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Canine Behavior/Reggie the neurotic shepherd rescue


We have been happily fostering White GSD for several years and own a couple as well. Several months ago we took in Reggie who's previous life is a total mystery to us. We know he had been abandoned in a home for quite some time (week or two)when his parents skipped town. Then he spent several months at a shelter where we got him since they were unable to get him adopted. Anyway, he is a very unique case to us ...we haven't dealt with "this" before. About Reggie:

Hi Ginny,

I suppose he is as ready as he will ever be :)  Unfortunately, he will probably never be much better than he is now. We have had him almost 6 months and while a few things have gotten better, there are many more obstacles for him.

He has warmed up to us - this took a couple of months
He tries to play with the other dogs on rare occasions - he is not aggressive with other dogs or people
He seems to enjoy toys, bones, treats, though it's rare, (and slippers, throw pillows, socks etc. :)) but he is not destructive
He is house broken. For the first couple of months we had to put him on a leash in order for him to make the journey through the house to the door. Now he almost goes out with the other dogs.
He is sweet, gentle, and loves us.
Occasionally he will approach with a favorite toy - he loves the game "I'm gonna get your toy Reggie" and he runs away tail wagging and runs right back to me to do it again.
He loves being brushed, petted by us but it only lasts about 10-20 minutes a day.

He "hides" in his spot almost 24 hours a day. His spot is a dog bed under our sofa table against the farthest wall in the house.
If he leaves his "spot"...he is pacing....never stops pacing and circling ... indoors and out...and I mean NEVER
He can seem a little disconnected mentally.... but I think this is improving a bit
He doesn't seem to have any awareness of his own body or others. He walks through or over the other dogs...never around them. He is just so driven to get from point A to point B he just plows through everything.
He is obsessed and terrified of the ceiling fan.... we try not to use it anymore.
He struggles with conveying affection. He will approach me and happily nip at my clothes and then run away. I know this means he wants some attention/lovin's...but it's odd. He will remain "still" for a couple of min. if I am petting him.
He runs the same path in a circle around our yard. It's now a crop circle of mud since the grass has been destroyed on his path. I think we are going to try to put up some fencing around this area but not sure if it would stop him.
He is terrified of ALL new people... and still has not warmed up to our grown sons that live at home but are not around that often.
He is terrified of all things that he doesn't recognize. Loud noises, storms, etc scare him.
He is getting better on the leash... probably the strongest dog we have ever had...he really has a "run and hide" stance the whole time.
All of his teeth are about half as tall as they should and FLAT. The vet says he likely chewed on rocks or something and wore them down.We have not seen this behavior ...the teeth may need to be dealt with at some point but he does not appear to be in any pain.
Because of his fearfulness and other issues he has had no obedience training. I have tried for moths just to get him to sit...he is just too nervous to focus on me.

Is he neurotic? Is it anxiety? We have seen lots of various dispositions as a result of abuse, poor socializing etc... but this is very unique. Not sure if he can be saved or if it would be more humane to put him to sleep.

Any insight at all would be appriciated. Just curious and I don't want to sound awful, but can dogs be ...mentally challenged (retarded)?

Thank you for your time.

Don't know who "Ginny" but I will answer your question.

"Putting to sleep" means taking a dog's life.  There are two legitimate reasons to do this:
1.  Biological disease that is worsening, cannot be cured, is causing pain, no appetite, obvious reduction in quality of life with no hope.
2.  Active aggression, dog to human, that is too dangerous to be subjected to behavior modification: this means a dog that is actively biting, without any warning, and causing worsening damage (ER).

That's it.

The "flat" teeth are the result of chewing on heavy metal chain or crate.  I'm surprised the vet doesn't know this.  Find another veterinarian.

STOP CHASING THE DOG in "play" no matter how much he seems to "enjoy" it.  A wagging tail does not mean "joy", a dog will (and does) wag its tail while trying to rip off a person's leg.  Instead of chase, play "take it, leave it":

This dog is most likely totally unsocialized; his reaction to young men might be the result of abuse at the hands of same (not in your household, in his former "life").  His "hiding" in his "spot" is the result of extreme anxiety and double messages from you and the fact that he is, most likely, in fight/flight mode most of the time.  Your "games" trouble him; he cannot learn because he has what is called "learned helplessness": this means he has learned to do NOTHING in a training session because he has no idea what is being asked of him.  To teach sit, off leash:

The dog has learned that running to you and nipping gets your attention: he then runs away because he has learned it is what YOU WANT (due to the "game" you have been playing).  Neither one is acceptable.  If he approaches you for attention, turn your back.  Say nothing, do nothing.  Allow him to observe you calling your other dogs to "sit" and be petted for a short time only; dogs learn from observation of one another.  One he has learned to "sit" on cue (off leash, this may take quite a while or it might occur in a week of random trials over the course of every day), when he approaches to nip, turn your back, turn to him, cue him to "sit", high value food reward, pat under chin or on withers with "good boy, what a good boy", end.  Why does he "climb over things, other dogs, people"...has the dog's vision been tested?  Does he have juvenile cataracts or an inherited eye disease (PRA, etc.)?  Dogs will usually "go around" objects but plowing through can be the result of zero habituation to living in a normal household (as well as a symptom of poor eyesight, which would explain his terror of the ceiling fan and his fear outdoors, as well as his circling a rut into your yard).  With zero habituation, the dog has not learned from other dogs, and people, that walking on them to get where he's going is not acceptable.  The only time I've ever seen this in a situation that warranted a serious approach was in those rare dogs that were, actually, "Dominant" in social hierarchy (intact Rottweiler, female Akita, intact Doberman Pinscher, high percent Timber wolf hybrid, to name a few).  This dog does not fit into that category. In fact, he is what I would call an "omega" the bottom of social hierarchy in his own determination.

The "Positives" you posted are enormously significant. For the "chase" game, you might also try taking the toy, laughing and say, "come get it, come get it" and the moment he approaches, hand it to him with a "take it".  Practice "take it/leave it"; stop chasing him for any reason.

This dog requires a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist.  I do not mean a general veterinarian, I mean a veterinarian knowledgeable in the use of many medications now available to help a dog overcome his fear.  Such a vet will also be able to do a baseline neurological evaluation (is the dog having low level seizures), tests to determine if the dog has ever suffered from illnesses that cause loss in cognition and confusion such as distemper, parvo, lymes disease, encephalitis, etc.  Find a veterinary behaviorist by calling the veterinary teaching college in your geographical area or from the following:

Now: I would like you to keep a house tab on this dog (lightweight leash).  BLOCK the "hiding spot" totally.  When he begins to pace, say nothing, no eye contact, pick up the leash and sit down, be calm for a few minutes.  If the pacing is related either to stress or to biology (seizures), it will stop.  Leash restraint is not just physical it is also psychological.  This dog is not neurotic and he's far from brain damaged ("retarded").  WHAT YOU SEE is the direct result of the INHUMANE TREATMENT he received at the hands of people before you offered him a home.  Reggie is not a candidate for adoption unless he goes to a very quiet home with people who are extremely patient, understand they are dealing with serious emotional and mental dysfunction CAUSED BY HUMANS, and know how to use positive reinforcement.  RIGHT NOW, THAT MEANS YOU.  Combining medication, a very good and thorough physical evaluation, advice from your veterinary behaviorist, and a REAL COMMITMENT to see this dog to the best place he can ever be (and he'll never be "Lassie"), WILL WORK.  He'll someday, hopefully, learn not to be terrified of strangers; his aversion to loud noises will most likely never extinguish (thunder jacket is advised, as the vet).  If you take a young child from a situation where he has been neglected, not spoken to (ever), locked in a closet, starved....what will be the result?  A person who doesn't deserve a loving home and a second chance?  No.  You know that death is not the answer for Reggie.  I'd like to see you engage a certified applied animal behaviorist also.  I can't do much from here but what I've already done.  Look for one:

As for his teeth, if the nerves are exposed this dog is in agony.  Your Veterinary Behaviorist should be able to make some small determination but Reggie will need to be anesthetized at some point for dental x-rays and dental work, SOON.

I've seen dogs much worse than this come around; they aren't the perfect companion to strangers and often retain some quirky behaviors, but they make the most loving of dog companions.  Reggie deserves this.

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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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