Dear Cathy: My husband and I adopted a 3-month-old male dog from a rescue organization. I’m not sure of his breed. He’s about 25 pounds and looks like a black lab mix. The problem is, he is afraid of our home — and us in it. He hides under the bed and behind the couch. He is afraid of many noises. I thought it was because he was a rescue and needed time.
But when we go to someone else’s home, he runs into the house, plays with everyone, is silly, lays on the couch, etc. He is such a sweet puppy. When he comes back home, he is afraid again. We don’t crate him. He sleeps with us sometimes, goes for walks, is friendly, and is house-trained. We don’t have a fenced yard, so on the second day, we had him on a long leash in the yard. When my husband opened the patio door, he ran in still leashed and jumped around, terrified. We got rid of the leash the next day and put up a temporary fence. He goes into the yard but is still afraid of our home. Any ideas? — Shari, Freedom, Wisconsin
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Dear Shari: It can be difficult to pinpoint what triggers a dog’s fears. It’s important to consider any and all possible common denominators, like: Does this behavior only happen at your home? You said yes. Could the incident on the tether have frightened him? Absolutely, but probably not to this extent. Is your dog more anxious around your husband? Some dogs are afraid of men. Could there be a sound inside or outside your home that scares him? If yes, that could trigger insecurities.
While it’s helpful to know what’s causing the behavior, you don’t have to know what those triggers actually are to help your dog overcome them. There are things you can do to help him relax in your home.
Start with basic obedience training. It can distract your pup from a potential trigger and help build his confidence over time. Begin by putting him on a leash in the house and training him to “sit,” “down” and “stay.” (The leash is so he doesn’t run and hide under the bed.) Use a clicker (preferred method because dogs understand what it means more quickly) or a marker/reward word (like “bingo”) to acknowledge when your dog gets it right.
For example, say “sit.” When your dog sits, click (or say the marker/reward word) and give your dog a treat.
Train your dog at least three times a day for 10 minutes each session. Both you and your husband should train your dog, so he develops a bond with both of you. Once you see him more relaxed, teach him games, like fetch, take him for more walks, so he can sniff out the neighborhood, and introduce him to puzzle toys so he has to use his brain to find the treats. The busier you keep his mind with training and activities, the less time he has to be scared of things. As he grows up and his confidence grows, he should become less afraid of his surroundings.
You also can introduce a pheromone collar or pheromone plug-ins for the home or over-the-counter calming chews to supplement to help him feel more at ease during training. If you think it’s noise sensitivity, get a sound machine for your home to muffle extraneous sounds.
If you’re consistent, you should see improvements in a few weeks.
Dear Cathy: I read your column about the anxious dog in the pool, especially your suggestion to have the dog wear a life vest. My grand dog is a Labrador Retriever and an awesome swimmer. She will also paw you and try to put her paws on your shoulder. This is because dogs cannot tread water and must move constantly.
Unless the pup can put her feet on the bottom of the pool, she will have to keep paddling. Owners should be careful that their dog does not get too tired. Great advice about training the dog not to jump in the pool. Pepper knows to enter at the shallow end using the steps. The last thing kids need is a 70-pound dog landing on them. — Marilynn, Hayes, Virginia
Dear Marilynn: Experts estimate that about 5,000 dogs die in the U.S. annually from backyard pools. While the life vest is a must for every dog entering the water, it’s equally important to train dogs not to get into the water unless given permission to do so. It could save a dog’s life someday.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.