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In short:

What are some "tricks" to get an extremely timid dog, that is impounded, to walk on a leash and go outside?

In long:

At the dog pound that I volunteer at we have a dog (Dakota) that lays at the back of her kennel and she does not want to come out. We can gingerly pet her but she flinches. We can put a leash on her but she won't move. She doesn't want to stand.

There is limited time to spend with her as we are always short volunteers and only walk dogs 3 days a week. She is heavy-about 45 lbs and long and tall. Two working together have picked her up and carried her outside but I dislike carrying an able dog and I don't think it is good in long run. Dakota pants and trembles the whole time I try to walk her. She has been at the pound a week today.

This is the third time I've tried to walk her. What are your thoughts on what I've tried so far: I pull the leash gently, she is forced to move her foot forward, I release tension for a second then start process over. After a few forced steps I walk back to her side (right behind her head) and she then takes a step on her own. Today I used a squeaky toy to distract her. After 30 minutes we got outside but I could not get her to the grass. Time was up basically. When we turned back to go inside she walked on her own a few steps at a time but it was another 30 minutes to get her back into her kennel. When Dakota first comes out of her kennel (but is still inside building) she poops and pees.

All we know about Dakota is she has been running loose for years and being fed by people who finally called Animal Services to get her trapped. Dakota will smell my hand and anything I put up to her nose but she will not eat from my hand nor eat anything while people are around. I've read not to pet a shy dog but she does get petted (gingerly) by everyone in the hope that human touch will eventually be ok. You cannot reward this dog because she doesn't want your reward.

This is a kill shelter and dogs that aren't adoptable pretty quick may be put down so time is of the essence. One good thing is she has not shown any aggression and I don't want to do something stupid and screw that up for her.

Dakota is probably a border collie mix. She is black and white, medium length fur, short stubby tail. I guess that she has had puppies because she is not "fixed" and has large nipples. I filmed her today because I want to keep up with her progress. She is the toughest case of timidity that I have dealt with so far.

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  • Welcome to pets.SE! For the future: Please make your question as clear as possible, so you will get quicker and preciser answers. -- How much time do you have in the whole week to interact with the dog? As I read it: 30 minutes at three days? Nov 7 '21 at 6:28
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    Is there any chance of getting her out of the shelter and into to a foster home? My gut feeling is that she would need a lot more time and dedication than you and your volunteers are able to give?
    – Stephie
    Nov 7 '21 at 10:09
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    Second thought: How does she behave around other dogs? If she interacts well, do you have a calm and friendly dog that could encourage her to follow and basically show her the way? Sometimes dogs understand dogs better than humans, especially if she has trust issues or little positive associations.
    – Stephie
    Nov 7 '21 at 10:12
  • 1. That is about right- 30-45 minutes 3 times a week. I went in for an extra day just for her today and had about an hour. She did a tad better. I got her to the grass.
    – MLO
    Nov 9 '21 at 1:45
  • Hey! I'm sorry- I will try to be more specific in the future. To answer: yes-30 - 45 minutes three days a week usually. I was able to go in today for an hour just to spend with her. We got to the grass in about 20 minutes, she walked behind me a few steps on her own (that was great!). As far as fosters, not usually but that is a great idea for this dog & I'm going to talk with other volunteers to see what we can do. Around other dogs- she doesn't acknowledge them. We have a dog, Athena, that I've used to socialize other dogs with-no response from Dakota.
    – MLO
    Nov 9 '21 at 1:54
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I have some limited experience with a street dog that went through a rescue program and was adopted.

Sometimes dogs shy away from human attention, especially if they had negative experiences with humans hurting them. The dog I know will sneak in circles around me and try to sniff me from behind, but run away as soon as I just look at her. So my solution is to sit down on the floor and completely ignore her for 5 minutes (to give her time to sniff me), before I bribe her with a treat.

Another aspect is that dogs are much more nose-oriented than we humans. Talking to her calmly or trying to lure her with a toy may not work if she's already overwhelmed by all the sensory input. By concentrating on her nose, you can tune down her other senses.

So my advice is to go into her kennel, sit down somewhere to the side and completely ignore her. You can use a small hand mirror to observe her reaction without directly looking at her. At the same time, have a treat in your hand that smells really delicious, like hotdog sausage or cold cut turkey. Let the scent waft through the kennel and observer her reaction via the mirror. The ideal scenario would be that she comes to investigate the smell and takes the treat from you (or the floor right next to you) without you even acknowledging her.

If she doesn't get up and walk to you, you might need to sit closer to her and place the treat within her range.

You can do that all day long. Go in to give her a treat, go on a walk with dog A, go back to her to give her a treat, go on a walk with dog B, and so on, and so forth. Eventually she should associate the smell of the treats with you and with positive outcomes.

The next stage would be to hold the treat in your cupped hand (so she cannot actually eat it) and lure her a few steps forward, before giving the treat to her. You cannot expect huge improvements at the first trial, so space her training out between walking other dogs to give her as many training sessions as possible. If she responds well to the treats, expand the distance she has to walk to get the treat.


Another solution mentioned by Stephie in the comments is to involve another dog. Choose the most chill and calm and possibly elderly dog you have available. She needs a stable relationship, not another anxious dog. If possible, let both dogs live in the same kennel. (Personal experience: when we brought the rescue mentioned above and our own dog to a dog pension for our vacation, the rescue wouldn't eat or move at all. She had to be housed together with our dog, which immediately improved her behavior.)

Then try taking both dogs for walks at the same time (best done with a second person). Everything you do, do it first on the stable dog (like putting on the leash). Then start leading the stable dog out for a walk. The second person just starts walking behind the stable dog with her leash. You can call her and look over your shoulder (which is dog body language for "Are you following?"), but do'nt otherwise look at her, don't coax her, this is not about her. This is about a pack (of 2 humans and 2 dogs at this point) walking in the same direction It may take a few days until she follows at all. That's why you should be 2 people. If she doesn't walk, at least the stable dog gets their walk and you might try a different approach.


The last idea is triggering her instincts. This may only work on dogs with a very specific personality, but it's easy to implements. Go into her kennel with a toy ball. Sit close to her (while ignoring her, as written above) and let her sniff the ball. Then start idly rolling the ball on the ground with your hand, but keep it in reach. Keep the motions slow-ish and avoid hectic motions. If the ball caught her attention, start rolling it from your position away from her. If she has a stong herding instinct or is very toy oriented, the ball should catch her attention and she should go fetch it. Don't take the ball away from her or you spoil the reward. You should be able to get it back a while later or the next day.

If she reacts strongly to the ball, you can use it to manipulate and lure her just like you would with a treat.

I hope at least one of these ideas work.

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  • Thank you. Today I let her smell tuna and whenever she started to really shut down I let her smell that and she showed some interest. I sat with her very still for 10 minutes before I put the leash on today. Being with her two days in a row I hope will help too. I will try the ball rolling in the morning. You are right, she is so over whelmed that she doesn't react to anything yet. She is surrounded at times by people and dogs walking right next to her when I have her in a narrow hall. Even then she just pants, trembles and stares. We will always be hopeful though.
    – MLO
    Nov 9 '21 at 2:07

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