I rescued my dog Lacy from a bad situation a few years
ago. Because of her treatment in her previous home, she
still can’t be left alone and won’t walk on a leash,
so I must carry her everywhere. She also won’t eat
unless I am on the floor with her, feeding her by hand.
She is scared all the time. What else can I do?
First of all, Sharon, kudos to you for intervening on
Lacy’s behalf, and for your willingness to provide her
with a stable and loving home. Now you need to take a
much needed additional step — discard the "poor
little rescued victim" title you’ve left on this
behaviors you describe certainly indicate that Lacy
lacks confidence and may be easily frightened or
overcome in any given situation, but you are enabling
these behaviors, and therefore are not helping Lacy to
become more confident and relaxed in the world. I would
recommend you get in touch with a qualified canine
behavior counselor to help you through this process, as
there are a number of specific issues that can and
should be addressed in a gentle, non-punitive manner.
Lacy to walk on a leash might be a bit premature if the
cause behind this behavior is due to her being
frightened when out of your arms. I’d suggest you
begin with the goal of her being able to be stationary
on the ground, with a leash attached, while you work to
help her overcome her fears in general.
a clicker along with tasty treats in a
desensitization/counter-conditioning process will
greatly improve her chances of learning to be relaxed.
Each time she acknowledges anything in the environment
she should be "clicked," followed by a treat.
Begin this process in a relatively calm but new
environment; gradually work up to busier environments as
her confidence grows. Resist the urge to pick her up,
but feel free to sit with her.
also recommend you try a Thundershirt, made specifically
to aid anxious dogs. Having a snug wrap around her may
give Lacy some comfort, and it certainly won’t do any
harm to try.
for not being able to be left alone, I’d suggest you
teach her how pleasurable it can be to be away from you
for a bit. You can begin this at home, in a number of
different ways. Resist the urge to coddle Lacy when she
can’t seem to function without you. Make it a point to
acknowledge her when she isn’t begging for your
attention. As flattering as it can be to live with a dog
that can’t live without you, it’s ultimately not a
her cheerleader and set her up for success when
practicing some independence behavior, by placing a
barrier between you — a baby gate or put Lacy in her
crate, and leaving something of overwhelming interest to
her, like a chew toy stuffed with a tasty bit of peanut
butter or cream cheese.
nothing as you leave the room or when you return, and
always return when she is quiet, never when she’s
whining. Begin with very short increments of time, and
gradually extend as her confidence in you returning is
evident in her calm and quiet behavior.
particular concern is that Lacy can’t seem to eat
unless you are hand feeding her. I suggest an immediate
change, one that will likely be tough for you. Offer two
meals a day, and always place her food in a bowl. Place
Lacy in a confined space with the bowl, like her crate,
and set the timer for 10 minutes. At the end of 10
minutes, the bowl is removed, without fanfare.
may skip a few meals; don’t worry, she’ll survive.
Give her no snacks in between meals, and leave her alone
during meal time. I guarantee that after a few meals
have been skipped, she will eventually eat.
your perspective during this process from pity and
anxiety to confidence that cutting the "apron
strings" will ultimately result in a more
confident, well-adjusted dog, and be there to praise and
reward her at every small feat accomplished.
the end, your proudest achievement can be that the dog
you so dearly love enjoys life to the fullest and to all
who don’t know her story, she appears to be a
well-adjusted, confident and happy dog. She was a
rescued dog; now she’s Lacy, your wonderful dog.