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Canine Behavior/extreme shyness and fear


QUESTION: We would like to foster a 2 year old small dog from our local shelter. We have 2 mini daschunds and one cat at home with us. There is not a lot known about the little guy we want to foster. He came into the shelter matted with urine and feces. He appears to have had little to no humane contact. He is not aggressive, but is terrified of people. He does respond to other dogs and will come out of his create  and follow the dog after a while. He will let us pet him when we go to visit and again will eventually come out when you leave a treat for him. We did attempt to pick him up out of the create and hold him. He will sit still for about 2-3 minutes than goes off the deep end wanting back in the create. What can we do to help this little guy? how should we go about getting him to trust and feel comfortable with us. Needless to say he is not toilet trained at all and will go in his create. I did notice that yesterday while visiting he did come out of his create to void. I felt this was good as it leads me to think that he would rather not soil his bed. Should we bring him home with us or spend some more time at the shelter with him first ??

ANSWER: Unless this is a no-kill shelter with experienced volunteers there to socialize the dogs, and hopefully a pro bono behaviorist available, get the dog OUT of that facility.

Having said that: don't expect miracles.  The dog is most likely bonded to other dogs (which is why he "follows" them, but you really do not know how YOUR dogs are going to react to this, let alone your cat, do you?)  He was neglected, unfairly confined (which is why he eliminates in his crate: learned helplessness), not at all socialized, does not know how to "play", does not comprehend human "affection" (picking up a dog or hugging a dog is a very fearful experience for a dog that has not been habituated to humans at an early age), and his house training may never, ever be up to par.  

Give the dog his crate area at home and then leave the rest to him.  It will take, probably, months for him to even slightly adjust to being in a home environment.  Let him follow your other dogs outdoors and he may very well begin to eliminate out there because they are doing so, but expect multiple "accidents" and a dirty crate or bed on a regular basis.  This won't be easy by any means.

The absolute worst situations can produce the absolute best dog companions.  I have done a great deal of pro bono work for no-kill shelters and have seen miracles, literally.  But it takes time, saintly patience, and a constant  willingness to learn.

Get the dog home and situated.  Then report back using followup feature.  We can attempt to work together once we know what we're dealing with.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you very much...

We have "Max" at home now and will keep you up to date on how he is progressing.  

Max came from a high kill shelter in Kentucky.  Two weeks ago he was transferred to Helping Paws in Woodstock Illinois which is a non for profit, no kill shelter. He was neutered 5 days ago and has bad urine burns on his skin which is being treated with antibiotics.

So far, he follows our dogs around the house, but then just wants back in his crate after a bit.  

He did walk around the outside of the house with our dogs, and seemed to be relaxed and did go potty outdoors.  It took a while for him to figure out how follow our dogs into the house, then figured it out himself.  But also had a few mistakes within the next hour in the house.

He is on antibiotics for another 10 days and is sleepy most of the time.  

That about covers his first night with us.

I will keep you up to date as we pick up on more of his behaviors.

Thanks so much....

EXCELLENT beginning!  Put house training on the back burner...dogs learn by observation of other dogs.  Right now, he's far too stressed to take food treats from you (unless he was starved on the streets - and in that case, you'd be rewarding any condition he was in, even fear).  If he's going to come around in this department, it will take months.  But you've made a wonderful and loving sacrifice here, I am proud of you lol.  Keep in touch.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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