Shutdown behaviors in dogs


You can clearly see the puppy edging out of a shutdown.  Elsa doing her expert work.  

They're there, then they're gone.  Shutdown behaviors are common in dogs but often misunderstood.  What is shutdown?  Shutdown is when a dog ceases to react.  The only reaction may be eye movement.  They will typically be hunched down, having reacted into a final spot of discontinued behavior.  Like all other behaviors, there are many different levels of shutdown.

From mild shutdown in highly sensitive dogs to paralyzing shutdown in severely fearful dogs, shutdown is just that, a shutdown of most behaviors.  Although shutting down is itself a behavior to be addressed.  When a dog shuts down, it is a signal that they can tolerate no more or they feel a sense of helplessness.  

We had a foster puppy here several years ago that demonstrated shutting down.  It was a tiny and very fearful puppy, who was not comfortable with Elsa's advances.  Elsa is an expert at dealing with most behaviors and tried very carefully to get this little puppy out from under the furniture to interact.  The puppy displayed very aggressive behavior towards Elsa, without actually connecting.  Elsa got lower and lower physically in her attempts to convince the puppy that she was not scary.  When Elsa stood up to get closer the puppy shutdown; ceasing any further behaviors except for being frozen.  It was like the puppy had left the building.  In seeing this Elsa hit the ground again and went upside down.  This was expertly offered by Elsa which pulled the puppy out of shutdown and began the interaction process.

Just yesterday, Elsa's best friend Yogi displayed shutdown behavior.  Yogi is the sweetest boy around and highly emotional.  He tends to worry about a lot and is not a fan of Miss Elsa's over exuberant retrieving.  He has been in the path of Elsa's retrieve before and the more she charges around the more he shrinks.  Even picking up Elsa's ball will shrink Yogi, he really does not like the action packed retrieving that Elsa adores.  He can only tolerate a small amount until he sticks his head under the table and there he remains frozen until the retrieving is over.  He may even go and stand in a corner until the retrieving is over.  This behavior has grown over time so we have switched things up when they are together.

Seeing that Elsa's supercharged retrieving disturbs Yogi, we have stopped picking up the ball.  If there is no tossing and no retrieving by Elsa, they will interact and play intense chase and wrestle games.  Just don't pick up the ball.  

Anything can cause a shutdown, knowing how to help a dog out is key.  I have dealt with many dogs who have  history of severe shutdown resulting from harsh training.  Constant punishment can also cause shutdown.  When harsh physical treatment directed to a dog causes shutdown, aggression can follow if they are pushed further.  

Addressing shutdown requires patience, thought and counter conditioning.  Changing how a dog feels about a particular stimulus.  Whether that reaction comes from flying balls, the advance of a dog or human interaction or anything else that trigger a sense of overwhelm must be addressed slowly.  

Removing the trigger stimulus and reintroducing along with counter conditioning can help to remove or lessen a shutdown.