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Islanddog

Afraid of treats, rescue, had him for 5 weeks

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Ooh boy, from joy and progress to this.

So I got Sonic January 12th, and he quickly settled in, so I thought. Had a bit of hand-shyness, so sudden or overhand movements made him leery, but he caught on to treat training pretty quick, so I thought.

We were using lots of treats from the get go, but for ordinary things like look aways from the cats (we have 3, 2 are very nervous) and loose leash walking.

He's great in the house, reactive to dogs (very, outdoors).

So I'm trying to train him to at least do a mini-obedience routine (anything, really) to have some kind of re-direct, or communication with him elsewhere, but now I can't train in the house because he keeps getting scared.

I'll be training, mark & treat, and he'll be all excited happy and then suddenly back away from the hand with treat. At that point, there is nothing else to do. He won't take the treat even if I roll it to him. He doesn't want anything to do with me.

So I end the session, obviously. I try to figure out what the trigger was, but can't except that it is either my hand with the treat, or the treat, or the house, or me, well, have no clue.

We were having fun before, he was playing tug in the house, and chasing balls, and having a blast earning treats.

He still plays tug outdoors (in the yard, when he's in the mood, so tugging is getting better, he likes this game).

He still takes treats outdoors, so I can still use treats for counter-conditioning, recalls (I'm using a long-line) and very briefly, I lure him into heel position or maybe get him to sit, and in the yard, also down, but I'm really afraid the hand-shy thing will carry over outdoors leaving me with nothing so I'm not doing much training.

Worse yet, yesterday, I tried doing the treat thing with no criteria, me sitting in a chair, and rolling treats his way so I wouldn't trigger a reaction, and after about 6 treats he backed out the room and peered at me from behind furniture. So I weirded him out with that too.

We are signed up for a special "High Anxiety" class but that is weeks away.

My next guess is to just click and treat (have a one treat training session) at odd times during the day, and see if it leaves him asking for more.

I am hoping it's still a settling in thing, he is a rescue from a 3rd world country, so probably has been hit or something, has been put through major changes and losses (he was a loved pet there and had complete freedom vs on leash only with me), but it's back-sliding that is worrying me, more than the behaviour, as in why was he getting all nutty and playful and fun with progression from week one to week three and then stop wanting to play (in the house). I hope time will heal this, any thoughts?

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You may be seeing the true personality of the dog surfacing, as is often the case with rescue dogs. Sometimes it is only a week, or a couple of months or up to 6 months.

 

I wish I had an answer. I will think on it because I have fostered an almost feral, puppy-mill dog, but nothing pops into my head right now. Hopefully others will have some good ideas.

 

Just throwing these out there: Are you looking at him when you treat? Maybe averting your eyes will help? Or turning to the side so he doesn't feel your pressure (eyes, body position). Have you considered just taking a break from training? It sounds like you have done a lot in a short time. When I fostered the puppy-mill dog, I did NOTHING with her for the first month except walk her on a long line (I let her go pretty much where she wanted), fed her, and would throw treats at her without asking for anything or without marking the behavior. Maybe he still needs to de-stress a little more.

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I am a first time owner so take my comments with a grain of salt. Juno, who is now just over 2 years old, is scared of a few things. For example, she is scared of toys that have noise makers in them and she is scared of one part of the park I take her to near my mother's house. About 8 months ago, however, she seemed to be scared of everything. She wouldn't go out the front door, she just about jumped out of her skin with noises I could hardly hear, etc. I can't remember the exact duration of this period but she was like this for several months. Training was near on impossible. I would have her in a nice heel and a slight noise would make her lose all concentration and there was no getting it back. I just did what I could during this period (started around a year and a half) and kept at it. I really thought that I would never have a normal day again but once things started to turn around the changes came quickly and almost all the fears dissappeared. I know this situation is way different with yours but I offer it just as encouragement. From reading this forum over the last two years it seems to me that many Border Collies have fears, of different degrees and duration, but most come out of it. I think if you just keep giving them love and don't rush them to be on your agenda, things turn out okay. I am sure you will be getting lots of good advice here and from your Anxiety class but evaluate that advice carefully. When Juno was at her worst I got advice from one source saying I should treat her heavily when noises occurred but I also got advice that I should just act as if nothing was happening when the noises occurred. As it turned out both pieces of advice were right. Initially, Juno was in such a state I had to comfort her with hugs and treats, but as her fears subsided it seemed best just to ignore the noises.

 

Good luck. I know how frustrating this must be.

cheers

Bill

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Thanks Bill, yes, I'm mostly looking for 'this too shall pass' encouragement, so your story is helpful.

Jovi, I think what you said, averting eyes, looking away, body posture all, is a very good idea. As much as I can, I do want to take a break from training, unfortunately I can't exercise him very well without getting him out on leash. I'll try to get him out on the long line (I have to drive somewhere for that) and he does love recall games (chasing me) on the long line. Thinking on it, right from the first, he didn't like being in a close position with us (in training) which is odd, as he absolutely loves physical contact, body rubs, back scratches, cuddles, but it could be the intense focus (including my intense focus) that is upsetting anything that comes close to the 'training' category. I need to turn myself down a bunch of notches, sounds like the long wait to get into that class might be a good thing then.

Thanks, I'm just feeling lonely about all this. Thought I knew my stuff with training until this popped up.

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The worst mistake that I made with my rescue Border Collie was getting her out in public too soon and in classes too soon. She was overwhelmed and it added to her stress and anxiety making matters much worse. And she was afraid of the clicker for several months, so I did not use it.

 

Your dog may be associating the nose from the clicker with the treat from your hand.

 

You may want to consider removing all training pressure from the dog for awhile.

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Catch 22 here is that we have a tiny front yard only property, so just going pee means a leashed walk in public, narrow road, traffic, barking dogs in the distance, leashed dogs, dog smells. I'm trying to avoid the fence fighting dogs, but there are also window dogs (you know, the ones that carry on behind glass and make quite a bit of noise. If I avoid all, I need to keep him indoors. I hoping it isn't at the point were I need to call the rescue and tell them it's not working out (as in, I can't provide him the environment he requires), because all exercise and pee breaks happen in public.

So I'm trying to figure out how to dial things down but still get him out and exercised and having fun, especially the last bit.

The worst mistake that I made with my rescue Border Collie was getting her out in public too soon and in classes too soon. She was overwhelmed and it added to her stress and anxiety making matters much worse. And she was afraid of the clicker for several months, so I did not use it.

 

Your dog may be associating the nose from the clicker with the treat from your hand.

 

You may want to consider removing all training pressure from the dog for awhile.

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There are forests, so yes. But the pee walks are out our front door. I'll be treating myself and he to trails more.

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I think you need to ignore him. When you need to leash him up and take him somewhere, just do it. As quickly and quietly as you can, without any coaxing of any kind. No chatter at all.

 

Let him have some decompression time to get used to all the changes. Let him have some autonomy, in that he chooses whether or not to engage with you or his surroundings. Taking him on more walks in quiet places might help, but even there, keep your interactions with him to a minimum.

 

When he approaches you, keep your response very low key. One 'good doggie' in a soft voice, one treat - if he'll take it. If he doesn't, no big deal.

 

There's a good chance he's totally overwhelmed by all the changes and all the attention you're paying to him. Give him a lot of space. Some dogs, (some people, too) have a kind of social anxiety thing. Any engagement/attention can be too much, even if it's very positive.

 

I had to do this approach with my departed Shoshone. It took her a long time to get used to living in a house with humans, and having social demands to deal with. She was never the life of the party, and she was a quirky beast to the end, but over time she became much more comfortable and would initiate play.

 

Good luck!

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I agree with taking as much of a break from training and expectations as you can for the time being. Also averting your gaze and even yawning.

 

And I'd also try increasing the value of whatever treats you're using. Try bit's of raw or cooked meats, maybe tossing them away from you for a while.

 

But definitely find the most high value treats you can come up with.

 

ETA: Great advice from Urge to Herd. ;)

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Thanks, will do. One thing all this advice is helping with, is the mystery of 'why?' and 'why now?'. I think I wasn't all that important to him, so the treat thing was fun, playing was fun, in the meantime, he's figured out I control everything (I'd rather not, but that's the circumstance, ie, leash, long-line or locked up in our house (which is tiny) so now the pressure is on no matter how fun the game is/was. And, I'm rather animated and get excited about training, so it's just all snowballed into really not good.

I'll work out how to give him more autonomy at least as much as I can. He would have been used to dogs, cats, people, kids, and traffic from his home country, along with having choices about where and when to deal with these things. I feel like a prison guard when I think of it in that way, though, and I can't let him out of prison. Sucks.

Hopefully me cooling it for a bit will help him out, then.

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You haven't had him very long, and as you said he has gone from being a street dog to a house dog. We just had a lovely foster puppy, he was 10 months old and spent about 6 weeks with us. It was only in the last week or so would I have started training him in a formal sense, if he had been staying. He spent the rest of the time learning to be a house dog, no pressure, just getting comfortable, learning about regular meals, being polite, learning to get cuddles and touched, his name etc. by the time he left he was very trusting and comfortable with us, and we could have got down to learning some fun things but rescue dogs need time to learn the new rules that they are living under.

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I feel your pain. When we took Shoshone in, she had been living at a rescue w/her brother. They had a very intense bond, having been locked up with only each other for company in dreadful conditions for a couple years.

 

We had another bc at the time, who was timid, and I thought the same things that worked for Sam would work for Shoshone. After a couple months of getting nowhere - Shonie would leave a room if either myself or hubby walked in - an excellent trainer told me to Just Stop, basically the same advice I just wrote out for you. It worked. Can't remember how long it took, only that I stopped expecting anything from her and when she first approached me, it was like a miracle.

 

And the 'why' and 'why now' maybe just because he's reached his limit of what he can take in. He may turn out to be a very happy dog, and get quite comfortable with you. And he may be a sort of doggy introvert, like Gibbs. Gibbs likes attention, and likes doing stuff with me, but he gets to a point where he needs his peace and quiet. Being an introvert myself, I quite understand that!

 

And yes, you need to keep him safe, and may need to vet him or something of that nature. That's why the recommendation to do such things very matter-of-factly, with no fuss. It's much better that way for the dog.

 

Best of luck with Sonic - I hold good hopes for you both!

 

Ruth and Gibbs

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Thanks so much. Talked to my husband too, and as much as we can, will let Sonic decide. I think he is an outgoing dog, just have that feeling, but that I am overbearing in voice and attitude, which worked great with Dynamo (ha, the name says it all, she was a tough little nut) and now I have different dog. I need to learn my inside voice, and be softer, and stop trying to 'fix' things, because I think that's what I've been doing and even with treats and toys one can be demanding and Sonic's called me up on that.

Thanks all, I'm breathing now, slowly.

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Way to go! ^^^^^ Sonic has an excellent owner!!! Some people are not able to set themselves aside and do what's best for the dog.

 

Keep us updated, please.

 

Ruth and Gibbs, who is lying peacefully in the other room sound asleep, after I took him on a long and noisy walk this morning.

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I'll try to get him out on the long line (I have to drive somewhere for that) and he does love recall games (chasing me) on the long line. Thinking on it, right from the first, he didn't like being in a close position with us (in training) which is odd, as he absolutely loves physical contact, body rubs, back scratches, cuddles, but it could be the intense focus (including my intense focus) that is upsetting anything that comes close to the 'training' category. I need to turn myself down a bunch of notches, sounds like the long wait to get into that class might be a good thing then.

 

Thanks, I'm just feeling lonely about all this. Thought I knew my stuff with training until this popped up.

You have said several things here that are important.

 

First: you may have known 'your stuff' with training, but you are not facing a training issue. This is a relationship issue. Definitely take a break from training to reduce the stress on Sonic. Also, reduce the eye and body pressure - as you have already committed to, but just wanted to say that it is a step in the right direction, IMHO.

 

To build your relationship, Sonic has given you wonderful cues about what he values - play time with you. So go ahead, and play like a little 3 year old and act like a demented chicken. Whatever gets him in a playful mood. Get those chase games going, then drop to the ground and give him a belly/back rub. Let him jump on you without consequence.

 

I would try to bring in a short training session in 2-3 weeks just to see how he responds. When I say 'short', I mean maybe 60 seconds - max. Set a timer if you have to. Reward with play. He may value play more than the best treat. This is something you will have to learn about him - what does he value? Does it change with the situation? Can we build on play so that he values treats too?

 

Another comment: I occasionally catch videos of an excellent trainer working with her rescue dog. [she has other dogs too, but this one was a rescue.] She has had this dog for at least 3 years. She trains with the dog in 'play mode', and until recently, has never had a training session as long as 5 minutes. For me, the take-away lesson is to keep training sessions fun and very, very short for the 'special' dogs.

 

Good Luck. Sonic will really help you expand your horizons as a trainer/behaviorist if you listen to him (and occasionally come here for advice.) ;)

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My very first Border Collie thought working for treats was beneath him. He rarely took them during training sessions. What he really wanted was praise and play. For high value rewards, he got big praise and a squeaker covered in rabbit fur that he could "kill." Sometimes he just wanted a "good dog!" and a pat on the chest. Other times we would dance around together. This is how I trained him for agility, flyball, obedience and tracking.

 

Spend some time bonding and figuring out what makes him tick. Once you do, I am sure you can have a blast with training.

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Just to chime in, having worked a fair bit with scaredy rescue dogs, I agree with Urge to Herd, and think you are taking the right approach to back off the pressure. And let him teach you. I learned more from fostering frightened dogs than from all the training classes I took.

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This dog I have now (taken from a hoarding case) was terrified of toys for a full five weeks. She would walk a wide berth around them. If I moved one, she would run away. At the same time, I couldn't teach her "sit" because if I moved to put a hand on her, she'd get terrified - I could tell that training was just a scary thing for her, so I backed off.

 

Then, one day, she started moving toys when I wasn't home. (They'd start out in one place and be four feet away when I got home.) After that, she rapidly fell into "toys are great" mode, and became a ferocious player. She figured out "sit" when I learned to mark the word and treat her for randomly sitting. Within a couple weeks, she was sitting near any human she met, in hopes of getting a treat.

 

For Cricket, it was like all the dominoes had to line up, but once they were set, they all toppled at once. She still doesn't relish head pats from me, and doesn't tolerate them from anyone else, though.

 

I love that you're posting your progress and struggles here, because someday in the future, you'll be able to look back and say, "Oh, I had forgotten how scared she was in the beginning and how far she's come!" :)

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I have an Australian Koolie who I took on after he was rescued from an abusive home. He would pee himself if I so much as looked at him and also if I pointed a finger at him. He was petrified of toys and especially if they squeaked. He eventually started looking like he might play tug but any wrong movement would weird him out. He seemed to be always wetting himself poor thing.

 

So I just went along at his pace, not putting too much pressure on him, building a relationship, doing some training. He is now a great agility dog and he works my sheep. He is still afraid of squeaky toys but is confident in every other situation and is a real love bug with people despite his horrible start. He loved training but would sometimes become stressed if he thought I was putting pressure on him. Now days he just has lots of fun and loves to keep going as he knows I am not pressuring him and he can handle perceived pressure much better and is not as easily put off.

 

With agility if he got half way round the course and then started to panic I would just have a cuddle do something positive and take him out, the judges were great and some of them bent over backwards to be helpful. It took several years but now he just loves heading out on the agility course with me and is in Advanced and Masters and is also sought after as a pairs partner because he is so reliable. He just loves working sheep.

 

It has been quite a journey and he still has a few hangups but he is pretty good.

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Thanks for the positive stories. I need them, I need to know this can get better.

 

Thanks for the advice--honestly, a sounding board. The unbelievable relief I felt when everyone advised me to 'cool it', 'back off' and 'slow down' tells me exactly who in this partnership was getting stressed out. Sonic's not a skittish as some of the dogs you are talking about, I think he came to me with plenty of street-smarts--a street wise dog and in environments that he is at home in, he is awesome (and probably why he does so very well indoors with folks at the old age home. He knows how to negotiate through legs and people (ex-apartment dog)). And here he is in Canada and everything is turned upside down. Streets smarts are pretty useless stuck on a leash.

 

So I am backing off, and as for training, as soon as the words "I must _____", "I should _____", "I need to _____" pop into my head, I think, nope, don't do that. The pressure starts with me. So I'm trying to relax, and not beat myself up for failures. So this morning I take him for a quiet walk and on my return trip, there is a dog in a yard. He starts whining and carrying on (and walking on two legs which is actually pretty funny) and I just walk on by calmly and when I get far enough away, some quiet treats, and work him a little closer as long as he's having fun, and more treats, and no demands and then return home. (thankfully this dog was not being aggressive, and Sonic was more excited than upset anyway).

So he had a good morning walk.

He's been acting normal in the house, until Simba (young siamese) flung himself at the window and dumped himself violently upside down on a potted plant. Sonic leaped and landed four-footed on top of seated me. The good news is that I could calmly stroke him, hug him, and feel him calming down in a nice downward graph with no lasting heebie jeebies there.

Will definitely keep playing games he likes, especially when he asks and giving room (time and space) for him to ask. I'm working on leaving him alone and letting him come to me (which he does as he loves physical touch), he still loves treats (it's my "I have to _____" training sessions that break down). And I'm really paying attention to my voice and behaviour, but I think it's easy to know when I'm pressuring him because it happens when I'm feeling pressured. (yeah, get stressed out easilly)

So it really helped to talk things out here. Thanks.

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Wow! What a great success story about your taking all the advice to heart and seeing how you were contributing to the problem. That's really hard for a lot of people to see, admit and actually do something about. Kudos to you!

 

And it sounds like you're already seeing some pretty great results.

 

I think you and Sonic will be just fine. :D

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I am completely unqualified to be giving advice here, but I agree with the advice everyone else has given. My question is, would crate training be helpful? That way, if Sonic is feeling overwhelmed he can go to his space and feel safe. Zero pressure, enclosed space (with open door).

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