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  #1  
Old 09-23-2008, 01:19 AM
MissMuffett MissMuffett is offline
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Default Rusty, my new buddy.

On Friday I drove to a Humane Society and adopted a heartwarmingly adorable Australian shepherd mix. He'd been found as a stray covered in ticks and tar, and was extremely fearful toward people. He really hasn't shown a whole lot of improvement since, even after spending the weekend with me. Every time he comes up to me, it is with great trepidation. He spends most of his time cowering in the corners of my home. He absolutely loves other dogs, and feels fully comfortable around them, so I "borrowed" one of my friend's dogs for the night yesterday. For the first time he was walking around with his tail out from between his legs, and when my friend's dog came up to me to be pet, he'd join in, and really seemed to relish in the affection. But as soon as I returned home from dropping off my friend's dog, he was back to his old cowering self.

He has very little appetite, and has not approached his food dish on his own even once. I've had to entice him by hand to eat every time (he seems to enjoy being hand-fed, and it's really the only time we can sit by each other and he seems fully comfortable). Once I've hand-fed him a bit, he will usually take up the torch and eat out of the bowl on his own a bit more. So my first question is: should I stop hand-feeding altogether? I started because I was worried that he wasn't eating, and I was hoping that feeding him would "break the ice" as far as eating, give him more trust in me and help us form a bond. I don't want to encourage him needing me to hand-feed him all the time, and never approach his food dish on his own.

I walk him twice a day, and it seems like he is so fearful that he hardly even enjoys the walks. He seems to get tired easily, and after a bit of running (or even a moderate amount of walking) he will try to dart under the nearest bush and cower for a while. It seems that this is due to him being tired, not because anything in particular scared him (though virtually every pedestrian, car or dog that we pass make him wary). Here I was all ready to pull a Cesar Millan and walk him for hours and hours. I was pretty surprised to find that I can out-endure my Australian shepherd mix! That doesn't seem right to me. I worry that maybe this is because he wasn't getting proper nutrition at the shelter (all their food is donated, so they feed him whatever they get), and it's probably pretty energy-draining to be stressed out all the time.

It's hard for me to watch this guy feel so afraid when all I want is for him to feel happy and secure. I did read some of the older forum entries and read that I shouldn't give him affection when he's cowering in a corner or in his kennel, which I admit I had been doing on occasion. But it's hard to find advice on a case like Rusty's.

Most of the advice I can find about dog-behavior is trying to tame a dog that has a little too much rambunctiousness.. but Rusty seems to be suffering from a big lack of zest for life. The only time he's really shown his spirit is when it was brought out by other dogs. Is it cruel of me to keep this guy as my only dog? I was planning on getting another in the future, but I am not sure how soon that can be. I don't want to keep Rusty alone knowing he thrives with other dogs around, unless I can be assured that he will feel just as happy with just me once he gets more comfortable with me.

Is it hopeless?? Is there anything in particular I should be doing, or is it just a long, slow process?

He does follow me from room to room sometimes, and likes to keep an eye on me. And when I call him, it seems like he WANTS to come over to me, but he's thinking, "wait, she's a human! I can't trust a human!" So these things give me hope.

Oh, and pictures will be coming soon! I don't have any yet because I haven't wanted to startle him with the camera.
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Old 09-23-2008, 09:55 AM
Dogstar Dogstar is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

Unsocialized and/or fearful dogs (and it oculd be either, with this guy) take time. Your best bet is to take things slowly, slowly, slowly. Don't coddle him, but set him up to succeed by only introducing new things or stressful situations when you're very sure he'll succeed. Absolutely NO flooding with this guy. (Flooding is the introduction of LOTS of stressful stimuli and basically forcing a dog through a stressful situation- think of the season 1 episode of the DW with the great dane who was afraid of vinyl flooring? It can do a WHOLE lot of damage and it can get you bit and bit badly. It's NOT a technique to be used if there's any other option.) Lots of no-pressure people time will be good for him, though, assuming he's got a basically sound temperament. (If this has a genetic basis- which does happen in Aussies, you're going to need more help than the internet can provide.)

I would HIGHLY recommend finding a good local behaviorist or trainer who is experienced in this particular set of dog problems - it's an invaluable resource.

You might get a copy of "The Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell and read that, and there's a few other good shy dog books on Dogwise.

Last edited by Dogstar : 09-23-2008 at 09:58 AM. Reason: Clarifying 1 point.
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:30 PM
MissMuffett MissMuffett is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

Thanks a lot!! I'll look for a behaviorist in my area, and I'm searching for that book online asap.
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Old 09-23-2008, 04:13 PM
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MissDolittle MissDolittle is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

Congrats on your new dog, MissMuffet!!!

And thanks for the advice, Dogstar. I'm learning a lot from you!!! Keep it coming!
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Old 09-24-2008, 03:24 PM
MissMuffett MissMuffett is offline
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Default An update!

Rusty's progress has been leaps and bounds since I posted my last message. It's like all of a sudden he trusts and likes us. We had company over last night, and rather than hide in a corner, he actually came out and sat in the middle of everyone, letting them pet him and give him attention! Last night when we arrived back home from going out for dinner, he greeted us at the door for the first time. He's wagging his tail and exploring, and he really seemed to enjoy his walk this morning. We even walked past a woman mowing a lawn (something I would have had to drag or carry him past before), and he walked calmly beside us right past it, and didn't even bat an eye! He still is generally pretty timid, but he's coming out of his shell a lot more now.
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Old 11-09-2008, 01:55 PM
MissMuffett MissMuffett is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

I figured I should finally update with Rus' progress, and some photos!

Rusty is doing great. He's completely comfortable with me now. I get lots of kisses and cuddles. The other night I even chased him around the house with a garbage bag on my head, and he enjoyed it. He's still got a way to go with my boyfriend, who he's still a bit scared of. I think that's mostly because I'm the primary walk-giver and caretaker. He's got a big personality, though. He's very playful and smart. He even plays fetch now (for a long time, he wouldn't even go after a tennis ball if we threw it, and even when he finally realized how fun that was, he would catch up to it, and then just act confused and walk away from the ball. lol! Now he brings it back and everything). He's virtually unrecognizable from the shy little guy that used to cower in the corners.





"Rub my belly!"

I did have one question on my mind. He's over a year old, but he still does a lot of gentle mouthing. Like when he's licking my hand, sometimes he will just sort of open his mouth and put my hand in his mouth, nibble a time or two, then go back to licking. I've read that mouthing is a sign of dominance, but this guy is very submissive and obedient, so I really don't think it's that. Is it just a quirk, or is it possible that it's an anxiety behavior that remains from his stressful very-recent-past? It's really not much of a problem as it is, and I suspect it will likely go away (he's doing it less frequently than he used to), so I'm just curious about it.

Last edited by MissMuffett : 11-09-2008 at 02:01 PM.
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Old 11-09-2008, 04:03 PM
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amstaff amstaff is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

congratz on the progress!! i know it's a great feeling!! best of luck and keep up the great work
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Old 11-10-2008, 07:37 AM
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MissDolittle MissDolittle is offline
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Default Re: Rusty, my new buddy.

Oh what a gorgeous dog!! Great job!!
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