Zeke’s skittish behavior

I have a question for all the dog owners, behaviorists and trainers out there. Zeke has had two main issues since we first got him at 7 months. The first is his excitability at meeting other dogs. We have addressed that, he has made improvements, although I think it will remain something we will have to continue to work on over the years.

The second issue is his skittishness. When I first started walking him he was scared of the wind, flags, people with hats, sudden movements, buses, animal statues, etc. This, I surmised, was due to the fact he had been kept inside of a kitchen for many of his first months. The people we got him from didn’t even own a leash. =P

I spent a lot of time working with him and he is mostly over those fears. There was one catch that only popped up every so often; until lately. The past 2 weeks it has happened almost every time I walk Zeke at night. He appears to “freak out” over …smells?

Case in point: tonight I took him past the cemetery (probably the most common walking & running area) to Juniper park. About halfway there, Zeke began sniffing the wind. As we walked I observed his tail getting lower and lower until it was plastered underneath him in the typical submissive, scared pose. He began lunging-no particular direction just anywhere. Lunging as in tail tucked jumping forward, whites of the eyes showing, even ignoring dogs passing by (his biggest trigger). He can keep this up for one block or several blocks. All the while he is sniffing something in the air.

I have pondered this for many months now- what is freaking him out, why, when, etc. I work at a zoo, a lot of my job is figuring out why animals do certain things or why they react a certain way. This aspect of Zeke’s behavior has me stumped. I have thought of MANY possible reasons-too many to list here. The main things I can find in common as to when and why Zeke may be reacting this way are:

1. 90% of the time it is a night walk

2. 90% of the time it is when I (not my boyfriend) walk him

3. always involves him sniffing the air

4. the location can change but there are certain “hot spots”

5. food smells are a trigger (passing by a food cart or noticeable food smell, like curry, in the air.)

He has always been more skittish at night, I know many dogs are, I can work with that. Also, he is always more reactive when he is hungry or there are treats around- I don’t usually feed him until AFTER his night walk & I carry treats on his night walks while my boyfriend does not. I am going to begin feeding him before his night walk starting tomorrow to see if that makes a difference. I can also try not bringing treats with me although that could potentially set back Zeke issue #1, reactivity to other dogs.

The other thing I’m thinking is, Doug and I split the night walks. The 3 or maybe 4 nights a week I have night duty, the majority of the time I run with Zeke. I probably only give him a legitimate, 30 min. or more night walk once a week. Is he just yearning to go running or associate me with a faster paced evening outing? 

So many questions!!! He NEVER does this when we run, although we run past areas where he has had skittish episodes. Could it just be bottled up energy? Could it be some mean dog left a message on the wind that if Zeke goes into his territory there’s gonna be a fight? I’m not sure. I have ideas and things to try. I’m hoping someone that reads this has experienced something similar or may be able to offer advice. Thank you for reading.

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~ by manicivy on April 10, 2013.

3 Responses to “Zeke’s skittish behavior”

  1. another possible trigger may be cats he can smell and not see. Today he freaked out right outside our door and kept sniffing & I saw 2 large cats on top of our garage but Zeke wasn’t able to see them from his vantage point. I hate having 4 crazy cat ladies within a one block radius, there are cats everywhere!

  2. That is interesting. Does he behave the same if you run with him at night in that area? I wonder if he is associating your runs as ‘hunting trips’ as these would be lead by females and they use speed and direction to dominate/show off to other pack members. If you are walking with him instead, he might be trying to dominate you as your heart rate will be lower so he thinks he has a better chance? When you walk him, try to constantly change pace and direction without warning, this might make him concentrate on you and wonder what you know that he doesn’t. I know it sounds (&looks) bonkers, but it works for me with my bitch if she is challenging.

    • I will try changing pace more before his fright occurs, I’ve tried it afterwards and it doesnt seem to make a difference. Tonight, Doug reported he exhibited the same fear symptoms with him on his walk, so I guess something is going on (although I feel a little better that its not just me!) It’s 4 nights in a row now but we can walk those same areas with no problem in the morning. very strange.

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