Canine Behavior/puppy afraid of vehicles
QUESTION: Hello sir we have a 3month old puppy of gsd breed and he is really unwilling to go for a walk we have tried out many things suh as giving him treat ,encourage him to ho out wid help of his seauky toys and stuffs .He goes out well until the main exist door arrives and stands there but as soon as we try to take him out he starts pulling strongly back towards home .The matter is worse in evening walk as there is high traffic and more vehicles passing by he just will not come out ,in morning he does come out after calling his name as there is no traffic we think that he s possibly afraid of vehicles or sound created by them .Plz help me to address this problem before it gets more worse it has put a huge burden on me to be watching him all the timse for his pee and potty stufffs .I have also taken leave from my work so that i can spend more tym wid him and he gains my trust but it seems that all is going in vain.HOPE YOU have understood my problem and will find a way yo fix it.
ANSWER: Thank you for your question. It does sound like your puppy is fearful of the great big, scary world outside your front gate. That's actually fairly common for young pups. The sounds of traffic and the fast movement can be very confusing and scary.
If I were living in a high traffic area and had a puppy who was very frightened, I would do two things.
First, I would spend time with him INSIDE my property gate, but with the gate open during the quietest parts of the day. I would stay near the house, but let him wander around (on a long leash so I can keep him from wandering too far) as he feels comfortable. You'll probably see him approach the front gate and then retreat from it, and then approach it again as he screws up his courage to check it out. After a while, when you are just present with him, but not putting any pressure on him, you'll probably find he is going all the way to the gate, and maybe even stepping through. The key here is patience and let PUPPY decide when he wants to move closer to the gate and when he needs more space from it.
You can use meal times or play times as part of this by scattering his food around the yard so that he is engaged in sniffing and foraging behavior. This will help to occupy his mind, and also give him an activity to do (looking for more food/goodies) in between moments when he's noticing or engaging with the front gate.
The second thing I would do for now is avoid forcing him through that front gate for a walk on that street. Instead, for his potties, I would drive him to a quieter neighborhood and walk with him there, where the traffic is lighter. Or to a nearby field or other place where you are unlikely to meet other dogs and also unlikely to see a lot of traffic.
NOTE - He's only 12 weeks old right now and will not be old enough for his rabies and final vaccines until he's 16 weeks of age. You cannot wait that long to begin addressing his fear issue as by then he will be at the end of his primary socialization period and things that are still scary to him at 16 weeks of age will likely be scary to him for life (much harder to help him get over those fears later on). But, you also need to protect his health. This is why I don't suggest a public park where lots of dogs go. I don't know the vaccine protocols in India, but if it's similar to the US, then he should have had 2 sets of puppy shots by now. He should be OK going on sidewalks and other places that are not littered with dog poop. Avoid parks where dogs congregate. But going to quiet neighborhoods to walk around will be extremely helpful as you help him build his confidence.
Then, as you're out in those quiet neighborhoods, you can focus on a counter conditioning protocol to help him learn that cars are not as scary as he thinks they are. There is a great book called The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer their Fears
by Patricia McConnell that will walk you through a very easy protocol to help build his confidence in the face of traffic.
Note, the book uses a single example (if I remember correctly, it's a dog who is afraid of a hose), but the process is the same no matter the scary thing. The steps themselves are easy to do, though it can take time and patience. Take note of how afraid your puppy is to start and don't ignore the baby-step progress as you make it. That progress may feel small, but it's real and Pup needs to learn that just one step closer to traffic is safe before he can learn that 6 steps closer is also safe. So hold tight to the baby-step progress. Keep notes of his progress so that when you feel a little frustrated or like you're not making progress, you can look back at where he started and see how far you've really come.
If there are any force-free, fear-free trainers in your area, you may wish to enlist their help for a few sessions so they can help you gain confidence in handling Puppy's leash and the nuance of timing and distance to help him the most productively.
The most important thing is to not force him into the scary thing as that will only serve to add to his fear, and eventually he may turn that fear into a defensive response and fight you at your efforts to get him through that front gate. If there are times of the day you can get him to go through the gate and he's relaxed and comfortable on those walks, then take advantage of those times and make them super happy, relaxed walks. Let him sniff everything he wants to sniff. Seed the area by dropping goodies for him to find (you can just toss kibble or treats a few feet ahead of you as you walk), let him decide if he wants to turn a corner or cross a street (keep him safe, don't let him dart across in front of traffic). Let him decide when he's ready to go home. And if he suddenly stops in his tracks and refuses to move or lays down - give him time. He's probably feeling overwhelmed and needs a couple minutes to take in what's happening and figure out that he's still safe. Sit with him. Stroke him gently. Reassure him that he's OK and nothing is going to harm him. When he's ready to move again, praise him and get moving. But don't force him. He's still young enough/small enough, that if you need to you can pick him up and carry him if he's just too frightened to get going again after a few minutes. In that case, carry him to a quieter area and then put him down and allow him to sniff around and recover from the fear and let him tell you when he's ready to get walking again.
The patience now to help him work out that he's safe will pay off bigtime later if we can help him over the fear (or at least reduce the fear) now - before he is out of puppy-hood, and specifically before he's beyond the 16-18 weeks of age mark.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of further assistance.
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Helo sir we worked out as you said and will say that there is improvement in my puppy behaviour he is a lil more willing toh come out of the front door but he is still hesistant if we call him he comes out and does his stuff and will go inside the door as soon as possibel ,walking him is still not possible due to which he aint getting the exrecise required and sir I will lyk to add one more thing that we noticed in his behaviour that he seems more comfortable coming out of front door widoud leash but as soon as we hold the leash he will lie down and refuse to move and starts biting the leash but due to traffic and stray dog its dangerous to bring him out of home widoud leash and we cant take a chance on it .so whats the next step we could do to build on his confidence so that he comes for a walk and see it as a fun thing to go for a walk and what can we add on to bring him out on leash ?
ANSWER: Thank you for the followup. It takes time (weeks) to build his confidence. It's great you're seeing some improvement so quickly. Keep being patient with him and quietly encouraging him.
While inside, play with the leash. Lay it on the floor while you feed, play and cuddle with the dog. Let him engage with it and praise him (good boy) and feed him a treat each time he does. At first it may just be looking at it from across the room. That's OK. Praise and treat when he does. Eventually he'll be willing to go up and sniff it. When he does, praise and treat.
Then start picking up, tossing him a treat and putting it down. Repeat this several times then give it a rest for a while. Repeat that exercise until he's comfortable and approaching you when you pick up the leash (praise and treat each time).
Once he's approaching you while you hold the leash, you can move on to the next step: Pick up the leash, reach it toward him, praise and treat and put the leash down. Keep at this until he is comfortable and not pulling away from you when you reach for him.
Then add in a contact. Pick up the leash, reach out and just touch the leash snap to his collar, praise and treat, put the leash down. Repeat until he's comfortable. Then...
Pick up the leash, reach the leash toward his with one hand and take hold of the collar (the D-ring) and immediately praise, let go, treat and put the leash down. Build on that until you can put the leash on, praise, treat, play and then take the leash off.
Let him drag the leash around inside and in the yard while you play with him or feed him or cuddle him so he can just get used to having it on.
Be sure that you're using an appropriately sized leash. If you are using a large, heavy leash snap meant for an adult dog, it will be uncomfortable on his puppy neck and may increase his resistance. Instead, use a thin leash and small, light leash snap at this age so that it's less cumbersome for him.
An excellent video to guide you through the protocol above is from Domesticated Manners. The video is called Boom Boom Puppy Power. In this video it's a puppy who is uncomfortable with her collar. But the process that Chirag Patel does in this video is essentially the same as you can do with the leash.
As for exercise, you can play tug and fetch and chase inside the house. If you can close the gate from the front yard to the street (if there is one) or create a gate to prevent his access to off property, you can play with him in your yard even if you can't leash him for every outing while you're helping him feel more comfortable with the leash.
P.S. I'm a ma'am, not a sir. . . ;-)
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialiast
MAPP 2016 candidate
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hello mam I would like to infrom that my puppy is doing well in morning he seem to be at ease will walk around very confidently wid traffic around sometimes he does stop but when we call he will start following we are doing all that u have mentioned but the main problem arises in the evening walk he comes to the front gate will come few steps forward and will go straight back to home we just cant figure out what's wrong becuse if he was uncomfrtable wid vehicles he wont come out in morning but he is happie to go for a walk at that time just dont knw what make him afraid coming in evening he will keep shouting at home for play so we are willing to spend as much time wid him .just wanna know what do you make of it mam your help is really needed because i wanna take him for walk and love him to bits please help us address this issue...
Dogs are surprisingly good at making connections and associations. It is entirely possible that there was an evening walk where something scary happened - a car backfired or someone accidentally stepped on his toe - maybe right while a large/loud vehicle passed - or any number of other things that could have scary him on an evening walk. And so while he's figured out that walks in daylight seem to be mostly safe, he's still worried about walks at night.
This is a common thing - for dogs to be concerned about an environment in one situation (e.g. night time), but not another (daytime) and it can be difficult for the humans to figure out exactly what is upsetting the dog.
The reality is, it doesn't really matter what the specific cause is so long as you respect that your puppy is currently uncomfortable and you are patient and gentle and kind and quietly encouraging, but not forcing him into those situations until he feels ready.
If you're normally walking him at 7pm when there's a lot of traffic, try shifting that walk to 10 pm when there's less traffic. Make it a game. Be joyful and playful and have tons of super tasty treats such as chicken or cheese on hand to offer him (teeny bites so you can offer them very frequently).
Please remember, though, that he's only just a puppy and puppies are often overwhelmed when faced with a lot of stimulation that is difficult to process. It's not just the visual of vehicles flying past and people walking by. it's the sound of all those different engines, brakes squeaking, horns honking, people talking or maybe shouting, footsteps, the crunch of feet landing on leaves or other things that might be on the ground. It's the smell of the gasoline and perfumes and sweat and food if there's any nearby as well as local creatures that might be hiding in bushes along the path. It's the smell of other dogs who have recently been by. For all we know, there's another dog in your neighborhood who pees on a tree just outside your front gate and that dog's smell is making your dog nervous, and maybe that dog happens to walk past your house just a few minutes before your evening walk, so his pee is nice and fresh and it's scaring your pup.
There are so many things that we humans can't even perceive that could be effecting the environment in the evening and making it different from that same space in the morning. Shifting the time of day so it's later or earlier by at least 2 hours might help. Or driving him to another, quieter neighborhood may help him feel safer.
Another thing to remember is that if he suddenly stops on a walk, he's not being stubborn. Most likely something has startled him or scared him or he just needs a minute or two to take in and comprehend something in his environment. When I'm walking a puppy who suddenly stops, I usually sit down next to them and just wait for them to be ready to go. It may be as soon as I sit, or it may be 5 or 6 minutes before the dog is ready to continue the walk. If the dog suddenly bolts back toward home, I will help the puppy "escape" to a place where the world should (I think) feel a little safer and then stop us there and try to relax and recover before actually going inside. This might be just a few steps or it might be all the way back to inside your front gate - on your own property - and then have what we call a "treat party" where you scatte a dozen or so treats around, dropping them one at a time in quick succession so Puppy can just move from one to the other, sniffing around trying to find where the next one fell. You can even scatter a handful at a time. Using a soft and playful voice, cheer him on and encourage him to sniff out those treats and praise him each time he finds one. Make it a genuine party for him.
As he gains confidence, you might try a treat party just outside your gate instead of retreating all the way back into your yard. And then just a few feet from your gate, then maybe in front of your neighbor's house before returning all the way to your house...
But all of this will take time. You've reached out 3 times in less than a month and it sounds like you're making tremendous progress. I've seen this issue take 6 months or longer to overcome. Hold tight to the fantastic progress you're making and don't be discouraged when you reach a plateau. Just give him some time (days or a couple of weeks) at that plateau to see that nothing scary is happening (and hope that no car backfires right next to him to really scare him during that time) and move on as he tells you he is ready. If you force him to walk when he's truly terrified, you will heighten his fear of that situation and increase his resistance, rather than help him enjoy it.
The other option is that he will turn "off" behaviorally. He'll walk with you, but only because he's being forced. There will be no joy. His body will be stiff, his tail will likely be down or tucked to his belly, his head will be lowered and he will not be engaging with the world. He may be hyper vigilant in that he's constantly looking around and his ears are constantly moving as he's taking in all the sounds - but that is the image of a frightened dog, not one who is comfortable nor confident. We are aiming for comfortable and confident and that can take time and patience. But it sounds like you're well on the road.
Be patient. Change the evening walk to 2 hours earlier or 2 hours later, or drive him to a different location that is quieter and has less traffic and see if that makes a difference. Be ready with super tasty (by his standards) treats to rain down on him if something scary happens. And offer him one at a time periodically when he's doing really well and is showing confidence and interest in going for the walk. Help him escape if he needs that, or just sit and wait with him while he takes in the surroundings if he needs to stop and take it all in. In the long run, this kind of patience and encouragement now will likely result in a more confident dog for years to come. Just don't rush him. Let him tell you when he's ready. You're already seeing great progress in a very short time. Let him take as much time as he needs to get over the scary night-time walk.
I wish you the best of luck!
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
MAPP 2016 candidate,
Tufts Cummings Veterinary School of Medicine