecond? And if she doesn't, what will the consequences be? Probably a dog who's now terrified of the stairs, or running, or of the shadow that was on the floor or wall or the sound of a passerby or something else that no one else even noticed when the shock was delivered.

 

Border collies are a very sensitive breed and prone to all kinds of neurotic behaviors. Punishment based training often, if not always, makes these issues worse and leads to deterioration of the relationship between the dog and its guardians. Devices as extreme as shock collars, even in experienced hands, can turn BCs into totally neurotic and fearful dogs. Some don't even do well with invisible fences that use such collars.

 

If you and your parents are determined to keep the dog, please at the very least have them enlist the aid of a good, experienced positive reinforcement behavior trainer or behaviorist. Even excellent DVDs are not going to be able to asses the dog and its needs like an experienced trainer will. The need help, and most importantly, the dog needs a certain kind of help that it doesn't sound like anyone in your family knows how to provide. You're not going to be there to monitor the situation, so, please, for your dog's sake, have your parents seek proper help or return the dog to the rescue.

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Jen's post is excellent! Dogs don't automatically "know" that doing things like running the stairs, stealing food and socks are "wrong." Those value judgements are our interpretations of the behaviors, not theirs.

 

Punishing a dog for doing things we don't want them to do is not teaching them anything, except perhaps that bad things happen when they do certain things, which just means they won't do it as often in our presence. It doesn't teach them what to do instead. That needs to be taught.

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And if the OP's parents live in Wales they would face a fine of up to £20,000 or 6 months in jail for using one.

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i've heard about DVDs you can get with car noises and other sounds to condition your dog - is this what people have posted about when they say conditioning and de-sensitising?

 

 

 

This can be part of a DS/CC program, but it's a small part at best. It's usually a very long process and realistically can take years to accomplish.

 

You could start with a DVD or sound track, but when the dog is desensitized to that you'd probably have to start the whole process all over again with the real thing. That means taking him out where he can be exposed to whatever it is that's frightening him and starting all over again. In the meantime, you need to avoid the fear inducing stimulus in situations when you're not prepared to the the work. IOW, if he dog's afraid of cars and other outside noises, he shouldn't be exposed to them without having the treats and clicker (if the latter's the route you've chosen, which I would recommend) on hand and prepared to use. So you have to also consider how the dog will be exercised, even just for elimination purposes, while you're doing this.

 

And it sounds like you don't even know what many of the triggers are at this point. They have to be identified.

 

And the click has to be timed perfectly for it to be effective. If you click a second or 2 after the trigger has passed, then you're not changing the emotional response to the trigger itself, but instead creating a positive association with what happens right after it, which may be its stopping. That could just reinforce the original fear.

 

Please understand that I'm not trying to discourage you and your family from trying to desensitize your dog. It would be the best option for him if you can. But I do want you to realistically assess the practicality of undertaking it with any measure of success. If you don't think your parents are up to the task, then you have to consider whether their doing it ineffectively will make things worse and/or just delay the inevitable, at which time there may be less chance for your dog to recover and have a decent life.

 

As always, I wish you, your dog and your parents all the best.

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I'd second the sentiment that no one thought your dad had savagely beaten your dog. Quite the contrary, it sounds like your pup is very loved in your household, but circumstances have lead to a lot of frustration on all ends (including the dog's).

 

I'm am thrilled to hear that your dad is open to training and working with the dog, wonderful news!! :) Hopefully your mom is on board as well?

 

The behaviors you mentioned in your update (given the age and history of the dog) do not sound at all insurmountable! You can train a dog, especially one as smart as a collie, how you'd like for it to behave. I agree with GentleLake that assuming the dog "knows what it's doing is wrong" is the wrong approach. You're going to want to show the dog what's "right" and you'll ALL be much happier for it!

 

Before even giving the shock collar another thought pleasepleaseplease consult a positive reinforcement trainer/behaviorist who can come into your home and help you, your mom, your dad and the dog learn to communicate effectively with each other (or find a class in your area). Even one session with a trainer will give you a solid foundation for training away all of the behaviors you mentioned.

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I am moving this thread to the General Border Collie Discussion forum. The forum it was originally posted in -- Ask an Expert -- is only for questions related to dogs working livestock.

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I think that it's unfair to leave the dog with your parents, especially your poor dad who's coping with a life altering disease. Taking care of a high drive, high energy dog takea a lot of time, commitment and patience from anyone, add to the mix a some fairly severe behavioral problems and that's a lot to ask of them. You've already been gone a year and a half, come home and now you're leaving again, leaving the hard work to them. Unless the parents have specifically stated that they want to keep the dog and are willing to do what it takes to rehabilitate him, I wouldn't burden them with that responsibility while you're living elsewhere.

 

I think the best thing you could do, judging only by what's been written here, is to return the dog to the rescue. They will find him a good, loving home with people who have the time, energy and resources to deal with the situation, even if he has to be in foster care for a while.

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You have been given some sound advice. If your parents are willing to work with a trainer/behaviourist, be consistent and realize that there is no quick fix your dog has every chance to become a great member of the family, but this is not time for DIY fixes. One of the problems with border collies is that their issues can continue to grow, the rescue I volunteer for was contacted last year by a family with a young dog who was having "aggression" issues, they were given advice on how to handle the different issues, by the rescue and a professional trainer, none at the time were really major... But we do not believe they followed through on anything... Fast forward a year and they want to put the dog down as it has become aggressive, the breeder stepped in, and he and a volunteer took the dog to meet a potential new home, he growled... The volunteer took the dog home that night, she was very careful and he took a chunk out of her arm, we do not know what has happened to him.

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My last sheltie was an extremely fearful and anxious dog. We were also his third home and got him at 11 months. Over the years he retreated further and further into his anxiety and fear and could get dangerous. I still have a scar from him on my hand and he has been gone a good 5 years now. More and more things would shut him down and freak him out the older he got. Once he backed out of his collar in a panic and we nearly lost him.

 

The solution for him ended up being just to stop trying to make him like the other dogs. The others liked walks and liked getting out and seeing things but he needed to stick to the familiar. I was not so dog savvy then as now and I think I could have done better at trying to desensitize him but I still think we made the right choice. We had acreage and other dogs and he was incredibly happier hanging around our place and running with our other dogs than he ever was trying to do 'normal dog things'. He had his little familiar bubble and lived a full, happy life free of crippling anxiety.

 

I'm not saying that fearful dogs should never be taken places but sometimes adjusting what you *think* the dog needs vs what the dog actually needs and wants can help figure out a workable solution.

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My last sheltie was an extremely fearful and anxious dog. We were also his third home and got him at 11 months. Over the years he retreated further and further into his anxiety and fear and could get dangerous. I still have a scar from him on my hand and he has been gone a good 5 years now. More and more things would shut him down and freak him out the older he got. Once he backed out of his collar in a panic and we nearly lost him.

 

The solution for him ended up being just to stop trying to make him like the other dogs. The others liked walks and liked getting out and seeing things but he needed to stick to the familiar. I was not so dog savvy then as now and I think I could have done better at trying to desensitize him but I still think we made the right choice. We had acreage and other dogs and he was incredibly happier hanging around our place and running with our other dogs than he ever was trying to do 'normal dog things'. He had his little familiar bubble and lived a full, happy life free of crippling anxiety.

 

I'm not saying that fearful dogs should never be taken places but sometimes adjusting what you *think* the dog needs vs what the dog actually needs and wants can help figure out a workable solution.

 

I have had a similar experience with a sheltie mix that I adopted from a shelter when she was 3 1/2 years old. Quite anxious and fearful and occasionally aggressive (i.e. she would nip at a workman's ankle if left alone), but she would usually warm up to you and want pets if introduced properly.

 

I have been doing some recent reading on canine PTSD, and I believe that she suffers from this (I was shocked to read that the author thought that there were more cases of PTSD in rescue dogs than in military dogs). A couple of friends have asked if I considered drugs, and yes, I have, but since we live out in the country with very little ambient noise and congestion as would be found in the suburbs or city, Ritz has done quite well.

 

I have also let Ritz just 'chill' in familiar surroundings, and I don't ask a lot of her. When I first got her, I tried to do agility for 2 painful years, but it was not to be. Similar to Laurelin, I feel I am more savvy now then when I first adopted her 14 years ago (yes, she just turned 17), but honestly, I don't think that she would have ever been a 'normal' dog if I had been a much better trainer back then.

 

Jovi

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Just a slightly different perspective from a person who loves her dogs dearly. I had two different dogs that I have rehomed in the past year or so. I never thought I'd be able to do such a thing because I do love my dogs and often feel that no one else will care for/love them us much as I do. And yet in both cases I came to the realization that the dog would actually be better off in a different situation (even though anyone who knows me knows that I am a wonderful home).

 

Both dogs are very happy in their new homes. They are getting more than I could give them, for different reasons. In the first case, the new owner had lost a beloved dog to cancer and wanted to get another as a jogging partner, sometime worker, and companion to his other dog. I wasn't actually seeking to place my dog, but was contacted by a good friend, whom I trusted. I still had a very hard time letting go. But I know that the dog is happier, getting more individual attention, and having a wonderful time in his new family. I miss him, but for his sake, I know I did the right thing.

 

The other dog was creating problems with the rest of my dogs. I loved her dearly and she was very attached to me. But she was making my older dogs miserable, and I felt I owed it to them to make sure they weren't stressed/harassed in their "golden years." She is a cute little thing, shows talent on stock, and might have been a great dog for me in other circumstances. Where she is now, she'll be working, is part of a much smaller pack (opposite gender), and her owner loves her. Her owner's husband, who wasn't terribly keen on another dog, has apparently been thoroughly wrapped around her paw.

 

My point is this: It is possible to love a dog with all your heart and still make a decision you thought you'd never make. To be honest, I can't imagine a young, enthusiastic dog around an older person who is also dealing with Parkinson's. I showed horses for a woman whose mother has Parkinson's and she had enough on her plate just trying to get her day-to-day life activities done. This family did have two dogs, but the daughter (the person I rode for) was the one who raised/trained those dogs, and her mother was never expected to train or otherwise manage them. It would have been way too much for her, especially as the Parkinson's progressed.

 

I also have another dog, who has lived with me for nearly 14 years (he will be 15 next month). He was bought as a puppy for a gentlman who was suffering from cancer. Because of the man's health issues, no one really ever worked with this dog, and so he came to me unsocialized and with some serious OCD behaviors. Once his owner had died, the 70+ year old wife realized she did not have any capability to manage this young dog. I took him with the idea of rehoming him, but soon discovered that he was also fear aggressive. So here I was with a beautiful young dog who had severe behavioral issues and I realized I would have to keep him, for his own sake as much as anything. Those first 18 months of his life in an inappropriate situation pretty much set the tone for the rest of his life. He lucked out in landing with me (my vet pretty much begged me to take him because she knew I had a border collie and a border collie mix). In the time I've had him, he's bitten me severely only once, and that time was in part my fault because I did something known to trigger a bite. I made the commitment to him, but he actually has gotten worse in his fear aggression as he's aged, which makes it more difficult for me to do even basic things with him, like grooming.

 

So although you love your boy, please do consider what's truly best for him. It sounds like your mom and dad already have a lot on their plate with his Parkinson's and all the life changes that will go with that. As others have said, it could be made to work, but it will take commitment from both of your parents--and I can tell you from 14 years of experience that punishment of any sort does NOT work for fearful dogs and in fact is likely just to make them worse.

 

It's unfortunate that you are going away again. I suspect that if you were at home, you could turn this dog around with time and patience, but I wonder if your parents will even be able to devote that time and patience to him, given what else is going on in their lives.

 

I wish you and him the best, but really just want to say that although letting go can be very difficult, sometimes it really is the right thing to do for an individual dog.

 

J.

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I have to second all the wonderful things Julie said above.

 

I, too, once rehomed a dog that wasn't terribly unlike the OP's dog, though in a different way. This dog was very sensitive and, although she was fine when only I and the other 5 dogs were home, she was terrified of my now ex-husband. He was (and most likely still is) a surly man who was constantly finding fault and yelling about something. And even though he rarely had reason to yell at this particular dog, she was so terrified of his demeanor that she spent almost all the time he was at home huddling in the back of her crate.

 

I finally realized that the quality of her life had deteriorated to the point that she was miserable, so, as much as I loved her, I rehomed her with a kind, soft-spoken friend who adored her. And the dog thrived in her new home in ways that she never could have while she lived with me (unless I'd gotten my act together to leave the SOB sooner than I did B) ).

 

I really hope the OP is still reading these comments. If I understood the original post correctly, the OP has already moved away again.

 

Again, I wish everyone involved the best of luck that this can have a good outcome for all. I really do believe the dog will be better off placed in another home that has more resources to deal with his issues. And the parents would probably be better off adopting another dog they can love but that will not present the same sort of challenges for them that this one does.

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If the problems outside are generally only happening in dim light, get his eyes checked to make sure he does not have any congenital problems affecting his sight in low light. Its worth it to rule out decreased eyesight as a factor.

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