Help my dog overcome his terror of umbrellas
May 30, 2014 9:12 PM   Subscribe

My 6 month old pup is terrified of umbrellas and I need help because it's a big problem!

My skin is really sensitive to the sun, I need to use a sun umbrella (yes, I use sunscreen too). I live in a place that had been mostly cloudy till recently. I tried to go for a walk earlier this week with my pup and I opened my sun umbrella and he was terrified.

I tried putting treats near the umbrella. He'll get them, but his fear doesn't seem to be getting much better.

It's a pretty big problem, because I haven't been able to take him on an afternoon walk for a couple days.

Any ideas on how to get him ok with umbrellas soon?
posted by long haired child to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also, we did do extensive socialization checklists with him, I can't believe we missed this one.
posted by long haired child at 9:13 PM on May 30, 2014

Is he upset when he sees the umbrella in any state - open or closed? Does the sound of the umbrella opening upset him? Could you open it out of his sight and then just casually pick up his leash like NBD?

I think in addition to treats petting is good - the dog we had as a kid was terrified of the vacuum cleaner so we would have someone run it and everyone else would pet him and tell him he was a good boy - it was ridiculous but it worked.

Also your puppy is completely adorable. It is totally ridiculous for anything to be that adorable.
posted by sweetkid at 9:20 PM on May 30, 2014

Your puppy is most likely interpreting the umbrella as a bird of prey that is about to swoop down and eat him. Large birds of prey are one of the few predators that young wolves (wild dogs) have.

The sound of opening the umbrella is similar enough to the sound of large wings flapping. The umbrella suddenly casts a shadow over the puppy, just like an owl or hawk would right before the talons dig in.

It would probably help to open the umbrella, leave it on the ground, and then bring the dog to the umbrella. Let the dog become aware of the shadow before you pick up the umbrella. Try to keep it consistently over or not over the dog.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:52 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might feel really silly doing this, but hold your umbrella above you while you're on the couch (or on the floor in front of the couch if puppy isn't allowed on the couch) and engaging in much petting and treating and cuddles. (This shouldn't be hard because oh man that's one cute puppy!) Make sure you open it in a room away from him at first, but basically just use it all the time for a while inside so he has as much time as possible to get used to it as a part of you, and not a separate entity he has to watch out for. You could maybe stick it in a backpack and wear it around the house if you need two hands?
posted by Mizu at 10:05 PM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you should try slowly getting him used to it. First, open the umbrella somewhere away from him. And just set it on the floor in the main room, off to the side/out of the way. Let him notice it there, maybe go check it out. Maybe set a few treats near the umbrella. Depending on how scared he is, you might have to stay at this step for hours to a couple days. Once he isn't reacting in fear to the open umbrella just sitting there, go over and slowly close it in front of him, then slowly reopen, repeat a few times... Let him acclimate again. Next step, carrying the umbrella over your head, etc., until you've worked up to him walking with you with the umbrella.

This might all go quite quickly and be done in an hour, or take several days. Let him be the guide, and just get him used to the different shapes and sounds, all the while giving treats and snuggles. Good luck!
posted by catatethebird at 1:59 AM on May 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think catatethebird is on track with this.
posted by HuronBob at 3:01 AM on May 31, 2014

Maybe also try putting some calming pheromone spray on the umbrella too? (I don't know how effective they are on dogs, I've only used the cat version, feliway, but it can't hurt)
posted by oh yeah! at 5:04 AM on May 31, 2014

catatethebird is right. What they're suggesting is called Classical Counterconditioning, and over time you can actually turn the umbrella from a scary thing into something that he absolutely loves.

The most important things to remember:
- Take it slowly and allow him to set the pace. You want every single experience he has with the umbrella to be positive. If you rush him and frighten him, your progress will slide backwards. If at any point he seems frightened, go back a few steps and make sure he's comfortable before trying to progress.
- Similarly, don't restrain him or force him to be near the umbrella. Let him have the freedom to be at a comfortable space for him.
- Use really yummy treats throughout the process that catatthebird describes. You want the umbrella to be a predictor of yumminess and good things!
- Once he's ok with, or even loves the umbrella, it'll be pretty cool because as you use it for walking, the umbrella will start to predict walkies too, like getting out the leash does! Awesome!

This video explains the same thing with examples:
posted by mymbleth at 5:24 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

What catatethebird and mymbleth said, but I'll add in one more point.

Don't think of it as getting the helping your dog overcome his terror of umbrellas. Instead, remember he learns from watching you. (Obligatory 80s anti-drug PSA). If he sees that *you* are not threatened by the umbrella, he will learn it's not a thing to be threatened by.

Start with just keeping the umbrella folded up in the corner of the room. Over the course of the day, just walk over pick it up and put it down. Pretend your dog doesn't even exist while you do this. Don't do it immediately after interacting with him and don't make any eye contact during or after. If your dog doesn't react to you doing this, give him a treat and praise.

Escalate as catatethebird and mymbleth described, but take it really slow. This is definitely a situation where slow and steady wins the race, because trying to do too much too quickly and then freaking him out resets the clock. Think weeks, not hours or days.

And whatever you do, do *not* ever comfort him when he's freaked out by the umbrella. Instead, ignore him completely. This has to be one of the most common and biggest mistakes dog owners make. When your dog freaks out, you should ignore, ignore, ignore. Eye contact, kneeling down and holding him, or speaking to him in soothing tones only rewards the bad behavior.

Finally, he's adorable! Here's my guy who's seven months old. He's terrible on a leash and likes to jump up on people, but we're working on it!
posted by AaRdVarK at 5:38 AM on May 31, 2014

Going to disagree with AaRdVarK on one thing: It is totally ok to comfort him if he is frightened. Hopefully, you won't need to in this instance, because you'll be taking things so easy and associating so many nice things with the umbrella that he won't be afraid of it at all. But if he, for example, is confronted with another scary object when out and about, it's ok to move him away from it, shield him with your body, and reassure him with your voice and calm petting.

A dog that is afraid is not "behaving badly". It is a myth that you can reinforce fear. Here are some articles explaining more about this:

And one more on counterconditioning:
posted by mymbleth at 6:21 AM on May 31, 2014

Use shredded cheese when you do this. Shredded cheese is how I got my dog conditioned to not be afraid of: carrier bag, swiffer, washing machine, table.

Just sprinkle some shredded cheese around/on the scary thing and let him figure it out. It becomes a magical land of maybe there's cheese here rather than oh god the scary. Shredded cheese worked better and faster than using other kinds of treats (maybe it's the wider dispersal area?) and also cheese is yummy.

Warning: dog farts.
posted by phunniemee at 7:30 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dog was afraid of puffer coats when he was a puppy, which was difficult because there are so many where we live in the winter. Agree with the classical counterconditioning and the strategies Mizu suggests. We were doing crate training too so one thing that really helped was letting him observe the dreaded puffer coat from the safety of his crate. We put them on, took them off, moved them around, all while making positive sounds and clearly enjoying and even "petting" the puffer coat. We ate in the puffer coats in front of him, and put treats around the puffer coat for him. Every time we put on the puffers when he wasn't in the crate he would get a treat.

Yes, we felt silly.
posted by beanie at 10:26 AM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is a little bit of a tangent, but would a sun hat and a cover-up or something work for you and be less frightening? Desensitizing to the umbrella can sometimes take a while, and the fastest way to do it is to not rush it.
posted by anaelith at 4:51 PM on May 31, 2014

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