Archive for the ‘fearful dogs’ Category

Today is Petfinder‘s 15th birthday–and they’re asking all of us to spread the word about adoptable pets for Adopt the Internet Day!

My choice? Lacey, a beautiful tri-colored 2-year-old Border Collie, who is listed on Petfinder from one of my favorite adoption places, Western Border Collie Rescue.

OK, you all know that I adopted a fearful Border Collie that I found on Petfinder in 2002–a fearful dog is always challenging, yet rewarding. That’s why I picked Lacey as my Adopt the Internet dog–in the right home, she’ll blossom!

Lacey’s Story

Lacey in January snowlight

Lacey’s story isn’t that different from many pets up for adoption, but it’s still important. Her amazing foster mom gave us this account.

In November 2009, an Eagle Colorado animal shelter worker contacted Western Border Collie Rescue about two very scared Border Collies: Cotton, Lacey’s mom, and Lacey, the last pup left in her litter. Cotton’s owner was moving (how many times do we hear that?) and he didn’t want the burden.  Lacey was only 3 months old.  Both Lacey and her mom spent 3 months at the shelter before Western Border Collie Rescue sprang them and placed the two fearful dogs in a foster home.

Then, a sad turn. Cotton became very sick.  Vet testing revealed that she was suffering from Immune Mediated Polyarthritis, a serious joint disease.  The rescue decided that Cotton and Lacey be separated so that Cotton could work on getting better and Lacey could learn how to become more confident in a new environment.

Luckily for Cotton, her new foster mom decided to adopt Cotton. But Lacey was not so lucky. For the first 3 months in her foster home, Lacey shut down and hid as far away as possible when people would come near. Her daily routine was staying away from open spaces, sticking close to walls, hiding under tables or huddling in corners. Scared, unable to cope.

Lacey And Other Dogs

But, Lacey’s foster mom soon realized that Lacey felt safe when she was around other dogs–she was comfortable with them. No matter

Lacey showing off her one headlight

what size, breed, color or age, if there was another dog around, Lacey seemed happy romping, wrestling, running at the speed of light, chasing–you name it, if there’s a dog around, she’s up for anything!

Lacey’s Progress with Humans

Lacey asks for human attention in her own special way. Her foster mom says that, maybe two or three times a night during TV-watching time, Lacey “sneaks up, get real close,” and then put her head down on the nearest lap. Once Lacey gets about 5 seconds of petting, she sneaks away.

The good news is, Lacey is starting to show signs of trust in her foster mom’s friends and some family members–HUGE steps from the scared little dog in the corner.  Her foster mom recounts another milestone: 1 year, 1 month and 12 days after arrival, Lacey mastered the cue “sit!”  To

Ready to play!

her foster mom, that was a sign “that Lacey could do what any other dog can do.”

Lacey’s Hope

Lacey came to her foster home on December 4, 2009–it’s the only real home she has ever known.  She will probably never be a bomb-proof, totally confident, happy go-lucky dog.  She might always be afraid of new situations and may never want more than 5 seconds of attention at a time. She needs a family who wants her for who she is. The family will need patience, training, and the ability to understand that small steps are really huge steps in this little girl’s life.

For example, her foster mom is thrilled that Lacey chooses to sleep with her every now and then. The most important things that Lacey needs in her life, according to her foster mom, “are humans that will accept her for who she is, love her even when it seems she doesn’t want it, give her a home with at least one other dog, provide a warm bed in a quiet corner to rest her head, and maybe a few romps in the snow in the winter and a few splashes in a river or lake in the summer. Is that too much to ask?”

No, it’s not! To find out more about Lacey, see her Petfinder profile. And if you’re interested in adopting her, I’ll pay half of her adoption fee!


Luna at 5wks-fearful then?

Learning to live with a fearful dog ain’t easy. Not only because of the dog, but often because of other people’s ideas of how to “deal” with them. As you may know from reading previous posts, my 9-year-old dog Luna is considered fearful. She doesn’t like trying new things. She is uncomfortable being touched, unless she solicits it, and then only in specific parts of her body. She’s never licked me on the face, and rarely allows herself to lie next to me. If I change my position, she’s gone. She bows her head when people reach for her.  She has phobias that vary from day to day, or they’ll last for months. If she’s not around my other dog Frisbee in a strange place, she barks barks barks barks whines–or hides.

She’s Abused, Isn’t She?

Luna has had labels bestowed upon her. The one I hear most is: “Oh, she’s been abused, poor thing,” when they come near her, because she lowers her head in a nervous way, then looks away, licking her lips.

Luna next to her bro Dash

Well no, she wasn’t abused. She was born from a Border Collie mom who was left when she was a month or two pregnant at the doorstep of the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue founder Nickie Vaneck. Luna was the runt of the 5-pup litter, born with a broken tail, wouldn’t eat, even though her mother tried to feed her. Nickie nursed her to health, brought her everywhere with her, even took her to her son’s grade school classes. Luna played with her littermates. Then I adopted her. That’s when this tale began…

Flooding with Scary Things

But right away, I did all the wrong things–a trainer told me to “socialize” her and take her to a pet store the first full day she was home. I cluelessly followed the trainer’s instructions, put Luna in a shopping cart. Store customers crowded around the cart, reaching out to pet her. Puppies are cute, right? Luna bit a hand (luckily, just a puppy bite). I then put her on the floor. She scrambled under a set of shelving units, peeing all the way. Hey, how come she shivered and cowered whenever I tried to put her in the car again? My fault. Did she get more scared around me? You bet. I set her up. How could she trust me if I put her in scary situations? Snapping helps keep people away, so that’s what she did for awhile, until *I* changed.

Luna in one of her happy moments!

Why Can’t She Just Get Along?

Luna was definitely shy upon meeting me during her adoption, but I just thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought–but I wanted my new pup to be just like “regular” dogs, with confidence, flair, and fun. A dog that would “fit into” every situation. After all, I had, Frisbee, Mr. Dog-Aggressive  (and I found out, fearful in some ways), and I didn’t want another challenging situation… I wanted to mold Luna into the dog *I* wanted her to be. But I didn’t keep her safe the first day home, or many subsequent days, partly because of my ignorance and poor judgment in listening to trainers then told me “don’t coddle her if she’s afraid; it will make her think the frightened behavior will be rewarded.” Hmmm. Wow, she really wanted reassurance. Why wasn’t I supposed to give it to her? I put a lot of pressure on her to fit in.

And the phobias! Sometimes it’s the kitchen floor. Sometimes it’s coming in the dog door. You name it, she’s probably had it, and continues to find new things to worry about. She won’t be coaxed into doing something when she’s nervous. Would you?

Recognizing How To Free Fear

Over the years, I’ve learned much more positive and successful ways to help Luna–from recognizing triggers to helping her solve problems. She’s come a long way despite her tentative beginnings with me. I’m her biggest advocate now! I’ve actually become adept at training folks who have fearful animals, from my own experience working with rescue dogs and by learning from the best trainers around (not those I first approached!) in certification seminars and through soaking up all the books available.

Read this book!

Help Is Here!

However, my all-time favorite book on the topic is new from Debbie Jacobs, who wrote A Guide to Living With & Training A Fearful Dog. I was so thrilled to get it that I sat down and read it in one fell swoop! And guess what! Luna plopped down next to me and put her head in my lap as I was dog-earing pages! Was that a sign, or what?

Debbie’s book dispels all the old myths (reassuring your dog is okay!), and outlines creative ways for owners to help their fearful dogs cope and begin to love life in an easy-to-read-and-understand style. She is careful to say that there is no cookie-cutter approach to rehabbing a fearful dogs; each one is different–requiring keen observation before determining a modification program. She covers the triggers and thresholds of fearful dogs, how to recognize them, and what to do about them. “You can’t force a dog not to be afraid of something.” That’s so true…

Listen to The Bark Out Loud Podcast!

Want more? Join us on Bark Out Loud Monday, March 7! Here’s the podcast of Debbie’s frank and honest discussion about fearful dog behavior, then she’ll be available for a chat in our Dog Den at 9pm EST! I’ll be there, hoping to gain more nuggets in helping Luna on her continued journey to a calmer life. Won’t you join me?


In the past few years, the term “separation anxiety” has been bandied about in training and veterinary circles, yet there are no hard and fast statistics about it–not only is it hard to diagnose, but training approaches to defining and solving this issue are often controversial and confusing.

If you have an anxious dog and have ruled out medical issues with your vet, how can you tell if he actually has separation anxiety or if he’s just destructive in general? What are the myths surrounding this problem? What are appropriate methods to alleviate it? Should you ever use medications? What are your options?

To get the real scoop, I recently talked with internationally known trainer and canine behavior specialist Nicole Wilde. Her book, Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, offers an innovative protocol to help you build your dog’s confidence and change his behavior from worried to more nonchalant when you leave.

Nicole’s unique “outside the box” approaches are based on tried and true scientific methods and on her own experiences that she used with her own dog Sierra, and with her clients’ dogs. (Nicole’s credentials appear at the end of this post.)

In this first of a three-part interview, Nicole discusses the definitions, causes, how we can help the suffering dog, and clues about separation anxiety when adopting a dog.



What is separation anxiety (SA) and what isn’t SA? Some of us don’t know the difference and have misconceptions about SA if the symptoms are similar.

Separation anxiety is the emotional distress experienced by a dog when separated from a particular person or persons. This differs from “isolation

Have you come home to this?

distress,” which is when a dog simply does not like to be left alone. It is important to differentiate between separation anxiety, isolation distress, and a dog who is simply destructive or not completely potty trained.


What are the causes of SA? Can SA be a learned behavior?

There can be many causes for separation issues. Sometimes a family adopts a dog when one person is between jobs, or over a long holiday when they’re all at home. When the schedule changes and the dog is suddenly left alone more, he can’t cope.

Another common cause is when a dog has been rehomed. Often the dog feels at sea, as though he might be abandoned again. These dogs can take a while to settle in.

Experiencing a traumatic incident can also lead to a dog not wanting to be left alone. There is an amazing story in my book about a dog who, with his owner, walked in on a robbery in progress. Before the incident he had never had behavioral problems but immediately after, he developed quite a case of separation anxiety.

As far as separation anxiety being a learned behavior, it’s possible that if one dog in the family has it, it could cause the other dog to become more anxious than usual, although I’m not sure the second dog would then have a true separation issue.


Are some dog owners actually creating SA by encouraging certain behaviors? I know some people like “velcro” dogs. What are some of our own behaviors we should avoid to prevent fostering SA?

Being with your dog constantly and then leaving him alone can encourage a separation problem. But it’s a common myth that practices such as allowing a dog to sleep in your bed or “coddling” him will actually cause a separation issue—although doing those things won’t help if he’s already got one.

It’s true that many dogs with separation anxiety will follow people around—the “Velcro” dogs you mentioned—but not all do. Sierra, the dog I adopted from the shelter (who was the inspiration for my book), preferred to lie outdoors on the ramp in back of the house as long as she knew I was inside. But if I left, she fell apart. It’s important to note that not every separation anxiety issue is a textbook type case.


If you are planning to adopt a dog, is there a way to know if he has SA before bringing him home?

Great question! And I wish there were a great answer. Before we adopted Sierra, we found out she’d been in the shelter four times; that doesn’t bode well for a dog feeling secure when left alone. But although many dogs in shelters and rescues can have separation issues, they certainly don’t all have them, and I would hate to dissuade anyone from adopting.

If you are adopting a dog, the adjective “escape artist” might be a clue that the dog also has a separation issue, and is escaping in order to go after the owners; but that’s not always the case, and digging deeper is warranted.



Part II of this interview series: Nicole offers advice about how to help your dog feel safer and calmer through management techniques and protocols, discusses the crate controversy, and provides tips and suggestions for building your dog’s confidence.

Part III of this interview series: Nicole talks about innovative ways to manage your dog’s anxiety when you leave, including calming techniques, the crate controversy, and how to build your dog’s confidence.



Nicole Wilde is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and internationally recognized author and lecturer. Her nine books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. In addition to working with dogs, Nicole has worked with wolves and wolfdogs for over fifteen years and is considered an expert in the field.

Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, the educational branch for the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior, and an Advisory Board member for the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Nicole writes an Ask the Expert column for Modern Dog Magazine, and blogs for Dog Star Daily, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert blog, and her own site, Wilde About Dogs. You can find Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Wilde, Author and on Twitter at @NicoleWilde.

Note: In March 2011, I blogged about Lacey, a beautiful tri-colored 2-year-old Border Collie from Western Border Collie Rescue when Petfinder ran their Adopt the Internet Day campaign. See the original post here, then read below for the rest of the story!


1 year 6 months, 2 weeks and 4 days.


It took that long for Lacey to find her forever home. Just yesterday, right after I got back from a Western Border Collie reunion, I got this message on Facebook from Lacey’s foster mom, Jessica Cumpsten:

“I just wanted to let you know that Little Miss Lacey got adopted!

Was that amazing news, or what? I couldn’t believe it–I had actually thought Jessica was going to have Lacey for the long haul. And the story got even more interesting.

“A very sweet and kind lady with three kids adopted Jobie [A more confident Border Collie who Jessica also fostered] in April. They have an older Border Collie and just lost their Golden, so they wanted to get a companion for their older girl. Jobie was their man! When they came to meet him, Lacey tugged at their heart strings. At that time, they spent half  their time (and half their treats) getting Lacey to come up to them.”















It was hard for the family to leave Lacey behind, knowing that she had a tough time coping in the world without Jobie. But Jessica gave them sage advice.

“I suggested they really focus on Jobie, getting him settled and see how he and their older dog bond before adding a 3rd dog to the mix. My fear was that Jobie would not bond as well to their older dog if he had Lacey distracting him all the time as, Jobie and Lacey were very good romping and wrestling buds.”


Lacey and Jobie Romping On Their Meeting Day




Jessica continues the story:

“The adopter said that Jobie and her Border Collie get along very well, but when she set up a play date with a friend’s dog, she realized that Jobie was missing the wrestling and romping  factor he had with Lacey, so they asked if they could take her for the day and see how things went. One day turned into three, and three has now turned into forever. The  family is very in tune to Lacey’s needs, and Lacey is surprising us all–she is actually going up to the kids for attention and even wants to sleep in the kids rooms at night!”

Timing is Everything

It was good timing, too. According to Jessica, Lacey had just started making leaps in sociability within the last three months. As if she knew that she and Jobie would reunite only if she made the valiant effort (although I don’t tend to believe that dogs know these things, it sure sounds about right in this case). For example, at the dog park about a week before the family decided to finally adopt her, she was randomly walking up to people for attention. Talk about leaps–amazing, considering her history.

Good Fostering Pays Off

Jessica deserves huge accolades in working with fearful Lacey for so long, making her more confident and skilled so that she could get adopted! How many of you would hold onto a foster that long, without either giving up or adopting her yourself?

Lacey was Jessica’s 18th foster–number 19 is coming next week. I have only good feelings about Lacey and any dog that Jessica fosters.


This post is part of the #reverb10 project that provides daily topics throughout December to help us reflect on the past year and sets intentions for the year ahead.

Today’s topic: Ordinary Joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

OK, who can resist a puppy? Not me. Ordinary moments teaching puppies to socialize bring profound joy to me. Even if I’m having a bad day, going into a class of puppies wipes out everything. I smile. I never tire of it.

Supervising a puppy pack

I don’t even mind when the puppy guardians are grouchy or frustrated. I just help them understand their pups’ little pushing-the-envelope or fearful-of-everything brains. When it comes to puppy breath, their Frito-scented feet, their antics, their sense of wonderment and discovery, I’m in heaven. And the fact that they’re not mine definitely helps! I volunteer at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s Friday night puppy socialization groups, in addition to running my own Fang Shui Canines pup classes, because I can never get enough.

I love teaching all ages and temperaments of dogs, helping to shape their behavior into whatever it needs to be.

Showing how to reward for good behavior

Seeing that “lightbulb” go off in their brains is profound. Once that happens, those dogs just want more! A mentally exercised dog is a dog you’ll appreciate.

I am most happy when helping people get a grip on Fido’s issues. It may be a simple solution, or it may take months. I love a challenge; solving it with the guardian and pooch together is an incredible feeling. I am grateful to have found a profession I love!

What’s your most joyful dog story?

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