Working With Timid Dogs


A dog was recently returned to our rescue group.  Hed come from an abusive home where one person yelled at him and the other coddled him.  Although hed been fine in two foster homes, he was listed as timid on his description.  The new owner had problems with the dogs confidence, with submissive peeing and with chewing that seemed related to his lack of confidence.  He was returned to foster care. 

Several of our members wrote advice on dealing with timid dogs when they are new to a home or foster care.  This situation resulted in our adopting a policy that new owners should refrain from introducing a new dog to an electric fence until the dog is happy and confident in his new home.  Of course, many of us believe that electric fences are not appropriate for Border Collies, anyway.

Ive edited for clarity. 


My advice on a new dog is to give him time and space.  Don't ask anything of him.  Let him decide when he wants to do or learn something.  And PLEASE, keep him away from anything that will shock.  He is probably in huge stress overload, and doesn't understand anything.  Turn the invisible fence off and walk him on a leash.  Don't even try to teach him the fence thing for several months, especially if he's that afraid.  In my opinion, electric fence is for cattle and horses, who seem to have no trouble understanding it.  Electric shock is not for dogs, and never for a timid one.

I think we need to let a lot of these rescues have time off before we start asking stuff of them.  They can only process so much at once.  Leash walks along the same route for at least 2 weeks will help a rescue become comfortable in his surroundings.  Try to give him as little new information to process as you can.  Remember, every human voice sounds different to a dog. I would change a new dogs name, and start over like he was 8 weeks old. 

Also, don't put him in the position where he has to make decisions; he may not be capable until he has processed all the abuse-related stuff already in his head. Remember how traumatic a change of environment is for him.  He doesn't know that you saved him from a bad life, or that now things will be better; all he knows is that everything is different!  That's a scary thing; it can be a dog's worst nightmare.  Some of these dogs have had that happen repeatedly.

Don't make eye contact, and if it's unavoidable, remember to blink.  When you look at the dog, look at his shoulder.  Save eye contact for when the dog is very relaxed and then only for a second, coupled with the softest "good dog" you can manage.

Get a clicker, soften the sound with tape or a rag, and click and treat. Once the dog understands that the "click" is a good noise, you can calm his fears with a click. It's a sound he can comprehend much easier that your voice.

Finally, think in terms of baby steps, and having the new dog become a full-fledged dog way down the road.  The first 4 months or so just get him used to your house - routine noises, routine schedule, routine whatever.  This will be quite enough for him to absorb.    Think of it as setting the foundation for all the great years to come, when he will be mentally healthy and ready and eager to learn whatever you want to teach him.


It sounds like this dog is very sensitive in general--without the former abuse taken into account.

One of my dogs has never been abused but he has some really irrational fears that make him behave the way she's described. I can also guarantee you that one shock from an invisible fence and my Jack would NEVER go outside again either (he doesn't even want to go out now unless I'm there because the idea that the door shuts behind him really upsets him). When he was a puppy I corrected him with a squirt bottle for putting his paws on the table and he cowered and recoiled like he'd been beaten. To this day he freaks out when I use the windex. He has an incredible memory--and so many little things just devastate him.

He also hates popping or beeping sounds. When I use the fireplace he hides and acts like he's being abused. When the smoke alarm chirped because of a low battery he literally DUG me out of bed. In public, beepers make him crazy. When I use the broom he hides; when I shake out clothing or shake open a plastic bag, he cowers and tries to get away.

When he was a puppy he had a horrible time with submissive urination. In fact to this day if he's corrected for anything he will dribble. He also worries desperately about being in trouble--even though he's rarely ever IN trouble, as he's a really well behaved dog.

I had to use only really positive and gentle training techniques with him as he was just devastated by corrections (even gentle ones). The best way I found for dealing with all of his freakiness was just to ignore it. For things that are just ridiculous, like the fireplace, I make him sit in the room with us for at least five minutes before he gets to slink away.

I also just had to keep in mind that he has fears about things that other dogs don't even notice. I think she made a big mistake by trying to teach him about the invisible fence so soon and it's going to take eons to convince him that the fence is not going to kill him now (that's the phrase we use for Jacks fears--everything is trying to kill him).

As for the ripping things up...I think it's due to frustration/nervousness. Jack was a ripper, too. He used to take everything apart by the seams--very meticulously. He also knew it was wrong but couldn't help it. He also outgrew it. I think if they can ignore the behavior he's exhibiting and just keep trying to work on his confidence (it will take time) he will outgrow a lot of it and the other parts they'll just need to accommodate. If he's anything like my dog (which I think he is) he will be absolutely wonderful--very loving, gentle, great with kids, fun, happy, smart (my dog does the talking thing too), and ....weird.

Jack IS weird but he's the most wonderful dog I've ever had. I love both of my dogs, of course, but there's something about Jack that will never be duplicated. It just takes a while to get past the freaky stuff sometimes but it's well worth it.

I don't know WHAT to suggest about the fence but I don't think I'd ever be able to have one for Jack--one negative experience with it and he would refuse to go outside just like Sammy. He is great at bracing his feet against door frames--you should see him at the vet. He worked up such an irrational fear about the vet that we had to give him acepromazine to get him in the office. Then we changed vets and went to a woman instead of a man, and that combined with a new office changed his behavior completely. He's still a freak at the vet but he's SO much better. I wish her luck because it IS frustrating but for everything but the electric fence...he should outgrow it.

I have no idea what she'll do with the fence.....


I don't have all the answers, but I am getting a sense that there is too much stimulation in the beginning and perhaps this timid dog needs a safe place to go. If I had him, I would try kennel training him, so that he would sleep in his kennel at night, and if he needed safety, he would go there.

Are there men in the household? You didn't mention any. Does anyone talk loudly? Is he confusing loud talking with 'yelling'? Is anyone yelling?  I would think getting yelled at and then being coddled would cause a lot of confusion.

When she says "if he has the slightest thought that you are unhappy with him, he piddles", I would try to find out exactly what is going on. Are any expectations are being made in the dogs direction, or what? I would personally not expect a lot, and not coddle him when he is in fear. I would keep things kind of structured, like leash walking, etc....and give him his own toys to chew. Find out what kind of textures he likes and put them in his crate.


Gee, this story sounds like Ribsy in many ways. If I raise my voice in excitement or loud laughing, Ribsy will hit the fence and he's off and running. Won't see him for at least an hour. He hides, too. My neighbors said they have seen him go in the bushes and lay his head down and ignore me franticly running around the neighborhood looking and calling for him.

He goes weeks with no problems being left in the house or kennel while I am gone and BANG one day for some unknown reason (to me anyway) I come home to a ripped apart crate, house, clothes, you name it. I know he is very sound sensitive. He hates it when I play music in the house or car. He hears messages from it I guess. Who knows???

I know Ribsy has never forgotten being left behind or separated from former owners and for some reason, certain things set that memory off and he panics. It sounds like this poor dogs memories of being in trouble are being set off by all the stimulation. I wouldn't even train the dog to the fence, not until he can handle everyday life and feels accepted in the pack. It isn't going to be quick, I bet. BC's are quick to learn and rarely forget anything they learn. This goes for bad things too. It is going to take patience and a bit of insanity.

Kathy & Ribsy  


Poor dog.   Passed around again... and so soon.    

This timid dog needs a foster home situation where he can receive a patient introduction to a gentler life while getting some positive behavior modification training.  

Maybe this dog would be better if placed with a single woman who has another dog already, since the poor dog was so mistreated by a man.

From now on, I would recommend that new dog-adopters postpone introducing the electronic shock invisible fencing on their dog until some time for adjustment to a new home has passed.   Try teaching the dog his boundaries using a leash or long line and reward system for staying on his property, instead of immediately setting the dog up for a shock in the neck.  This is a very poor situation for the soft-temperament, worried, stressed-out pup.