Reminder: The selected responses presented below are a reflection of the collaborative effort of Hybrid Wolf Mailing List aka. Wolfdoglist members to share opinions / information about wolf x dogs, responsible "ownership" and breeding practices. This FAQ is not a scientific or veterinary resource. Some responses have been edited for brevity.
My adult wolfdog is afraid of most everything, what can I do to help him?
He seems to take more to woman than man. I try to introduce new people to him one at a time, never a group because then he goes into that pacing nervous mode. It's very difficult to have people come over and tell them how great he is when he gets this way.
When it's just Dakota and I and my other dog Montana we can do just about anything to him and he comes back for more. But I had this guy over a few weeks ago and he claims that when he went out back to look at Dakota he charged him. Of course I didn't see it and my first reaction is to protect Dakota. Meanwhile when Mike comes over he always asks that Dakota be out back before he comes in. I think they both made each other a little nervous. After Mike leaves Dakota still won't come in immediately, he kind of dances around the door wanting to but really not sure if he should trust it.
This is another reason I get up every morning at 5 am to walk both my dogs so that we won't be confronted by any undesireables that Dakota would feel uncomfortable around. How many people do you know get up at this time rain or shine? Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
I think getting dd Montana was a great idea and likely will continue to help you address Dakota's fears. This rest is just thoughts and guesses that might give some useful hints:
1) seems to me Dakokta's reactions are more flight than fight.
2) Much as we want to, we can't protect our pals from everything, and sometimes trying too hard can make the animal even more fearful. They can pick up on our tension about THEIR possible tension and it becomes circular.
3) I wouldn't try to console Dakota about his nervousness - it may make it seem there truly was a reason to be fearful. Just ignore it and let him pace; he's not harming himself, and if he ever calms down it should stop.
4) an idea to try to acclimate him to new people - explain the situation and and invite someone over, preferably a female (many animals seem more comfortable around women for some reason). Even better if this is a female blood relative, as there may be some simililarity, and familiarity, in your scents. Have both dogs outside with the door cracked and ignore them. If Montana comes in, make a quiet fuss over her and give her a treat. Hopefully, after a number of these ventures, Dakota's curiousity and wanting treats along with Montana's outgoing temperament will lure him inside.
5) I read recently - it may have been Ian Dunbar - that, for socialization, it's a good idea to take your dog for walks in different directions each day. I'd try this, it should be interesting to both dogs, and if Dakota acts fearful at some imagined danger don't try to console him but act as it there's nothing dangerous - there isn't, after all - and try to walk on.
One of the first rescues I met was [quite fearful]. This was before the 'net and we had to improvise. She was hi enough we hadn't a clue to what dog was in her background. After gaining her trust, and with the help of a near unflappable wd who befriended her (and aided us in getting her trust in the first place), we slowly introduced her to new things. Eventually it became the more new she encountered, the easier it was to accept yet more.
You can do loads of things to build a wolfdog confidence. Training is one of best confidence builders I can think of.
Also immersion therapy, same methods used on humans apply to animals, afraid of heights, go some place a lil high, next time higher, until your over it. Afraid of spiders, take care of one for a while, they are quite interesting, though I still don't want them crawling on me, I am not nearly as a afraid as I once was. Same with animals, afraid of people, keeping taking short trips to crowded places. Afraid of loud noises, keep playing loud noises until the animal become familiar with it.
Animals just like people are most afraid of what they don't understand, well in socializing some forget to allow the length of time for an animal to truly understand, thus creating a cheated trust, which means that the animal knows those things exist but hasn't had the opportunity to learn to trust that they won't hurt him or her.
Some animals take a lil longer then other to come around, be patient, or learn to decide when to take the animal places you know he has fears. Can't learn to get over it, until they learn to confront it at least on a small scale at first, as with anything, take tiny baby steps and before you know it, you have an animal that fears nearly nothing.
My advice would be a slow, slow slow (did I mention really really slow?) process of desensitization. This is where you introduce your animal to what they are afraid of (in some cases, one thing at a time, over time) in small small, little bitty tiny little bites, from a comfortable distance.
Like, if you were afraid of spiders, you'd go into a room with a GOOD friend that you trust, and someone else would bring in a closed, sealed, can't-be-escaped-from Spider House with a spider in it, and it was small, no bigger than a breadbox. And they put it in the far, opposite corner of the room. Then your friend tells you what it is, the other person comes in removes the spider, you have a cup of tea. And a special treat. Rinse and repeat several times. Then, after a while, you wouldn't even notice that spider. So the person moves the spider house a little closer, maybe in the middle of the room on a table. Rinse and repeat the first scenario. Slowly, in small small increments, the spider gets closer and closer for longer and longer, and what is hoped for, is that finally you will have enough self-confidence, that you can look at the spider, and not get heebie-jeebies. After all, the spider hasn't hurt you or scared you in all this time, right? Pretty soon, you might even discover that, as long as the spider is not loose, and some fool of a good samaritan doesn't decide that "in order to conquer your fear you must hold the spider", hey! that spider is actually pretty interesting! And if you rinse and repeat enough, (and no-one makes you hold the spider) you might even find it's, well, boring.
Once the fear-object is boring, you've won.
I don't think there is really much that can be done to eliminate shyness and/or caution in a wd. It is the nature of a wolf in the wild to be very cautions so it's just part of their makeup. Probably forced exposure to situations they don't like is not going to be the answer. Perhaps limited exposure under very controlled circumstances mixed with reassurance and praise might help, but it is probably not going to eliminate the reaction.
Wolves, coyotes and jackals are all quite reactive to any novel stimuli in their environments. Wolfdogs/coydogs will tend to be pretty reactive as well. New things are scary for a reason-they can be potentially harmful and cannot be taken for granted.
This reactivity to new stimuli is the main difficulty in handling non-domestic canids (IMO.) You often do not know just what will set them off. No matter what bothers them, you are burdened by an animal in or near a panic state, and an animal in such a state cannot think clearly-it simply responds through either fight or flight.
If your animal is skittish, try to habituate it to stimuli that trigger a fight/flight response. You don't want to torture the animal by subjecting it to terror, so start off with a level that is comfortable. Increase the intensity of the stimuli as the animal learns to relax to each level. This probably needs a lot more explanation. It is helpful to understand about behaviorism and learning if for no other reason than to learn the relationship between stimulus and response. There should be tons on the Web about this, but here is a link that briefly explains the theories: Behaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Look.
Some animals seem to be more frightened than others. Of my guys, Makwa is the most standoffish and easiest to spook. Change in my hair style, wearing glasses, etc. can make him run for cover.
The main thing which I try to do is introduce new people and situations to him SLOWLY and use lots of PATIENCE. When introducing something or someone new, I will go to him rub and talk to him - leaving the new person or thing on their own. He trusts me to protect him, so this seems to calm him. I never try to force anything on him. I let him decide when new things and people are ok. When he is not cornered and is in a place he feels secure, he settles down to new sights and smells much easier. Also, he has a place to hide when things get to be too much.
When introducing someone to an animal that is extremely shy and frightens easily it is always a good idea to forewarn people not to stare directly at your wd. This only causes more problems. I have seen wds which are so shy that they will mess all over themselves when someone stares at them or try to climb the fence to get away.
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