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My parents have two female dogs. Both were rescued from the streets and arrived very young. One is already 5 years old and the youngest is about 1 year old and weighs roughly 6 lbs.

The youngest is very afraid of people, although she gets along very well with the older dog. At first we thought she was abused and she would get used to us over time, but it has been more than six months that she has been living with us and she barely sniffs the tip of my parent's toes when they aren't looking, let alone me (I don't live in my parents house but I'm there often).

Sometimes I chase her to pet her a little, but she will try to bite me and pee and poop when I catch her. I try to give her treats while she is in my hands but she refuses (she accepts if I throw it from distance).

If I touch her in the head she does nothing, but if I touch her on her back she jumps like if she was struck by a electrified wire. This makes me wonder if she has had a traumatic experience or if she has hyper-sensitivity to the touch. It is interesting the she has no problems to play with the other dog at all, they get along very well. Is there anything we can do to make her more used to us?

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It sounds like she is a very "soft" dog and was not socialized with people appropriately when she was young. I don't think that dwelling on the "was she abused" is productive... you just have to start from where you are at and try to move forward from there.

You are doing good by letting her take her time but there are some things you can do to help.

  • have a lot of patience. Sounds like you are doing pretty good on this step already.
  • stop chasing her... the pee/poop/bite is an extreme reaction so it means she is beyond the "thinking" at that point and you won't be able to prove to her that you aren't going to harm her... she thinks you already did.
  • throwing the treats at a distance is a great game/exercise for her to learn. It will be a good long term tool to use when she meets new people.
  • don't worry that she won't take the treat when you are close... she is still to anxious to be interested in food with that much "closeness". You can still offer it but don't be offended when she doesn't want it.
  • Since it sounds like she trusts the other dog... love up on the other dog, play simple "sit" games with it and let her watch. Dogs learn a ton from each other.
  • Be happy with very small gains and when you get them stop there... don't keep pushing for more at that time. If she feels good about that one small step then the next time she is likely to come back to it faster and may take the next step.

A professional dog trainer may be worth your time and money here. Often you can learn a lot from even one session but if you can find one that has a "shy dog group" that would even be better.

  • 1
    Hi, thanks for your advises. The other dog is totally the opposite of this one. She has been playful and social since the first day she got here (in a similar condition: rescued when she was about 6 months old). I play with the older dog in front of her so that she observes and at times she wags the tail from the distance. My father is the only one who doesn't chase her and, indeed, she sniffs only him. I will try to be more patient and see how she develops. – Gabriel Diego Mar 3 '14 at 4:03
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Pooping in that context is outright fear -- this dog is terrified. You definitely have to be patient and respect her boundaries or she's just going to get more terrified.

We have a 6 month old rescue dog who is super fearful and we've gotten a lot of mileage out of marker training and "touch." We don't use a clicker, we just say "yes" and treat. There is plenty of writing about clicker training out there, but roughly, I hold a bit of treat and say "touch" -- as soon as his nose contacts my hand I say "yes" and give him the treat. We worked from there to requiring a pretty firm nose nudge. I haven't gotten to a point where I don't reinforce the "yes" with a treat, but in theory you can.

It's probably the easiest training game to play and it is really good for getting him to approach and show interest.

We also feed him by hand, and were able to work slowly up to petting him while he eats.

Some of the tips we got from a trainer that really helped:

  • Training time should be training time. Get some treats together, play for a few minutes and then move on. But while you're doing it, focus on doing it. In your case it sounds like maybe separate her from the older dog so that there's no competition for treats.
  • Use high quality treats. If he's not willing to play for milk bones, escalate. We use big chunks of cooked chicken for stuff he's not crazy about (mostly coming near the leash or sticking his head through a collar).

update Adding ...

Another thing ... eye contact is scary, so you might want to start by holding a treat in your hand and looking the other way. Let the dog warm up to you as slowly as she needs to. Don't push for eye contact or snuggles unless she's ready to offer them. With our dog we started by putting treats near us, then holding them out and looking away, and slowly moving the offering hand closer in.

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It sounds to me like the younger dog had a traumatic experience or was abused by people while she was living by herself. One of my aunts had a young dog that she took in that acted the same way with children, because some children in town would throw rocks at stray dogs. She was fine around anyone adult-sized, but she never got over her fear of children.

Your dog might not ever get over her fear of being touched either, it's possible that she could be comfortable enough to trust certain people enough to pet her, it's hard to say. But in order to make any progress, the absolute first thing you have to do, is don't try and force her interactions with you. That means not chasing her, and not trying to force her to accept being touched. It's like trying to give a person who was almost crushed to death a hug. Even though you mean well, it's not something they can appreciate. The best way to gain her trust is to let her make the first move.

It might sound weird, but ignoring her will actually help her get more comfortable with you. It helps convey that you're comfortable with them, and aren't a threat. Likewise, keeping sudden movements and sound down to a minimum for a while helps too.

Offering treats is a good idea, but what I would suggest is to place them on the floor next to you, rather than offering them out of your hand at first. While you're doing something relaxing, like watching TV or reading a book, place a treat down somewhere nearby. Try to figure out how close you can place the treat to you before she can't find the courage to grab it.

It probably won't happen in the first day (partly because you don't want to give her too many treats at once), but continue the process of placing a treat near you while you relax, and each time, sneak the treat a little bit closer to you. Eventually the dog should associate your presence with feeling calm and getting treats. Both good things.

The goal is that eventually, you can eventually set a treat down right next to you, or even on your lap, and she'll feel comfortable going up to take it. After that, you can start to try and get her to take it right out of your hand. Once that happens, she should trust you enough to let you pet her.

  • Hi, thank you too for the tips. Indeed she can't stand with being touched. When I caught her (just for 3 or 4 times until now), when I touched her gently she would react very strongly, even after doing so many times. When I throw treats I always give for both dogs alternately and it seems that both know their turn (I never saw them fighting over treats). The distance that she keeps from me looks very variable, but she tends to be closer when I am with the other dog. Still the trick to leave a treat close is unlikely that will work since probably the other dog will find it before. – Gabriel Diego Mar 3 '14 at 4:14
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I am currently fostering a rescue dog. She was basically a puppy mill puppy, who was not given any socialization before being adopted out at 2 months.

She became extremely attached to the dogs in my house when she arrived, and would literally be stuck to their side (or underside, because she would hide underneath them when walking). She would poop if someone came near her. She only comes to me, and nobody else in the family, and will only be comfortable going outside with another dog.

I noticed she would tap my hand on occasion with her nose, so I started target therapy. It is helping a little, but she definitely needs professional training. I strongly urge your parents to take her to fearful fido training and be evaluated. It is not something that is just going to go away - its like teaching someone to ride a bike; they won't spontaneously learn just because they've had a bicycle in the garage for 2 years.

It sounds to me like your parent's puppy was weaned too early or not socialized. They feel comfortable around other dogs, and will respond by freaking out if you touch their bodies. I can't say for sure, but it doesn't sound like it was abused. I've dealt with those and the behavior is different. Good luck.

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Not abuse. I have a huge Australian Shepherd who does the same thing. I know where she came from, a personal close friend, and how she was raised. She has definitely not been abused. But when she sees the mailman Drop a package at the Porch, she squeezes a ball of poop or submissive pees. I know for a fact that we didn't get socialized properly because when she was at the crucial age we had a terrible ice storm and it would thaw and then before people could get outside it would freeze again... It went on for several months. She's fine around the family but she does not like strangers. And she has not been abused. Part of this is also her breed. Certain dogs are high strung. It is just who they are. We have worked on the hand feeding and it helped but didn't fix it. Some children are high-strung. It's the personality. Sometimes it's just the dogs personality.

Having said that if anyone has any other suggestions I'm all ears.

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