Canine Behavior/Dog is scared of floor fan
Hi Jody my name is Claire. I have a mix-breed dog named Honey and she's 6 years old. We adopted her when she was 2. The area we live in has been VERY hot this summer and because of that Honey has been tired, sluggish and it's sad because normally she's so happy and playful. So 2 days ago (Tuesday) I got a fan for her. It's one of those tall, thin ones that I can set at different speeds and to rotate if I want to, and I thought she'd love it. I thought she might be a little weary of it, because she is sometimes with new things so I didn't turn it on at first, and I put a dog biscuit on it hoping she'd associate the fan with things she likes. When I turned it on several minutes later she ran. I tried to soothe her- first I turned it off then I petted her and talked to her. When she calmed down I decided to wait and not turn it on anymore. However, every time she walked in the room with the fan she would go out of her way to not go near it. Yesterday, when I got her food I put her food and water bowl in front of it, without about a foot's space between. She came to the bowl and stood at the side so that she wasn't very near, grabbed a mouthful, and went to the other side of the room to chew it up. And repeat til the bowls empty. I even scooted the bowl a little further away!
This morning I put a blanket she likes over the fan so she can't see it, and hopefully would think that since, I don't know, the fan didn't eat the blanket or something, that she would be safe from it too. But she's still avoiding it, tucking her tail when near it, etc.
The only good reason I can think of for her fear, and it might actually be valid, is her life before we got her. We rescued her from a shelter, where she'd been for a month. Before that, we have reason to believe she was abused. Like I said earlier, at the time, she was 2. She'd already had 2 litters of puppies. The people at the shelter said her ex-owner brought her in on a chain and she was so think you could see her ribs. She also apparently had a really bad name, so bad the shelter people wouldn't tell us. So right now I'm thinking that her abuse before she came to lives with us (and we love her very much) has something to do with her fan-fear. Could that be accurate?
Whether it is or isn't, I want Honey to adapt to the fan. If you think that it's best not to, I definitely won't, I really just want her to be happy. And I thought this would, and hopefully eventually will. She loves sticking her head out the window in the car and feeling the breeze and I thought this would give her the same feeling. I've attached a picture so you can see what she looks like, because I didn't know if that would help. She's pretty small too, about up to the knee on all fours.
I hope all of this was helpful enough, and I hope you can help me. Thank you so much.
Thank you for your question. There are a great many number of reasons that dogs act skittish about things from people reaching out to touch them to new objects in their space. That she was owner relinquished and arrived on a chain and very thin suggests neglect, certainly, but unless there is an actual history, we don't know that she was physically abused. A name, is a name. I've heard some pretty horrible names for dogs that are very well loved, so I wouldn't put too much stock in that. BUT.... neglected, she probably was, and that could mean that in her puppyhood she never got introduced to fans. Dogs go through a main socialization phase between the ages of 3 weeks to about 17 weeks. If the dog doesn't encounter something (in this case a floor fan) during that window, but then come across one later, then the dog may find it rare enough that it's worth being wary of, or even downright frightened of it.
So, it's probable that Honey never met a floor fan before, or at least not up close. You are totally on the right track for helping her get to know the fan and feel better about it. I have a dog who is very sensitive about the environment as well. Here's how I deal with similar things when he's faced with something I failed to introduce him to back as a puppy...
I would unplug the fan and lay it on the floor. Just leave it there, off to the side, but not tucked into a corner. Out of your walking path, but easily accessible. Leave it there for a few days. Let her explore it on her terms. I might play games near it or feed her near it, but keeping enough distance that she doesn't feel like she needs to stretch to get to the food and then go away. So, if that means feeding her across the room, that's OK. I would encourage her to just look at the fan while it's laying there. If she looks at it, I'd tell her "yes" and give her a bit of a favorite treat (cheese or hot dog or chicken/turkey are frequently favorites for dogs). It should be better than just the store bought dog biscuits. We want Honey to think this fan is the absolute BEST thing to come along since the invention of balls!
So, every time Honey shows any interest, from glancing at to moving toward the fan, I would mark that behavior with a quiet, but enthusiastic "Yes!" and an awesome bite of food. When she's willing to go near it, I'd start to plant treats near (about 6 inches away) and closer. Just load the area with treats so that she can go over and get something great - which encourages her to linger near the fan as she gathers all the yummies. When she seems ready, you can even put several bits of food directly on the fan. Make sure the fan won't wobble at all as she touches it. If it moves, she's bound to freak out about it and that'll set you back a bit. So lay it in a way that it doesn't move - that may be face down and it may require removing the feet if possible.
When she's comfortable there, have her move well away from the fan, and then you can lay the fan in your lap. Invite her over to you to get yummy treats. You may have to start by tossing the treats to her across the room, but as she gains confidence, you can toss them closer and closer to your self.
Then, while she's in another room, stand the fan up and repeat. It should be faster now, but may take a bit of time for her to build up the courage to go over now that this "fan monster" is standing tall, hovering over her... Encourage and quietly praise any willingness to engage with the fan in the standing position - even if it's just looking at it from across the room. Build up to putting yummies on the feet of the fan, again making sure it won't wobble while she's touching it (that may mean you're holding the fan still).
Once she's comfortable with the fan OFF but standing up, I would turn the fan to face the wall and turn it on the lowest setting, no rotating, and then leave it on 24/7. Go through the whole process again, praise/reward looking at the fan and any movement toward the fan at all. Building up the reward to more bits of food as she gets closer, or lingers near the fan. When she's comfortable with that, you can shift the aim of the fan to be into the room, but not directly toward her. I'd aim it at just one small area of the room, where she can get to it if she wants to, but where she can avoid it if she wants to.
It may be that the blowing air isn't pleasant to her, but a more diffused air movement feels better to her. I know that's counter to her joy of the car ride with her head out the window, but she "knows" that sensation on her face in that circumstance and in the house it's totally different. And, in the car, it's only her head/face and not her whole body. So, she may just prefer a less direct angle.
All of these exercises are about giving Honey time to get comfortable with the new and strange object, and allowing her to tell you when she's ready for more, rather than risk pushing her too quickly to face what clearly makes her nervous. It may only take an evening to go through the whole thing, or it may take a few weeks or months. It all depends on the level of fear she's experiencing about it.
In the meantime, dogs love frozen things when they're hot out. You could pick up some ice cube trays and create frozen doggie delectables for her. You could do something really easy such as a 50-50 water and chicken broth (or beef or vegetable if she likes those). Or you could get Popsicle making containers and put things in with that 50-50 mixture. You can include favorite treats, including blue berries, melon, dog treats, cooked chicken or beef, etc. And then freeze it all together in the Popsicle container. Or you could do the same thing using Kong toys or even Marrow bones. Mixing together kibble, treats including dog-safe human foods, and a soft binding ingredient such as apple sauce, pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree, nonfat yogurt, cottage cheese, peanut butter or cream cheese, etc. Mix it all together and stuff the Kong or marrow bone and freeze it. You could have several premade and ready, then just grab one to give her as an activity that will also cool her off during the heat of the day.
If you are using something with food in it, remember to adjust her regular meal rations accordingly to avoid over feeding. We don't want Honey to get obese while trying to stay cool during the hot summer months.
Good luck! Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist