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Canine Behavior/fear, anxiety


We had four dogs. Mother 7 years old and her male and female offspring at  5 years. We alsi have a smaller dog. Three months ago, not knowing the gate had been opened, they left the yard and wondered off. The mother and daughter were struck by a car on main road and died immediatly. The son ran off after it happened and we found him a mile away. For awhile he seemed to search for them when i let him in the yard. Barking in the direction of where they had ran. I havent been walking him due to the bad weather but hace taken him on car rides with no problem and into the pet store. Yesterday we took him to the park and started off fine but while on the car path a car drove near and he got scared and tried to run. He dragged me back to the car and on way home he tried to bury his fave under my arm. Later that night i tried to walk him again. He was fearful and whining after a short diatance so i brought him home. Today i put him in car for a ride and now when i got to the corner of main road he again got scared whereas ive mentioned car rides were never a problem. Now i hace no clue what to do for him.

This is a genuine tragedy.  Unfortunately, this "male offspring" witnessed the death of the other two dogs and has a strong conditioned response to cars.

Do NOT bring him, or force him, into a situation where he will see MANY CARS at the same time (if you can.)  You need to work very hard on counter conditioning and avoid any (if possible) repeat of being flooded (many cars passing at once, or even one car passing at high speed in close proximity).

First:  teach "attention" as seen here:

It shouldn't take more than 30 (at most) "trials" for the dog to "get it" and this must be done in a totally safe place, then taken outdoors in another safe place, then used in places where other dogs or cars might be present: IF HE FAILS one of these exterior "tests", start over in the house in a safe place for a few days.

Second:  until he obtains the cue that "attention" is rewarded and has a conditioned response to same, IF you are walking him you must observe him VERY carefully.  You will see subtle body signals: ears will go sideways or back, tail will either come up dramatically or droop dramatically, hackles may rise, dog may pant, eyes will roll, he will be licking his lips.  Don't wait for full blown fight/flight response.  Instead, STOP walking forward (casually); if he responds to "attention" heavily reward and start walking in a large circle, left, right.  Even if he does not respond to the "attention" training (at first), walking a dog in a circle changes his brain wave patterns as well as your own.  While doing this, use a happy, upbeat voice, say "yay, yay, come on, come on, yay" as you go.  The circling and vocal encouragement will disconnect the fight/flight response and engage cognition.  As soon as he is GIVING ATTENTION, stop, handful of treats (low fat string cheese, chicken franks), go forward until the next encounter.

Third: actively avoid any venue that elicits fear while you are working on attention and counter conditioning.  If dog park is near car paths, avoid them.  If you feel you need to walk the dog off your property, put him in the car first.  Sit.  Do nothing.  As soon as he relaxed, offer treat, start car.  Go about two blocks.  Take dog out of parked car and walk back home. If he is in a "hurry", just STOP.  Wait until he is calm, circle as described above, go forward.  Encourage verbally so long as he is not visibly fearful or desperately in need to get home.  You can increase the length/distance of this walk by driving a little bit further every day SO LONG AS THE DOG does not demonstrate ANY anxiety regarding the drive itself or the walk back to "home".

Try this for the next few days.  You should see some slight improvement but it might take some time (possibly even months) for this dog to lose his conditioned fear response.  Don't hesitate to use followup feature for any questions.

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

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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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