A Timid Rescue Dog

Dear WOOF:

A friend of mine got a dog from a rescue league. She has had it for about 6 months and the dog is very timid...Is there anything that they can do to show the dog that she can trust them? Any loud voices
or banging or showing a belt scares the dog. Obviously she was abused, so the question is, is there a way to ever get the trust back?


Hello:

What a fortunate little dog, to be living with such caring people! It's good that you are concerned about her and want to help her feel more comfortable.

Dogs learn through making associations between things, and they make their decisions to react, with either concern or confidence, based on whether or not the (conditioned) association is pleasant or
unpleasant. Her worried reaction to specific things like loud voices (yelling) or the belt, suggests that she has been conditioned to see these objects, movements or noises as "predictors" of punishment.

I assume that you have never physically punished her with the belt yourselves, or yelled at and then physically punished her. So the question is not can you get her trust back...you didn't do anything
to destroy it in the first place. The question is, can you teach her to trust that you won't do those things to her.

This is a very sad, but all too common problem with rescued dogs. The good news is that she can be helped. With a little patience and the right tools, you will be able to gain her trust and teach her that
the world with you is a safe place.

I strongly suggest that you learn and teach her using the clicker method. This will provide you with a way to communicate with her, and help you immensely as you begin to teach her how to learn from you,
and to feel more confident.

Actual treatment for this will require that you employ some behavioral modification techniques. The goal will be retrain her to view frightening things, in a new and positive way. One or two sessions with a qualified professional should be all that is required to teach you what you need to know to start your re-training program.

For now, it is important that you prevent her exposure to things that produce the fearful responses. Each time she is exposed her fear becomes stronger, and her ability to feel safe around you weakens.

If you live in southeastern Michigan, please email or call Trainers Academy, LLC to discuss a private consultation. If you are out of state, please let me know where you live so that we can refer you to a behavioral professional in your area.

Thanks for writing!
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT