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Nervous Dog - Can We Ever Get Better At Recall?


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We've got a very nervous girl. I'd previously described her as spooky but was advised it's not the same as being nervous so I'll just call her nervous here.

 

It's been a really slow journey to get to this point with lots of milestones but when we got her 6 months ago she wouldn't come near us, we've progressed lots and just recently she has started not just tolerating being stroked but coming voluntarily to us. While she's much better with me, oh and my mum, this is as far as her circle of trust goes, if any visitor arrives she shakes violently and runs upstairs to hide.

 

We've still a long way to go, when we're outside, even in our yard it's like a switch is flicked sometimes and she suddenly seems wary of me and takes a while to return to normal and approach me.

 

Our other hound, although selectively deaf, is much better at recall, easily distracted but likes to run between two people for treats.

 

While we've had both hounds off leash in fenced in areas, I'm still anxious as our nervous girl looks much more like she's looking for gaps under fences.

 

Getting to my question, what's the way forward with doing any training with our girl? It feels like we need to progress more in terms of her trusting us further. I don't think there's any way we could go to a class with her, or even work 1 to one with an instructor. Any thoughts or experiences much appreciated.

 

My ultimate aim would be to be able to let her run with the others when we have the beach to ourselves :)

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I would use a long line with a harness to keep her safe if you think there is any chance she could get out of your yard.

 

As for the nervousness (sounds pretty spooky to me) I would really urge you to consider working with a vet or ideally a veterinary behaviorist to see if there are natural calming aids or even medication that can help her cope with her anxiety and fear. Living in fear is no way for a dog to live, especially when there are medications out there that will help her feel less afraid.

 

You've got to address that before you can work on training things like a strong recall. In the meantime, you could test out whether she will respond to a squawker so you know you have it in an emergency. I would test it somewhere where you don't normally go so that if it scares her, she doesn't associate the noise with where she is and suddenly develop a fear of it. I would also do it quietly first to see what her reaction is so you don't scare the crap out of her. ;)

 

Maybe I should add, I know what you're going through. I had a spook and we worked through her fear with a lot of patience, time, and training, but it was a long hard road for both of us at times. At the time, I didn't really understand the use of pharmaceuticals in treating fear in dogs so I never thought to pursue using them, but knowing what I know now I so wish I had. While we eventually got to the point where she was for hte most part a "normal" dog (she still had some fear issues, the vet was never great, her fear of storms was managed but not entirely gone and loud noises like gunshots and cars backfiring would still scare her, but for hte most part if you had met her you would have never known what she was like when I got her) we could have gotten there SO much faster if we had used medication. She also quickly grew comfortable with me and our home so while the outside world was scary, she wasn't living in constant fear of the people and environment around her. If she had been, I might have been more motivated to seek more help. All of this to say, I know how tough it is and don't miss out on something that could really provide her relief.


My ultimate aim would be to be able to let her run with the others when we have the beach to ourselves :)

Oh. I just saw this. You mean off leash in an unfenced area? No, just no, not with a fearful dog.

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Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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We have a girl who is very much like yours. She is a spook, plain and simple. It took her almost two years before she was comfortable with us enough to ask for attention. She is *always* on leash, unless we are inside the house. Always. After I spent day after day out in the yard waiting for her to get tired enough to let me catch her, about 4 hours each time. Our yard is fenced, but she could have easily jumped out if she had been motivated.

 

I did take Cash to a class. She stood in the room completely shut down for the whole eight weeks and never got any better. But *I* learned, and we practised and did the exercises at home, and it really did help her. You need to work on behaviors that help increase her confidence. The "Watch Me!" command was particularly important, and once she learned she could look me in the eye, she began to grow a little. It's just a really, really long road.

 

We also explored the use of anti-anxiety medication. We had to try four different pills and a number of dosages before hitting on the right combination that allows her a good quality of life. She was on this dosage continuously for about three years, and then we have been able to reduced her pills to just when she's feeling stressed (storms, fireworks, changing weather patterns). If I remember, you live in the UK and many vets there are not as familiar with using off-label human anti-anxiety meds. You may need to search around a bit for a canine neurologist, or certified behaviorist who is.

 

She is not comfortable anywhere but at home, so we never take her anywhere. Not because we don't want her to have experiences, but because it is terrifying for her. A ride in the car is torture. The vet the same. Visitors to out house never see her as she spends the entire time hiding in our bedroom. The one place she LOVESLOVESLOVES is the beach. We do rent a place on our coast and do extended stays so she has a few days to settle in and really enjoy her vacation. We go on long (leashed up) walks and she relaxes there like nowhere else.

 

It helped dealing with her once I began to think of her condition a little like autism. They have many things in common, and some behavior modification exercises that work with autistic children also work on Cash. Patience and time - a lot of both - will be better than trying to push her.

 

Good luck.

Chris - Mom to: Lilly, Felicity (DeLand), and Andi (Braska Pandora)

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Angels: Libby (Everlast), Dorie (Dog Gone Holly), Dude (TNJ VooDoo), Copper (Kid's Copper), Cash (GSI Payncash), Toni (LPH Cry Baby), Whiskey (KT's Phys Ed), Atom

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It helped dealing with her once I began to think of her condition a little like autism. They have many things in common, and some behavior modification exercises that work with autistic children also work on Cash. Patience and time - a lot of both - will be better than trying to push her.

 

Good luck.

Sound advice here as well and I just wanted to say Chris that I really need to remember this analogy as it is a good one. Too many people try to push fearful dogs thinking that will help them overcome their fears when really it is more likely to make it worse. Putting it in these terms I think will help people be more empathetic.

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Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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Just be advised that even the most stable greyhound has been selectively bred for 5000+ years to think independently and NOT look to the human for guidance. Nothing you can do will change that. It is hard wired. Yes, you CAN teach an apparent reliable recall to some hounds. Problem is it really isn't reliable. As soon as the dog is confronted with a situation that is more appealing to them than all your best positive goodies he will revert to his genes and his desire and ignore you and go. Even the herding breed working dogs that are hardwired to actually look to the handler for guidance! will eventually come to a point that the distraction they are facing is more appealing to them than your positive rewards. There are ways to correct and teach the working dogs that they MUST obey their handler(regardless of how strong the distraction is). I know of no such ways to teach that to a greyhound who -unlike the working dog breeds- is naturally an independent thinker. Never forget with greyhounds trust is a deadly disease.

Edited by racindog
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You must decide for yourself. If you take 1 side or another-especially on this forum- you will be flamed. For me personally it comes down to am I willing to bet my greyhounds life that he will come to me when when I call him especially in the face of a strong distraction. I am a realist- no way. Food for thought if you havn't seen it before: http://www.adopt-a-greyhound.org/advice/general_advice/trust_a_deadly_disease.shtml

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Just be advised that even the most stable greyhound has been selectively bred for 5000+ years to think independently and NOT look to the human for guidance. Nothing you can do will change that. It is hard wired. Yes, you CAN teach an apparent reliable recall to some hounds. Problem is it really isn't reliable. As soon as the dog is confronted with a situation that is more appealing to them than all your best positive goodies he will revert to his genes and his desire and ignore you and go. Even the herding breed working dogs that are hardwired to actually look to the handler for guidance! will eventually come to a point that the distraction they are facing is more appealing to them than your positive rewards. There are ways to correct and teach the working dogs that they MUST obey their handler(regardless of how strong the distraction is). I know of no such ways to teach that to a greyhound who -unlike the working dog breeds- is naturally an independent thinker. Never forget with greyhounds trust is a deadly disease.

Sorry, but you are incorrect. There are PLENTY of working dogs being trained using reward based methods and the results is dogs that work better - more efficiently, longer, more willingly. The fact that you think correction based trainings produces more reliable dogs shows that you don't understand the learning theory behind it. You need only look at the decades of work Bob Bailey did with WILD - not domesticated in any way - animals for the CIA, military, etc. You don't use correction with these animals or they just won't come back! I'm talking about whales and dolphins in open water, free to access food or sex at will, birds flying through the air, he even trained cats to go on long spy missions.

 

Back to the point, the problem with recall training is many think they've trained a reliable recall when the dog will come mostly of the time, but to properly train a recall where you can get the dog back in ANY situation, especially in an animal with a high level of predatory behavior takes more time and work than mostly people are willing to put in. Its certainly not something I'd recommend you do on your own (take classes with a good reward based trainer). But your situation has the additional challenge of a dog whose is fearful. Maybe someday you will feel confident that you have worked through her fear, but until then, leash. It only takes one thing - a car backfiring or a random gunshot or a person that frightens her for some unknown reason - to potentially cause her to bolt in fear and when a dog is afraid, learning isn't going on. Pavlov takes over and that dog isn't even hearing you.

 

FWIW, I do off lead SOME of my dogs, including one greyhound. The other ghs I don't due to spookiness or interest in prey.

 

The other thing I will add - DO still work on training the recall so that you have the option to at least try it if there is an emergency where she gets loose accidentally.

Edited by NeylasMom

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Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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Thanks all, it's nice to talk to others who have had similar experiences. I'm not averse to trying medication, finding someone where we live may be difficult. We do keep her environment as stress free as possible, walking at quiet times and only taking her up my mum's house which she likes, we don't have many visitors either, not because of daisy, just anti social. She is a different dog to the one we brought home.

 

I raised this issue with the vet (who was lovely) about three weeks ago who said it was normal for greyhounds to be wary of people. Also having trouble finding a behaviourist round here interested in working with us.

 

NeylasMom, on 27 Apr 2015 - 11:56 PM, said:

Oh. I just saw this. You mean off leash in an unfenced area? No, just no, not with a fearful dog.

 

 

Do not worry - I would never just let her off and hope, I'm neurotic about our hounds escaping. I just meant one day it would be nice - there's a huge beach nearby which is often completely empty and I feel sad when our other dogs are able to run around exploring and she's on her leash.

 

greysmom - Daisy sounds a bit different with new places - she's very excited about exploring, on walks is her most 'normal' time (unless a stranger tries to stroke her). She likes to sniff a lot. It's mostly people and it's much much worse with men.

 

 

I have never come across a squawker but this sounds good - Daisy is very very prey-driven. There has been one accident with a stray cockerel and she completely forgot she was nervous while she (in a muzzle) sat on him and pulled out his feathers. Cockerel is fine, still living it up and feathers have grown back!

 

We have had one accident, first time in the car visiting my mum in the countryside, my own fault I opened the car door too much and she disappeared into the night, 30 seconds later appearing at the house door phew!

 

So for now we'll remain vigilant, patient, try bits of training, look into meds, get squawker and a nice long leash? (What length/type do you use?). We occasionally get to us a completely fenced in field which is fun.

 

Thanks again all. M

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Ah, sounds like the prey drive could be a bigger challenge for the recall than her fear, especially down the line.

 

For the long line, I find more than 15' becomes hard to manage. This may seem silly, but you might attach the long line to something non moving, doorknob or fence and practice letting it out and gathering it back up as you walk around. It is a skill on it's own so the leash doesn't get tangled in legs. And make sure to attach it only to a harness, not a collar.

Ah, sounds like the prey drive could be a bigger challenge for the recall than her fear, especially down the line.

 

For the long line, I find more than 15' becomes hard to manage. This may seem silly, but you might attach the long line to something non moving, doorknob or fence and practice letting it out and gathering it back up as you walk around. It is a skill on it's own so the leash doesn't get tangled in legs. And make sure to attach it only to a harness, not a collar.

gallery_12662_3351_862.jpg

Jen, CPDT-KA with Zuri, lab in a greyhound suit, Violet, formerly known as Faith, Skye, the permanent puppy, Cisco, resident cat, and my baby girl Neyla, forever in my heart

"The great thing about science is that you're free to disagree with it, but you'll be wrong."

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Do not worry - I would never just let her off and hope, I'm neurotic about our hounds escaping. I just meant one day it would be nice - there's a huge beach nearby which is often completely empty and I feel sad when our other dogs are able to run around exploring and she's on her leash.

 

 

You'll have to wait and see. The fact that she went to the house when she escaped is a good sign.

 

I have a friend with a recovered spook who will have it off leash regularely. This was a dog that was unapproachable and thought to be unadoptable because of extreme shyness. But this particular dog is also very needy and has learned to love affection from people. When I cared for her for a couple of weeks she dealt with her insecurity be becoming an extreme velcro dog even though I made her nervous (she is afraid of men). If your dog develops in this way she may one day be able to run on the beach but it may take years and I wouldn't try it if there was any traffic nearby.

 

It all depends on if she is the sort who prefers being close to you above all else. This works much better then recall. (Still a good idea to work on recall regularely regardless of results.) At some point when you are in a safely enclosed area just walk away from her. Does she follow? When you stop does she stop beside you? Walk away again and repeat. If she follows tenaciously then there is hope. I would never do any of this without some high value treats in my pocket.

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Thanks KR - She had started to follow me around the house recently. Not so much in the garden, with the help of the other hound (Charlie) getting excited about treats she will come to investigate but nervously and inconsistently. When we're in a field, doesn't follow at all.

 

Would people try training with the other hound present (to demonstrate??) or alone?

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I think it's better to work with alone. That way you eliminate one of the variables (the behaviour of the other dog) and she has to deal with you. The presence of another dog helps with a spook's sense of security and they can model behaviour, but it also prevents the spook from exploring their own confidence and could interfer with bonding with the human. The second dog can become a crutch.

 

My view: the fact that when she has the space, she shows no particular urge to get closer to you suggests that she is a leash only dog for the foreseeable future.

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I wouldn't even consider letting that dog off leash--even in a fenced park.

 

Every time you call your dog and you cannot enforce your command, you're teaching the dog that "come" doesn't really mean anything.

 

A dog who is looking for escape routes will eventually find them--or realize that unless the fence is super high, she can jump it to escape.

 

Just don't do it.

 

I know there are greyhounds with great recall, and safe beaches--but not for a dog such as you describe. Not now. Probably never. It's not worth the risk to ME. You may feel differently.


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Like I said I'm not on an ideological quest to let her 'run free' and hope for the best. Nor will i scream her name while she ignores me. I was just sharing my dream about the beach and after some thoughts on how to move forward with improving recall. I'm neurotic about them getting away and very careful where they're allowed off.

 

I'd agree I'd never want to take a risk, it's not worth it at all. However i won't say never - it's been 6 months since she wouldn't come near us and tonight she's climbed on the sofa to cuddle up for the first time so who knows how things might change!

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I live a with a dog like yours. His recall is pretty good but not great. While he always comes when I call him, sometimes he takes a few seconds to think about it.

 

It's been much easier for me once I accepted the fact that he will never be a confident, outgoing, easy to walk dog. I love him for who he is, just like you love your dog.

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The problem with a wary or "nervous" or spooky dog is that it is very difficult for us people to predict what they will do. That is true even for a dog who feels safest when next to you and who usually runs to you when frightened. In your position I would look for more secure opportunities for the dog to be off lead :) .

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have you considered working in a group obedience class? a good instructor will not force you to participate in all of the activities, but the group situation can help her develop more social skills. maybe you can start by not enrolling her but sitting on the side and observing. once she's comfortable in that environment maybe enroll in classes for the next round.

 

recalls can be taught, they need practice and a very resourceful instructor to help the two of you connect. come & stay are the two most important commands to me. stay so you can walk up to the dog in a non-threatening way and take the collar- stay so they will stay if they ever get into a funky situation and you don't want them to bolt or move.stay so you can open the door or garden gate or car door with out them moving out. come, you know why.

 

patience, practice and a wise experienced teacher will help everything fall into place.

 

btw- w/ a 15ft line, many dogs- the smart ones know they are tethered and you end up bunching up a long long leash.

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