Once a Fearful Dog, Always a Fearful Dog

You know how last week I was whining about Shiva’s front door issues? About how I had yet to accomplish my goal of teaching her not to bark at every dog, person, toddler, twig that passes by the house? Well, our landlords must read my blog as they have solved this problem for me.

The front door has needed replacing for a long time. Since before we moved in. The screen door fell off if we opened it too far and the main door provided absolutely no insulation. Icicles formed on the inside hinges during the winter months. So I was thrilled on Friday when a new entranceway was finally installed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this new installation does not include a screen door. The only window is way up at the top.

It looks a million times better, don’t get me wrong, but I am a little disappointed we won’t be able to continue our training. Even if she was still barking, Shiva’s front door behaviour was showing signs of improvement.

Furthermore, Shiva has reacted to the minor change in a surprising way. It’s so easy to forget she was (or still is) a fearful dog. Her courage in approaching new objects and the fearless way she now runs up to strangers makes it easy to think she is normal. So I hope I can be forgiven for not realising a new front door – such an anxiety-ridden space to begin with – would put her on edge.

All Friday evening we struggled to distract her attention away from the area. Every sound had her jumping up and running over. Even if it was just a car passing by. Eventually I just gave up and let her sit on the floor in the living room, staring at the door as if she expected a monster to leap through at any moment. Or worse, a person she doesn’t know. I tossed her treats every now and then, even if she woofed, knowing it was the only way she’d get used to the change.

On Saturday, after returning from the grocery store, she freaked out at us when we came back from the store. As soon as she heard our voices she calmed down but it was so strange. She never, ever barks at us when we come home. Especially if we’re coming home together. When we went out for dinner that same night, she barked at us again as soon as we stepped in the door. That’s when it hit us.

Our old door was difficult to open. It took several turns of the key and often stuck in the frame. We practically had to punch it open. This new door is much smoother and moves almost without sound. Shiva had been so accustomed to hearing the banging sound of the old door before we stepped inside, that when she heard us enter without the usual thumps preceding, it set her off. Dogs thrive on routine. They find security in knowing a specific pattern of events. A thump and then the door opening is normal. That means we’re back. The door just all of a sudden opening and then the sound of foot-steps, is not the proper order of things, therefore something is off and she needs to let these intruders know she is not okay with it.

I have no doubt she will quickly adjust to all these changes. I will try to reassure her as much as I can by calling out to her before I enter the house. However, it does make me worry a little as we look through ads for house rentals in the city. We’ve been thinking of moving to a larger space with a fenced yard for a long time now – just have yet to find the right space in our price range. When we do finally move I will have to keep Shiva’s needs in mind to give her time to adjust. I can’t expect her to accept an entirely new living space as home right away.

Shiva has certainly overcome a lot of her former anxieties, but I that doesn’t mean I should forget she had them in the first place.

32 thoughts on “Once a Fearful Dog, Always a Fearful Dog

  1. Dogs are really smart. I bet you are right and Shiva associated the sound of the door opening with your arrival and now that the sound is different it isn’t “you” coming home. Could be anyone. I bet she figures out the sound of you opening the new door before too long.

    PS it is a nice door.

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    • I am sure she will too. Though she barked and dashed the door today when I came home and my PH was already here. I ended up walking home and not taking my usual bus – I wonder if the different time is the cause? Craziness. I’ll never get these mutts figured out.

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  2. Our Best Friend never barks when we come home to an empty house, but he barks like hell at anyone coming in when someone is in the house. Drives us crazy that he barks at US.

    Poor little Shiva. I’m sure, as she ages, she WILL calm down. Our vet said it can take two years or more for a dog with a bad background to settle into a happy hound. We see a huge change in Our Best Friend, just as you do in Shiva, and I promise (with my fingers crossed, of course) that it WILL get better.

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    • Shiva barks at us sometimes as well. Usually if one of us comes home late from work, well after dark, and she is fast asleep. I think she is more startled than anything. She barks at my PH a lot more than she does at me. I call her “my little protector.” It’s good to know she would do her best to scare away any creepy invaders when we are alone at night.

      Hmmm… Two or more, eh? Who knows? For the most part I really can’t complain as she is an awesome dog. I worry when she isn’t crazy more than when she is. 😛
      OBF is also pretty awesome. We’re fairly lucky all around, I’d say.

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  3. I know change can very hard for dogs, maybe you could try thumping your knee into the door before you open it. Or practice going in and out with your PH one of you on the inside and one on the outside. The one on the inside treating and calming, while the other goes in and out, locks and unlocks. Then switch?

    Whatever you do, I know it will be with Shiva’s best interests in mind.

    One day last week I had the airconditioning on and it was really loud, normally the dogs hear the car and greet me at the door, but for some reason they didn’t hear it and Delilah came charging down the stairs as the door opened! She was about 3 feet from leaping into my face before my frantic screams of “It’s me, it’s mommy” got through to her. 🙂

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    • That’s so funny, but Delilah was also working with much the same idea as I think Shiva is. She hears the car, she knows the door will open and you wll step inside. Not hearing the car first before hearing the door open set off some major alarm bells. I am glad you were able to get through to her before she did anything she’d regret!

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  4. You’ve done an incredible job helping her settle, be less anxious, and find productive outlets for the anxiety she does have! Your ideas for getting her used to the new door–and your attentiveness to her, that allowed you to even see her anxiety with respect to the new door–are just awesome. Teachable moments everywhere!

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    • Thanks, we are definitely doing our best. The one thing I have learned is that no matter what, she will keep surprising us! 😛 Dog training never ends.

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  5. hopefully she gets used to it soon… sometimes our dogs go nuts at me when I get home…. sometimes they don’t react, and sometimes Barbie howls in excitement 😛

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  6. It’s strange the changes our dogs pick up on and react to, it’s often the things we don’t expect. I have no doubt that she will quickly adjust to the new door routine. I think calling out to her as you walk in will help her know that it’s okay it’s just you… or add in some other type of ‘routine’ noise that she can learn and know that it’s you coming in–twisting the nob twice before entering, try to open it before you unlock it so she hears that thump, call her name…etc.

    Big brave girl concerned about the new scary door! 🙂

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  7. I love the way dog’s minds work so logically and consistently if owners would just take the time to try to think like the dog and see the logic and consistency.

    And I love owners who take the time…

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    • It’s hard but it is so worth doing. If i try to understand where she is coming from it is easier to have patience. Since patience is not something I come by naturally, this is pretty important. A lot of where Shiva and I struggle is in understanding where the other is coming from. Hopefully one day I’ll get half of what she is trying to tell me. I’ll settle for a quarter. 😛

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    • It is, isn’t it? The smallest little detail or change can mean disaster for them, or, alternatively, can mean something totally awesome. They know how to keep us thinking!

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  8. Interesting connection you made about the door.

    I notice that my dog Ace barks and runs to the door only if the doorbell rings or if someone knocks. It doesn’t matter who it is.

    But if someone walks right in – and I mean anyone – he doesn’t bark.

    He is conditioned to bark at knocking and the doorbell.

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    • That’s so interesting! More evidence for the patterning nature of a dog’s brain. I think their memories must work in a very sequential way. This happens and then this happens and then this happens. Ace hears the doorbell and then he knows someone strange is going to enter and so he responds accordingly. But if someone just walks in he must assume it’s going to be a family member because you would never ring the bell or knock.

      Who knows? Their brains are mysterious places.

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  9. Could she was barking because she was happy it was you? Maybe if she was so upset by the new scary door, expecting something else, and then relieved it was you.

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    • I don’t think so. Not because I don’t agree that dogs can definitely bark out of joy, it’s just not something Shiva has ever done. In the past she has barked out of frustration and she has barked as an alarm. Sometimes in play she will bark but it’s only once and it’s usually out of impatience for us to throw the ball.
      She’s really not a barker otherwise.

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  10. I’m wondering something as I read this. They have these bells they sell here called Poochie Bells that are made to help train dogs to go outside. The dog gets used to ringing the bell when he wants outside and soon learns to ring the bell to let you know that’s what he wants. But having the bells on the door would let her know that you were coming inside, and even if you moved, you could take the bells, and she’d still have her early warning system. It might work, or it might be total crazy talk on my part1

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    • Actually, I think that is totally a brilliant idea! It probably won’t do anything for strangers entering the house but it will definitely help her when we come home after leaving her alone for a little while. I am going to have to find us a set of bells!
      It’ll also be cool if I can teach her to ring them when she needs to go out. It’s not necessary, but it’s another fun behaviour for her to learn.
      Thanks!

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  11. That is wonderful that you made the connection with the doors, I have to admit that I don’t think I would of been that observant!
    It will be interesting to see how long it takes her to adjust to the new door.

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  12. I’m going with Jodi on this. Bang your knee or bag on the door so that Shiva has some preparation of your arrival. She will settle down in time, she just needs to get used to the new routine.

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  13. It is a lovely door. Who would have thought it would come with a new challenge for you and Shiva:) Lots of great suggestions. I can see where she’s coming from. Her view has been taken from her too. Shiva is probably very confused. But she’ll work it out. She’s a very clever girl:)

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  14. Poor Shiva! I’m sure she will settle in to the new “routine” soon. It must be nice to not have to fight your way into the house! Cali barely lifts her head from her nap when we come through the door (unless it’s time to eat!) but she barks like a maniac if someone else comes to the front door and we have never done a very good job of training her NOT to . . .I kind of like it when salespeople show up . . I just let her scare them off 🙂 (I’m so bad!)

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  15. I never realized that Shiva had fear issues. Maybe I just always assumed she was a confident, happy, fun-loving girl.
    I am sure the differences in how the door sounds is a huge part of her barking, no to mention the new smell and look. Jasper has the same issue with new things. If I bring a new rug in or a new piece of furniture is added or I rearrange the room he freaks out for a bit.
    I doubt Shiva suffers from this, but I Jasper’s trainer called it “brittle dog syndrome”. I had never heard of it before. Basically when a dog isn’t socialized to new things and environments early on they have a hard time being able to adjust when something new is introduced into their environment. This is certainly the case with Jasper, although I must say it happens less and less often these days.
    I hope all your re-directing and calming her from outside the door will help!

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  17. She will settle down in time, she just needs to get used to the new routine. One day last week I had the airconditioning on and it was really loud, normally the dogs hear the car and greet me at the door, but for some reason they didn’t hear it and Delilah came charging down the stairs as the door opened! That’s so funny, but Delilah was also working with much the same idea as I think Shiva is. We’re fairly lucky all around, I’d say.

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  18. I am sure she will too. In the past she has barked out of frustration and she has barked as an alarm. That’s so funny, but Delilah was also working with much the same idea as I think Shiva is. Maybe if she was so upset by the new scary door, expecting something else, and then relieved it was you.

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