Overcoming Fears

For many months, I've been working with Loki in getting him to overcome his fears, which include:
  • Manholes & sewage/water covers
  • Smooth/different surfaces (like the floor in the laundry room)
  • Children
  • Anything new or out of place
Yesterday, we had a breakthrough in overcoming Loki's fear of this:

I took my clicker with me and tried a slightly new technique that worked wonders. I walked over the covers and coaxed Loki to cross. I waited for him to cross by himself (no pulling) and clicked just as he crossed. The treat was waiting for him when he got to me. Then I would immediately cross again. This was the key difference in my technique. Previously, I would continue our walk maybe 10 feet down and then turn around to repeat the exercise. This time, I didn't continue our walk at all. Instead, within a foot of the covers, I immediately turned around to cross again. Repeat about 15 times. Today, we were able to cross this spot without any hesitation at all! Yay! Success in one day's work.

Another manhole that Loki is afraid of is this one.

I have not yet tried my new technique of immediately turning around. We've encountered this spot on our daily walk for months now. The frequency of passing it once a day does not work at all in teaching him not to fear it. Everyday, he freezes right before it. It is possible to drag him through it by the leash, but he'll never walk across on his own that way. You'd have to drag him through it every single time you passed it.

I've tried doing some training repetitions with the clicker. I've always just walked across, coaxed him to cross (click & treat as he crossed), and then continue walking for about 10-20 feet before turning around to repeat the exercise. But apparently, repetition in this manner does not work. I will have to try the technique of immediately turning around.

Another one of his fears is the laundry room.

Now, you might be tempted to think that he's afraid of the noise of the washers and dryers. But no. Not at all. It's the surface that scares him. It's smooth, although somewhat similar to our kitchen floor, which he is somewhat fine with. (He obviously prefers the carpet, but can deal with walking on the kitchen floor.)

I've been trying to throw treats on the laundry room floor to lure him in. He will put his front paws in, but keep his back paws out.

Look at how much he will strain to keep his back paws outside!

Uh-oh! Somehow I lured him all the way inside! But then, he started to panic and shake with fear. I tried to keep him inside and hope that he would calm down once he learned that nothing bad was happening to him. But he really was shaking with fear and I also ran out of dog treats at that point. So we left. Repeat again tomorrow.

Sometimes people who rescue Shibas think that their Shiba must have been abused because it's so skittish. Most of the time, I think that it's probably not true. Loki has been with us since he was 7.5 weeks old. He has all of the above mentioned fears and also becomes skittish whenever he encounters anything new or what is out of the ordinary for him.

We did our best in exposing him to many things when he was younger. And so, he's fine with trucks, motorcycles, lawnmower, adults, and other dogs. He's fine with parked cars and motorcycles. But today, we came across a parked motorcycle with a cover on it! Oh boy, that cover was really scary to him.

The thing is, once he's encountered that new thing a few times, he learns it won't hurt him and it's no longer new. I'm not so sure I can really teach him not to be afraid of new things. As we encounter more stuff, there will be fewer new things, but you can't encounter everything. There will always be something that is new.


Janet said...

Loki's a smart dog to be afraid of manhole covers! There's been articles in the news about dogs being electrocuted walking across them!

Vi said...

So far, he still refuses to walk ON them. He goes AROUND the metal ones. All I want is for him to walk around them peacefully without stopping and freaking out.

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