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Really Need Help : barking, lunging, reactive Sheltie on thin ice

Discussion in 'Behavior' started by Muddy, May 6, 2013.

  1. Muddy

    Muddy Forums Novice

    May 6, 2013
    I'm new to the forum, and I have come looking for some help.
    I have had and trained dogs for 20 years~ formerly did OB, therapy, field and Agility with a Toller and Brittany and used to teach clicker/ positive reinforcement puppy classes as well as run Canadian Brittany Rescue and foster for all breed rescue... and my Toller was a MESS of behaviours and spent many many years working on them... all to say, this isn't my first rodeo :wink2:

    But our Sheltie has me beat right now.

    Archie is 4.
    We have had him since he was 8 weeks, so this is all us :eek2:
    He began to show shyness about 20 weeks of age~ refusing contact with others outside of the family, even for treats (not food driven).
    Since this time he basically has refused to connect with anyone but our family (mom, dad, one young daughter) unless he knows them, and sees them in our home for AGES.
    Over the years, this reserve got worse.

    We live on the main street of a small summer town. Foot traffic is non-stop.
    Archie believes all he surveys is his to mind and protect.
    There is no place in our house or yard that is truly secluded or private, so he is always on duty (in his mind) ~ there is no place to let him out that doesn't offer a view of strangers and 'intruders' (our neighbours run commercial cottages).

    A couple years ago we could no longer allow him off leash on our property as he would chase and harass anyone who goes by. If they are male, he would nip at heels and legs. I knew someone would call it a bite some day..

    We had some short lived success with an electronic bark collar,
    but he learned to take the 'buzz' and bark his face off during the reset phase.
    The most effect it had was to make him come to the door to come in when he saw someone, because he knew he would bark.
    We praised and rewarded these choices.
    Oh, the hours I spent on that porch reinforcing non-barking.

    The bark tamer thing with the high pitched sound was a wash, because it bothered the Sheltie, but not our Papillon, who barked and made it beep and bother the Sheltie, unfairly.

    So. Things kept getting worse.
    We tie him outside to do his business, under supervision.
    But I can literally strangle him and he won't stop freaking out when people go by.
    Obviously restraining him isn't effective (and yes, probably heightens his sense of territoriality).

    He has gone from barking frantically to anyone at our door, to lunging at them aggressively when they turn to leave.
    He is crated the moment we know someone is at the door now (and much other time, too :().

    Inside, he now goes nuts (barking, lunging) when the phone rings, the oven timer or smoke alarm go off (high noises). At first he barked and ran.
    Now he actively goes after us... it was lunging and pushing at our legs.
    We try not to holler (joining the noise) and stay calm, but if we wave him off, he has begun to lunge back snarling.

    It is now biting~ he punctured the back of my calf last week.
    I tossed him in his crate. (the smoke alarm was going, burnt toast)
    And he continued to lunge and snarl in his crate.

    I have tried positives and negatives.
    Being a clear and consistent leader.
    Crating, collaring, leashing.

    We can't let him loose or take him anywhere.
    I make sure he gets exercise and take him several times a week to a friend's farm property to run and be free, but even then, if someone shows up, I fear a bite, or that a pedestrian or horse and rider will go by.
    At my mother's he LOVES the yard~ fully board fenced and he has nothing to watch or protect~ he lopes about grinning there.

    He is incredibly reactive... anxious? definitely fearful, which is hard wired, he has had a good and consistent life.
    It is like he lives at a '10' on the freakout scale, so any 'irritant' pushes him over the edge.
    I can't help thinking that if he lived at a 1, he wouldn't climb so high, so fast.
    And if he was calmer, there would be potential for teaching new behaviour.

    Drugs and behaviour modification?
    I am at the point of a remote e-collar to tap him the moment any of his buttons are about to be pushed. But I honestly think it will only give him more reason to be upset.
    I have also considered getting a more dominant dog, just to let him off the job!

    I don't know what will help.
    And he bit me.
    And we have a daughter that he herds and protects... but he doesn't respect anyone BUT me... and he bit ME.

    This dog has a hard mouth.
    And he bit me hard enough to break the skin... there is no inhibition there and I am genuinely scared.
    I have put down rescues for less, knowing how hard they would be to re-home and that a biting dog is a tough fix.

    We love this boy, but I really hate that he is untrustworthy and dangerous, and I am willing to try with him, but frankly time is at a premium in our lives, my daughter has special needs, I work full time, run a business, we homeschool and my husband works away. I have some time for Archie, but I don't have the kind of time I did when I was single and lived and breathed dogs, kwim?

    {{We plan to move within the next 18 months, out of town, rural... which would help a lot, but the latent issues would still exist}}

    We want to keep him, but not like this.
    And I don't feel safe re-homing him, either.
    horselady likes this.
  2. OntarioSheltie

    OntarioSheltie Forums Celebrity

    Apr 29, 2008
    Ontario, Canada
    I'm sorry that you're going through this. I have a rescue that had severe anxiety that put a huge strain on our lives, so I know where you're coming from.

    The behavior you're describing sounds FAR beyond anything that training or regular vet could deal with. I suspect that you have a very fear aggressive sheltie, but I'm not an expert.

    I'm not against medication, I feel strongly that it has its place in the canine world the same way it has its place in the human world.

    However, that being said, with the level of behavior you're describing I'm not sure that putting him on a medication without knowing first getting to the bottom of his extreme behaviors would be a good thing for him or would solve your problem.

    First, please refrain from using any more shocking devices on him. If he indeed is suffering from anxiety, shocking him WILL make it worse. This could be why he's progressed to biting, since he does not understand where exactly the pain he's experiencing is coming from or why.

    In my opinion, you need to get to a canine behaviorist, or even better, a veterinary behaviorist asap.

    Here are a couple in the GTA that I know of. We had the one in the first link come out to our house and help us with Toby and Ginny, who also started having anxiety because of Toby. Joan was wonderful and a huge help to us. She also hosts a wonderful Reactive Rover seminar periodically, which you might consider attending if its not too far from you. I highly recommend her, however she is only a behaviorist and cannot prescribe medication. You'd need to work with her in conjunction with your current vet.


    This person is a veterinary behaviorist, so can prescribe medication. I've heard he's very good, but he's also very expensive. This is because people with his training are few and far between in Canada.


    In the mean time, you might consider trying a thundershirt? I found it really helpful for Toby. They come with a money back guarantee.

    I can also recommend some natural remedies that I found took the edge off of Toby's anxiety, if you'd like to give them a try. Let me know if you're interested.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
    horselady likes this.
  3. Tagg

    Tagg Forums Enthusiast

    Jan 4, 2012
    Brantford, On
    This sounds like a dog that needs medication so that he can learn. Also, please do a Thyroid 5 panel on him - his thyroid may be right out to lunch.
    There is a site that I recommend. It's called Fearfuldogs.com. It will give you plenty to think about.
    If you are in the Toronto area then I would suggest you call The Canine Center for Education. They have a reactive dog class and are both Karen Pryor training associates. I've seen some wonderful responses in dogs that most would give up on. They have a satellite facility in Milton at Bauhound Hauss.
    I currently am using B.A.T. (Behaviour Adjustment Training) on a reactive aussie that lives across the street. She is coming along well and is now able to control some of her impulses. Hoping that by the end of summer she will be ready to walk down the street without a basket muzzle on her. I only work with her one to two times a week for about 5 - 10 minutes. Actually, all my training is done in 2-3 5 minute intervals/day as I find that dogs get more out of it than pushing for longer.
    Please do not yell at the dog to be quiet when the barking starts. Try to get his attention and do whatever constitutes a reward, vocal, treats, toy -even if you only get eye movement in flashes toward you. If you yell I believe the dog believes you have joined in.
    Also, please do not use electronic devices or harsh corrections. It will only serve to highten the reactivity.
    Hope you can get the help you need. Having to euthanize is an option that is a final resort but I will say that I don't know how long I would endure this. You have to consider the human safety element and what would happen if this dog got loose.
    Good luck.
    horselady likes this.
  4. Muddy

    Muddy Forums Novice

    May 6, 2013
    Thank you for your replies.
    It is very stressful having the constant barking and behaviours
    and the worry about someone getting bit is sort of the icing on the proverbial cake.

    I will look into the links and options~ we can get to Toronto if needed, but financially we are limited, so I will do my reading :).

    I would be interested in some natural options, too~ I have had good luck with Flower Essences in the past.

    And will try the Thundershirt... is it possible to get a good fit on a hairy dog? Our friend's have a Beagle who has really benefited with one.

    I appreciate hearing the seriousness reflected back to me.
    I think I have been in denial.
    And I have to very seriously consider options.
    A muzzle might be a good idea in the meantime. :(
  5. bi-blacks

    bi-blacks Forums Enthusiast

    Jan 17, 2012
    Winnipeg, Mb. Canada
    I can definitely sympathize with you. Our issues with our girl are aggression towards our other dogs when she goes over threshold due to certain triggers.
    There has been the very odd occasion when she shows aggression towards us but thankfully these are few and far between. She also suffers from anxiety and fearfulness. After 4 years of behavioral training, seeing a homeopath (who finally suggested euthanizing when nothing seemed to help), natural remedies, ultra sonic devices to get her attention etc., etc. we have started her on Prozac and after 6 weeks have seen subtle but definite improvement. You do need to be able to get their attention so you can do positive training with them and sometimes medication is the only answer. If you haven't already I would suggest speaking with your vet about the problems you are facing. I know we certainly are glad to have found a vet who is knowledgeable about behavior issues. Your boy certainly sounds like he has fear aggression. I truly hope you can find someone to help Archie and your family as these issues affect everyone.

  6. k9kreationz

    k9kreationz Forums Celebrity

    Oct 24, 2008
    Portland, OR
    Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, as I'm sure we're all aware. Have you heard of Control Unleashed? I know a lot of people have great success with that and using the "Look At That" game. You basically rewire their reaction to threats.

    Basically, they see the threat and are supposed to look at you and get a treat. So, instead of seeing it as a threat, they think good things are coming at them. And their brains get rewired to see a threat as a good thing/treat.

    My dog sounds like yours and honestly, I need to put the time into it otherwise he'll never get better. But it is a long road. Just think of trying to break a bad habit you had for four years. Not easy.

    Good luck!
  7. Caro

    Caro Moderator

    Jan 14, 2009
    Canberra, Australia
    I agree with Ontariosheltie - your best bet is to see a veterinary behaviourist. They can talk to you about anxiety medication as well as behaviour modification. You may need a combination of both. Honestly it really is worth considering anxiety meds - it sounds like you are also getting quite stressed and need a way to calm him down before trying to work with the problems.
  8. ortegah

    ortegah Forums Enthusiast

    Oct 18, 2010
    Baltimore, MD
    I highly recommend Clomicalm, BUT while he's on it, you'd need to be doing some hardcore re-training. I found that it works but it's not a permanent solution. After a few years it starts to wear off, so if you haven't done some good training with him, the anxieties will just come back.
  9. Muddy

    Muddy Forums Novice

    May 6, 2013
    Many thanks for your replies. I so appreciate your experiences and input.
    I did a LOT of reading last night (and reminding myself of things like calming signals).
    I am feeling more hopeful and I am going to talk to the vet about some meds to pair with the 're-wiring' (love that term, so helpful!)~ the long haul to replace the negative reaction with something positive (Archie actually knows this 'game' as we have tried it several times, but gave up too easily, or too soon after small improvements).

    What about a halti?
    I haven't used one in ages but I know they were reputed to be calming
    (wondering about halti/ meds/ positive reinforcement together to target the core triggers).

    So glad I asked here!
  10. k9kreationz

    k9kreationz Forums Celebrity

    Oct 24, 2008
    Portland, OR
    My one warning for a halti or any other sort of head contraption is this....if your dog is likely to run/lunge at anything, unexpectedly, then I suggest you think twice.

    I had one of Koji and he took off after a car. I yelled, nothing. When he hit the end of his 6 foot leash, his head snapped back at me, and his body/feet came off the ground as it snapped the other way.

    Yup. I never used it again because it didn't help and I can only imagine the damage it did to his neck in that one instant. Koji is too reactive and unpredictable, IMHO, for a halti.

    Don't get me wrong, they're great devices. And Koji has worn it successfully, but I no longer trust it with a dog who'll go after something with everything he's got and the only way he stops is when he hits the end of the leash. Very dangerous.

    You know your dog well enough to know if that's more likely to happen. You can try it, but just be aware of the damage you can cause physically.

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