Baffled by Behaviour, Again and Again

A trainer once joked that we did too good of a job restoring Shiva’s confidence. Most of the time it’s hard to believe she was ever once a quivering mess at the sight of a plastic bag blowing in the wind. The days of her barking at dalmatian statues and garden gnomes are long behind us.

Thank the gods.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Shiva has become the bravest living creature I have ever known. It seems like nothing phases her. She runs down crumbling cliffs, leaps onto ledges higher than my head, and takes hits from the cat and goes back for more. But just because she doesn’t ever seem scared, it doesn’t mean she is invulnerable to fear.

I can’t forget that.

Near the end of a walk one day this week, I called Shiva over to put her leash back on. I did the usual routine and dropped a pile of treats on the ground for her to munch while I clipped the leash. She was a bit distracted, kept sniffing the air and then the ground, but I didn’t think much of it. The only thing that did register is that she didn’t immediately gobble up the kibble pieces with her usual half-starved gusto.

There is a small parking lot at the park entrance and about this time a car pulled up right by the gate. I glanced over, and then turned back to Shiva, pointing out the treats she had missed.

“Look Shivers! There are still four pieces left! Can you not seem them?”

My words were drowned out by the sound of barking. I looked over again and saw three dogs running from the car straight toward us, making a lot of noise along the way. Rolling my eyes, I reached into my pocket to give Shiva a few more treats before moving the heck out of there.

Funny thing was, she wasn’t looking at me like she normally does in such situations. Nor was she pulling on the leash to get to the dogs. Instead, she remained seated beside me, ears glued to the back of her head, breathing out of her nose in short exhalations. I called her name and showed her the treats but she didn’t acknowledge. When I shoved the food under her nose, she just looked away.


That was essentially my thought process. By this time two of the dogs had reached us and were standing around barking. After a few more attempts to get Shiva’s attention, I decided it was best to just leave.

As we walked up the hill toward the gate, the owner of the dogs was just emerging from his vehicle. He said something to me, I think, but I didn’t hear him because I was too busy staring at Shiva’s tail.

It was between her legs. I hadn’t seen it there since the first few weeks she lived with us.


Once the park was a ways behind us, I was able to get her to take treats again. Phew! But she still looked stressed out and her tail didn’t move. I got her to do some simple tricks and nose-touches and her tail still didn’t wag. Not at all normal for the goofy Shivster. Feeling a little freaked myself, I decided to run.

We ran almost the whole way home. I tried to keep my voice light and happy as I encouraged her. By the time we reached our front door, her tail was up and her body was loose. Her ears pricked when I gave her some treats and she was acting like nothing had happened.

Something definitely had. I just wish I knew what it was so we could avoid it in the future. She has never shut down on me like that before. Not ever. It’s just not her style. If she is upset or scared, she usually barks or overtly displays her unhappiness in some other way. She doesn’t turn off.

It wasn’t just the dogs. Sure, they were annoying and Shiva probably wasn’t happy about them. However, she’s been in many situations like that before and handled them fine. If she was going to lose it, she would let you know loud and clear. I’ve never heard her breathe that way and she’s never turned away from food, not even when she had heat stroke. When Shiva isn’t gobbling treats, you know something is very, very wrong.

But what happened? What caused her to go in on herself like that? Has your dog ever acted completely out of character?

23 thoughts on “Baffled by Behaviour, Again and Again

  1. Sounds like she definitely was scared and/or threatened. There must have been something else that you might have missed noticing. Our fur-babies are much more sensitive and intuitive than us. So, there must have been something that you did not notice that had freaked her out.

    I hope, whatever it was doesn’t happen again. Not only for you, but also for Shiva. Coz whatever it was definitely scared and upset her enough…even reading about her reaction is causing me trouble. So, I hope it doesn’t happen EVER again.

    Lov n Paw-shakes
    Mumma n Pluto


  2. I think you witnessed animal intuition plan and simple. Maybe it was the dogs, maybe it was the man or maybe it was something you couldn’t or didn’t even see. But I think Shiva was sharing with you that there was something extremely off with the situation!! I’m happy her fear/anxiety didn’t last.


  3. I agree with Diane and Shrads – Shiva definitely must have sensed something else going on there.

    It’s definitely a little unsettling when a dog shuts down like that. A lot of people confuse that for the dog “being stubborn”. Good for you for being able to read her so well.

    Blueberry hasn’t shut down for a long time now. I think her “shut down” period lasted only about a week or so when I first had her. I do wonder what was going on though that Shiva did that – too bad dogs can’t just tell us or write it down, or something!


  4. I wonder if there was something about the dogs or their owner that Shiva could sense? Or else there was a large animal in the woods – coyote, bear, etc?


  5. Hmm. I do wonder what else was going on to make Shiva act like that. The dogs plus….Factor X. How disconcerting, though I’m glad she turned normal again fast!

    Occasionally on a walk, Elka will seem to be bothered by something for no earthly reason, and get super distracted and skittish. It’s never anything that I can SEE, though. Or hear, or smell. She never becomes uncontrollable or anything (and I hope that never happens in our years together), but she gets very scattered and also won’t take treats. It’s happened maybe 3 times, in different places around town.


  6. The fact that she was sniffing, the air and the ground indicates to me that it was more than just the dogs and the man pulling up.

    Whether it was a smell that took her back to her street roaming days or something else you will probably never know. (Unless you read about something that happened there shortly after you left.)

    I think you were wise to notice her demeanor and glad that you knew enough to help her work through whatever it was that she was feeling/sensing. Dogs have a way of knowing things that we don’t, it’s good that you guys got out of there.


  7. So weird. Wonder if it was the dogs at all….? I guess it is a puzzle you may never figure out, but the important thing is that you did the right thing by getting her out of there, keeping your tone light, and getting her back to her happy place. Hope it was a freak incident and it doesn’t happen again.


  8. Dogs pick up on more than we realize and it’s so nice that you think and care about it enough to wonder if there was something going on there. It’s tough. I’ve had those moments with Felix where he just shuts down and there is NOTHING I can do to bring him out of it. It bothers me because if I don’t understand what brings on those moments, I don’t know how to keep them from happening! What if we’re out on a busy street or something and he just shuts down…then what?? All you can do is your best at the time and get her out of the situation. She’s a lucky Shiva to have you.


  9. Yes, I have had it happen to me on more than one occasion, when my dogs act out of character for what seems like no apparent reason. I take it is their intuition of danger or something to fear and I get the heck out of where ever I am. It is quite spooky. But I never take for granted that their senses are greater than mine and that they believe in protecting me and staying keen to those odd reactions. Glad you made it home safe and that Shiva is OK.


  10. I had a very similar thing happen with Chewy the other day.

    I opened our living room window, and thought, “Huh, smells like someone has a campfire going.” No big deal.

    Chewy, however, began pacing, and running to cuddle with his daddy, which is something he’s NEVER done. He was like that all night. He wouldn’t even go outside to pee before bed. I was terrified, thinking, oh no, I’m going to have another scaredy dog, but by morning he was back to normal.

    I’m assuming it was caused by the smell…..but maybe there was something else out there?

    How awesome that Shiva was able to recover by the time you got home! That shows your training paying off bigtime.


  11. That sniffing? Probably something.

    Probably not the guy with the rude dogs, because it sounds like she was alerting prior to their arrival. I think your approach was fine.

    You didn’t freak out, you cajoled and then you took her cue and left without fuss. The running was well away from the cause of her distress and probably did you both great good in ‘shaking it off’.

    I wouldn’t worry about it.

    When my little dog does that snorty stuff – he comes all the way to find us at the back of the house to do it – I think he’s telling us there are coyote about. He’s not afraid of anything he can tackle, but he comes and tells us about the big threats.


  12. The interesting things about thresholds is that factors combine that can create an over-threshold situation out of a few sub-threshold happenings.

    So if there is a ‘perfect storm’ of a lot of things that make her a little worried, you can create a VERY worried dog. I’ve definitely had a dog who shut down (went over threshold) because of a few little things. Sometimes I can figure out all the little pieces, sometimes I can’t–many times I’m sure it’s doggie things that I couldn’t notice (smells that have a negative connotation, high pitch scary sounds, strange nuances in the approaching canines, etc)

    A one-time occurrence wouldn’t really concern me (especially since it sounds like you handled it appropriately), if you start seeing a pattern of this scaredy-Shivster, then maybe there’s something else going on.


  13. Don’t know what it could have been but it sounded creepy while I was reading. Jordan reacted in much the same way when he met some middle aged ladies in sunhats and frocks on a bush path. Absolutely refused to walk closer or pass by them. Made me wonder if he was ill treated by one.


  14. It must have been really upsetting to see Shiva so fearful. I’m sorry.

    You’ll probably never know what she sensed.

    But I agree with everyone here that it’s a sign of your bond that you were able to coax her home and that she recovered pretty quickly. Hopefully that gives you confidence that no matter what comes up in the future, Shiva trusts you enough to rely on you to protect her.


  15. I’ve never had either of the boys shut down like that – and no wonder it freaked you out a bit! I tend to agree that whatever upset Shiva was probably not the dogs – perhaps a bear? Anyway, good for you for getting the heck out of there and keeping both of you safe. And, I’m glad to know Shiva bounced back so quickly – running was a great way to get her “back in her body.”


  16. If it’s any consolation, I can commiserate. There are still many things that can shut Bella down and most of the time I have no idea what it is. If I knew, it’d be so much easier to avoid it. I’ve learned to just trust her and remove her from a situation (as long as I can figure out what the situation is… – actually, also not easy.)

    She is so far past my abilities in the sounds and smells dept that usually I don’t even try to figure it out. She also sees things that take me forever to figure out – little red squirrels 70 feet up in the treetops? Really? We were baffled one night a few months back when we thought she was barking and panicking over nothing only to find out a bear had been in the area. It wasn’t even in our yard but we’re pretty convinced she smelled it. So I’d lay my bet on Shiva smelling an unusual animal in the area.

    I think if Shiva regrouped once you got her out there, then you probably shouldn’t worry about it too much unless it happens again. It’s a tribute to how great a job you’ve done with her that she did snap out of it once you moved on.


  17. The only way to work through those situations is to continue to work through those situations. face her fears. good exercise was the best thing for her. If you always avoid what she is afraid of she will never learn true confidence. Keep working with her. could have been a wild animal something she had never smelled. like people aome animals fear what they dont know or understand. good luck


  18. Hi Kristine, it was probably the situation that brought back some previous memories that weren’t too pleasant. Shiva seemed to get over them so that’s good. The other owner probably said, “it’s okay they’re friendly”. Yeah, right…


  19. Oh wow Kristine. That makes me so sad. I have seen the same thing happen with Daisy, but she doesn’t have Shiva’s confidence. I am so surprised to hear she was so spooked. Maybe she sensed or smelled another animal nearby? It’s so frustrating when you can’t identify a root cause isn’t it?

    I think you handled it like an expert. I try to distract Daisy too. Running or playing sometimes helps. I am hoping Shiva’s confidence was restored at the trials today. She sure looked awesome!


  20. I’ve had that problem with Bender, and I figured out it was his noise phobia on overdrive. He heard something that freaked him out, but I didn’t hear it at the time. He is a lot better now that he is on Endep and I don’t force him to come out when it’s windy and nasty outside (the wind brings out all the bogeymen). I think she might have smelled something – which being human with your puny nose, you couldn’t smell. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again.


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