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Friday, 20 May 2011

A friend in need

My six-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, Skye, is terrified of my friend. She used to love her until bonfire night last year when my friend came round just as the fireworks started. Now I think Skye associates her with the fireworks and gets completely stressed out when ever my friend comes round.

Skye sits and pants and shakes the whole time she is round. I have tried to get my friend to give Skye treats, which she loves to try, and get help but its not working and Skye will not eat any of the treats, even if my friend throws them to her from a distance.

I don’t want to stop having friends over but I can’t stand to see Skye so stressed out by her being there. Can anyone help us?

Allison and Skye, by email


  1. Can your friend meet Skye away from the house, perhaps for a happy treat filled walk. Then, come through the door together to her home. This may not be achievable in one session - you might need to take a few meetings away from home first. This will break down any association between the house and the visitor and fireworks into smaller pieces. It will help Skye to learn that it was perhaps the context and not the person that was scary! Good Luck! Karen x

  2. Allison, I'm not a behaviourist, but my first thought was - have you tried getting your friend to meet you away from the house on one of Skye's favourite walks, to start with, rather than having her come to the home where Skye was at the time she was scared by the fireworks? Maybe Skye would be happier seeing your friend away from the situation that spooked her and perhaps then you could build up to her trying again within your home environment.

    If your friend does continue coming into the home, perhaps you could look at having her being seated and YOU giving Skye the treats some distance from your friend at first, as she's clearly not happy about taking from your friend at the moment. I'd also recommend looking into things such as TTouch, Reiki, flower remedies and homeopathy to help her through this - and Thundershirts can be brilliant for reducing anxiety in dogs (and can be great for dogs frightened of fireworks too!)

    Just a few thoughts from another dog owner :-)


  3. Might sound a bit silly but my dogs are soothed by classical music. Could you perhaps put some on when your friend calls and then ask your friend to feed Skye, so that she replaces bad feelings with good ones?
    Also, don't hold Skye on your lap because that may reinforce the fear.
    Another idea might be to go in the garden and get your friend to play with Skye in a nonchalent sort of way. Good luck !

  4. What a shame, can only think of lots of visits with your friend with nice things happening

  5. Why not agree to meet your friend out somewhere - neutral turf so to speak. Break the association between your friend, her arrival, something scary. Also, have your dog on lead but loose so she can hide behind you or whatever she wants if she's still nervous. Why not go for a coffee in your local park, have a chat and encourage your friend just to ignore your dog unless the dog approaches her. In which case she should not meet it's eyes but just hold a hand towards in case shed like to sniff. Let the dog majestic all the running and don't try to force the issue. The less pressured the dog feels the better, and quicker she'll come round. If all goes well, or maybe the second time, all go back to your house together and enter as a group. If this goes well, you could try your friend leaving and coming back in ten mins. If this goes well, you should be ok to return to normal. If at any stage the dog isn't dealing with it, back up a little to where she was ok and practice that a little while longer before trying to move on again. Should be good in a few days! Tamara

  6. Could you maybe try and meet her outside of the house, park or coffee shop so that she does not assocaited her arriving at your house with the noises. Plus the treats too of course.

  7. You don't say what your friend is doing when she throws the treats for Skye. It maybe that she is looking directly at her, and Skye is spooked by the eye contact, plus the association with firework night.
    Why don't you ask your friend to completely ignore her next time, and make no eye contact at all. You and your friend talk together as if Skye is not there. That way, Skye might realise she poses no threat. Maybe the time after that, your friend could lie down on the floor, still not looking, and throw her a treat.
    If she did this and Skye went over to her to investigate, you will know that she is starting to get over her fear.
    I may be completely wrong about this but it's what I'd do if Skye were my dog. I know that some dogs, mine included, if they are slightly wary of a person, become quite fearful if that person deliberately tries to make friends with them and stares at them while doing so.
    My dog is much better with people if they don't stare at her and they let her approach them.
    Julia Lewis (not a behaviourist, just a Sussex Spaniel owner who is interested in dog behaviour!)

  8. Just a thought,

    I agree with most of the comments made here and I have a few other thoughts too that I hope may help. Dog’s sense of smell is much more intense than ours, a well know saying ‘dogs smell your fear’ springs to mind. Our smell is our first communication with a dog. Fear is not the only emotion they pick up on and although you don’t say weather your friend is worried concerned or fractious when she meets your dog, we know you are upset. Although this was not the initial problem I think this may inadvertently become the biggest one.
    Perfumes have an effect on dogs too with some derived from anal glands of other animals, it is hardly surprising some dogs take offence to them if not fear or aggression. We are all beginning to understand the positive effects of lavender but my favourite is Frankincense, though expensive a few drops of this added to some almond oil and applied to you and your friend’s hands will give a nice uplift to you both. Then you will be introducing a calmness that Skye will pick up on.
    I would agree on the meeting outside your house and after a walk to get your dog in that wonderful meditative state a walk can give you. Meet your friend on the way and let her take the lead and take your dog into the house. Treats won’t work now as the Skye probably has learnt they are to be mistrusted. When ever you meet a dog it is always best to let the dog come to you and have a good sniff, it’s the doggy way of doing things and perhaps your dog is just painfully shy and all the fuss just confuses and distresses her. Dogs don’t talk but they do communicate if we look and with the best tool we have and that is our patience, see what works for you and your dog. Wait for the shaking to stop (which can be a sign that they are throwing that emotion away and just about to move on) relax and enjoy and your dog will learn, after a while to do that too.

    Tina Rodwell a Doggy lover x

  9. Definately agree that meeting your friend away from the house would be useful.

    Also how about your friend being there when you come back from a walk. Try not to have her in the same room that she was when the fireworks went off. Your dog could be aware that your friend is in your home, but maybe no interaction from your friend at all to start with. Also how about recording your friends voice to play during the day. Maybe starting it at low volume when your dog is doing something like playing or eating, and if thats ok gradually increasing the volume with time.

  10. Hi all,

    Just wanted to add my thanks for all the suggestions to help my dog Skye. I have started to meet my friend away from the house and its going great. Myself, Skye and my friend are thrilled at how well its working out. Thanks so much!!!