Elvis, my wonderful scaredy-dog, is having a rough time at my house. He is such a wonderful foster, but I feel bad for him because he is scared of almost everything. With all of the dogs and cats at my house, plus my husband, he just doesn't seem very happy. Keep in mind, this is the dog who is scared of cute little fluffy kittens - so it doesn't take much to worry him. He spends most of his time running away from the cats, the other dogs, and mostly my husband. I have tried to ask Dave (my husband) to work with him, but he's a stereotypical male who thinks showing fear is a sign of weakness (he proudly admits this) and therefore he doesn't like Elvis. It doesn't help that Elvis howls and barks non-stop whenever Dave comes into the house. I keep telling Dave that he's supposed to be helping Elvis to be more adoptable - not making him worse!! And sometimes he tries, but that actually makes things worse instead of better. His idea of helping is to walk directly toward Elvis saying "it's okay" - following him into a corner when he runs away and then leaning over him and petting him. The reason this is so bad is because dogs see someone approaching them directly as aggressive. They also see someone following them when they try to get away as aggressive. They also see someone leaning over them and touching them when they don't want to be touched as aggressive. In other words, even though Dave THINKS he's helping, he's actually scaring Elvis even more. I've tried to explain this to him, but haven't quite gotten through to him yet.
It's amazing how much I've learned recently about dogs and body language. They respond more to how you move than they do your voice. There was a customer's dog at PetSmart that got out of his collar on Saturday and ran out into the parking lot. Six months ago if I saw that, I would have started walking toward the dog, doing exactly what Dave did, and saying "it's okay, come here puppy", and chances are, the dog would have bolted. Instead, I bent down into a crouch, turned my body away from the dog, looked back toward him but not directly at him, and called him in a high-pitched happy voice "come here puppy!" and he came right to me! I've asked Dave to do that, in conjunction with some really good treats, and I think Elvis would get over his fear of him pretty quickly. But so far I haven't convinced him. Sigh. Elvis really needs a quieter foster home. He still likes to play with Lacy, but he's back to only playing out in the backyard and hiding in the house all the time. The only time he gets excited is if I pick up a leash. I take my time before I put it on him because I love to see him all excited and bouncing around looking forward to a walk or a car ride. I want him to be like that all the time. He sleeps on the floor right next to the bed, and if the other dogs aren't around he will climb up on the bed with me. But as soon as another dog comes in the room, or a cat, or a person, he's back down in the corner next to the bed. He won't eat unless there's no one else around - he runs away from his food if another dog comes over to it, or a cat. I feed him in another room often because otherwise the other dogs get his food before he ever eats it. Even when I bring out the really good treats for training, he'll hang around in hopes of me going to him, but he won't come to me with all the other dogs around. (He has learned to sit for a treat as long as no one else gets too close to him.) I hope he finds another home soon, either a foster home or a permanent home, that will be good for him. He's such a good, well-mannered dog and he will make someone a great pet, if I can just find the right person. In the meantime, I'll keep trying new things to help him be less worried all the time, and I'll keep working on my husband too!