Socializing Bella: Day 1 Target Training Shy and Fearful Dogs

Socializing Bella: Day 1 Target Training Shy and Fearful Dogs

Yes, I know it seems harsh, but watch and read all. Trainers of shy dogs have to know when to push without shoving. It’s a complicated balance of dignity and respect. Someday I’ll find the words to describe it.

Many of you have read about, Bella my adopted Chinook/German Shepherd mix. She’s about 28 months old, ran feral in a rural town since she was a puppy until she got pregnant and got too heavy to out-run the “dog catcher”.

In working with a specialized population of northern breeds and wolf-dogs who are normally timid, fearful, or often aloof to humans, I’ve become accustomed to socializing and training this type of animal.

Bella was and still is my most challenging case, which is why I decided to adopt her because she needed 24/7 help, and I knew realistically she would never find a home with the time or patience to deal with her. I started working with her about a year ago at the HWF rescue, and adopted her 4 months ago.

While she’s made remarkable (I mean really remarkable) progress in training and her removing OCD qualities, she still needs a lot of work.

Unfortunately, my methods often get criticized because to the naked eye, people don’t understand why I would put an animal through such terrifying and stressful conditions.

My reasoning, if I don’t, there will never be progress, especially in breeds that are not inherently people pleasers. Plus, I don’t have the advantage of telling dogs ” trust me, it will be okay” I have to show them. Honestly, the same goes for anxious humans.

In Bella’s case, and all the dogs I care for, I always treat them with the same respect I would give a human. They are not children (unless they’re puppies). Most are adults who’ve had experiences I can’t imagine.

So, people who raise their voice at elderly or disabled humans, talk to the elderly or disabled as if they’re babies, or let inappropriate behavior slide at any age, will not last long in my animal socialization group. Animals deserve the same dignity and respect as humans in my world.

That said: I decided as a class project to train Bella to “touch stand” on a mat to prepare her to heel next to me as a future exercise.

She already knows “touch/paw” and will touch my leg, a chair, and most stationary objects. For those of you that don’t know, to “paw” in fearful dogs is a calming signal. Bella naturally did this so… I used this behavior to teach her (in this order) to shake, say hi, and touch stationary objects.

While I could come up with a plan as to how I could train her to heel perfectly using a touch/target, like I said, she is extremely timid and fearful. I can train her to target a book, but if there is a new object in the room (a spider web, a piece of paper, a window open) she will be distracted.

In the following video, my daughters were home and walking back and forth upstairs, getting breakfast, showering, dressed. I actually chose this time to train because no matter what time of day it is, a timid, fearful dog will find distractions.

If you saw Bella’s early videos, she was terrified at first on a leash and horrified on walks, and it was that way for about a week, now she clamors for the door to hop in the car and go for a walk.

Anyway, in this first “touch” video, she’s scared. Lots of noise upstairs, but… she manages, she trusted me, she learned, and she showed me when she had enough by laying down.. but.. at that point I changed the exercise to “look” at me. There was also a moment where a noise distracted her, so I made her sit, then move on.

Like I said, I could write a whole lesson plan, but like with my anxious human patients, I have a basic goal, a few interventions, but in the end, I have to make adjustments in the moment.

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